Tajik authorities released prominent journalist Hairullo Mirsaidov from detention after a court converted his 12-year prison sentence to a fine and community service in a case widely seen as politically motivated.
The court in Tajikistan’s Sughd Province substituted Mirsaidov's sentence on August 22 with a fine of 80,000 somonis ($8,500) and community service, his lawyer, Bahtiyor Nasrulloev, said.
For the next two years Mirsaidov also must pay the state 20 percent of any official salary he receives in Tajikistan.
After his release, Mirsaidov told RFE/RL he was unhappy with the court's ruling and insisted he should be acquitted of all charges, rather than having to face a fine and restrictions on his ability to earn a living in the future.
"According to the courts, I am still considered a criminal, even though I haven't committed a crime," he said.
He added that he would appeal the decision to the higher courts and that he would continue to write "revealing" articles as a journalist.
Mirsaidov also thanked Western diplomatic missions and international rights groups for their support during his incarceration.
Mirsaidov’s December 2017 arrest on charges of alleged financial crimes brought condemnation from domestic and international groups -- including Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the National Association of Independent Mass Media in Tajikistan (NANSMIT), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and Amnesty International (AI).
He was sentenced on July 11 after being found guilty of embezzling and misusing state funds and of making false reports to police.
Mirsaidov, 39, said the charges were filed in retaliation for his critical reporting about government corruption. His arrest came shortly after he had published an open letter accusing senior officials of corruption in Sughd Province.
Amnesty International at the time described him as "a prisoner of conscience who is being punished solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression."
Marie Struthers, Amnesty’s director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, welcomed Mirsaidov's release on August 22 but added that "he should never have been charged in the first place."
"We will continue to call on the [Tajik] authorities to immediately quash [his] conviction and to undertake a thorough, impartial, and independent investigation into his allegations of government corruption," Struthers said.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) media-freedom representative, Harlem Desir, called Mirsaidov’s release a "welcome step forward."
"I very much hope that the remaining charges against him are finally dropped," he said in a statement.
Mirsaidov is an independent journalist and a former correspondent of Asia-Plus and Germany's Deutsche Welle radio.
He also leads the Tajik team for KVN, a stand-up comedy competition that originated among university students in the Soviet Union and is still popular in many former Soviet republics.