DUSHANBE -- A Tajik court has postponed the trial of a journalist who is facing what international media-freedom watchdogs call "absurd" extremism charges.
A court in Dushanbe’s Shomansur district was scheduled to hold a hearing on April 13, but a lawyer for Daler Sharifov told RFE/RL that the session was postponed for two days because the state prosecutor was absent.
A large group of journalists and civic activists had gathered outside the courthouse in the hope of attending the hearing.
However, it remained unclear whether the trial would be open to the public, said Sharifov's lawyer, Abdurahmon Sharifov, who is not related.
The 32-year-old Sharifov, who writes about domestic politics and religious issues, was arrested on January 28. Police also searched his apartment in Dushanbe and confiscated a computer and several books.
Sharifov was later charged with inciting ethnic, racial, and religious hatred. He could be jailed for up to five years if found guilty.
The Prosecutor-General’s Office says the case is based on "more than 200 articles and commentaries containing extremist content" aimed at "inciting religious intolerance" that were published on social media between 2013 and 2019.
Sharifov's relatives, human rights organizations, and media-freedom groups have rejected the accusations as unfounded and demand his immediate release.
Calling the incitement charges "absurd," Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have said Sharifov's arrest was aimed at silencing a critical journalist ahead of parliamentary elections in March that were won, as expected, by President Emomali Rahmon's ruling party.
The European Congress of Tajik Journalists and Bloggers has called Sharifov's arrest illegal and emphasized that the journalist regularly opposed religious extremism and terrorism.
Writing for the independent news website Ozodagon from 2013 until its closure last year following "years of harassment," Sharipov often commented on violations of human rights and religious freedoms, according to RSF.
Eight years ago, the journalist spent several days in hospital after being beaten in a still unpunished attack.
International human rights organizations have repeatedly criticized authorities for suppressing dissent and independent media in Tajikistan, which is ranked 161 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.