QURGHONTEPPA, Tajikistan -- A prosecutor in southern Tajikistan has described as "too harsh" the jail terms handed down last week to two pilots working for a Russian aviation company, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.
Shokhrukh Rajabov of the Khatlon Province Prosecutor's Office told RFE/RL on November 15 that his office has officially challenged the Qurghonteppa city court's verdict and called for the sentences to be reduced.
On November 8, the court sentenced Russian Vladimir Sadovnichy and Estonian Aleksei Rudenko to 10 1/2 years in prison -- immediately reduced in line with an amnesty to 8 1/2 years -- on charges of smuggling, illegally crossing the border, and violating international aviation regulations.
Russian Foreign Ministry officials slammed the sentences as politically motivated, and in an apparent retaliatory move, Russia's immigration police began arresting and deporting Tajik migrant workers.
"We do not agree with the court's decision because the verdict is too harsh," Rajabov said. "Because of such facts as the defendants were not dangerous for society, they do not have any criminal records, and are citizens of countries considered Tajikistan's strategic partners, we have decided to urge the court of appeals to mitigate their verdicts."
Rajabov said that request has nothing to do with the wave of protests in Russia against the sentences.
Another official with the Khatlon prosecutor's office said they do not rule out asking the court to free the pilots with a fine.
The two pilots flew separate AN-72 Russian cargo planes from Afghanistan to Tajikistan on March 12. The cargo of one of the planes included a disassembled aircraft engine that was not listed on the customs declaration.
The planes are the property of Rolkan Investment Ltd, which is registered in the British Virgin Islands.
The two pilots pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.
Rolkan Investment representative Valery Pfeifer told RFE/RL last week that for the past three years, the two pilots have primarily been transporting humanitarian aid in the form of food.
Meanwhile, the Tajik authorities have opened an investigation into the activities of Rolkan Investment Ltd's CEO Sergei Poluyanov, who is a Russian citizen, and issued an international warrant for his arrest. Poluyanov's current whereabouts are unknown.
Separately, the head of Tajikistan's Migration Service said on November 15 that the number of Tajik citizens awaiting deportation from Russia increased threefold in the past week.
But Safiallo Devonaev told RFE/RL that the increase is not linked to the pilots' case, noting that many currently awaiting deportation received their deportation orders before the court verdict.
Devonaev said that officially around 560,000 Tajik citizens are currently in Russia, but some unofficial sources put the number of Tajik labor migrants there at more than 1 million.
Devonaev said that last year Russia deported more than 3,000 Tajik citizens.
Read more in Tajik here and here