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Monday 16 July 2018

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Hairullo Mirsaidov

Two media watchdogs have condemned a 12-year prison sentence against Tajik journalist Hairullo Mirsaidov and called for his immediate release, saying the charges against him for alleged financial crimes were politically motivated.

In a July 16 statement, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the National Association of Independent Mass Media in Tajikistan (NANSMIT) said Mirsaidov's sentence was "an extremely grave threat to press freedom in Tajikistan."

Mirsaidov was sentenced by a Tajik court on July 11 after being found guilty of embezzling and misusing state funds, and of making false reports to police.

The 39-year-old Mirsaidov said the case against him was retaliation for his critical reporting about government corruption.

Mirsaidov's arrest in December 2017 came shortly after he published an open letter accusing senior officials of corruption in Tajikistan's northern province of Sughd.

"Despite the official denials, the extraordinary severity of this sentence shows that this trial was politically motivated," said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF's Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

"We call for Hairullo Mirsaidov's immediate release and for an impartial review of the case on appeal," he said. "We also urge the Tajik authorities to guarantee the primacy of the law and the freedom to do investigative reporting on matters in the public interest."

NANSMIT director Nuriddin Karshiboev said: "We followed Hairullo Mirsaidov's trial closely and we saw how his criticism of corruption rebounded on him. This verdict has buried all hope of combatting corruption. No one will now dare to draw attention to corrupt behavior."

Mirsaidov is an independent journalist and a former correspondent of Asia-Plus and Germany's Deutsche Welle radio.

Mirsaidov also leads Tajikistan's 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.

His case has drawn international attention, with London-based Amnesty International describing him as "a prisoner of conscience who is being punished solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression."

In New York, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said journalists like Mirsaidov "should be recognized for the important work they do, not locked up on bogus charges."

British media regulator Ofcom says Russia's state-funded international television network, RT, broke Britain's broadcasting code when it presented tweets and e-mails sent by its own staff as coming from viewers of a current-affairs program.

Ofcom's July 16 statement came as the watchdog continues an investigation into whether RT breached impartiality rules in its reporting about a nerve-agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain.

Ofcom since 2012 has repeatedly found RT to have breached its rules on impartiality and of broadcasting "materially misleading" content.

It also has warned RT's producer, TV Novosti, that it could lose the right to broadcast in Britain because of repeated violations.

RT said on July 16 that mistakes made on a program hosted by former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond simply reflected teething problems, adding that it had "grave concerns" about Ofcom's response.

RT also said Ofcom had not sufficiently considered its explanations before the British media regulator made a provisional statement in April about its coverage of the nerve-agent attack.

Britain and several Western governments have blamed the attack on Russia. Moscow denies any involvement.

Based on reporting by Reuters and Interfax

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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