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Tajik journalist Hairullo Mirsaidov (file photo)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemned prominent Tajik journalist Hairullo Mirsaidov's financial-crimes conviction and 12-year prison sentence.

In a July 13 statement, HRW called on countries and groups, including the United States and the European Union, to "publicly and privately press Tajik authorities to set aside" Mirsaidov's conviction.

On July 11, a court in the northern city of Khujand sentenced Mirsaidov to 12 years in prison after finding him guilty of embezzling and misusing state funds, and false reporting to police.

"If allowed to stand, this conviction and draconian sentence strike a blow to free speech and the journalistic profession in Tajikistan," said HRW Central Asia researcher Steve Swerdlow.

"Sadly, we now add a journalist known throughout the region for the high quality and independence of his work to the ranks of Tajikistan’s numerous other imprisoned political activists and lawyers.”

The statement also quoted Marius Fossum, Central Asia representative of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, as saying that "the time has come for Washington, Brussels, and all actors to examine the possibility of enacting targeted punitive measures [against Tajik authorities] unless immediate human rights improvements are made."

'Unfair' Verdict

Mirsaidov, 39, was arrested in his native city of Khujand in December and charged with embezzlement, forgery, false reporting to police, and inciting ethnic and religious hatred.

Mirsaidov pleaded not guilty and said the case against him was retaliation for his critical reporting of government corruption.

His lawyers called the verdict "unfair," and said they would appeal it.

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

Mirsaidov is also the leader of 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."

Weeks before his arrest in December, Mirsaidov published an open letter to President Emomali Rahmon, Prosecutor-General Yusuf Rahmon, and Sughd region Governor Abdurahmon Qodiri asking them to crack down on allegedly corrupt officials.

Yevhen Panov, a truck driver from Zaporizhzhya, was arrested in Crimea in August 2016. (file photo)

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine -- A court in Russian-controlled Crimea has sentenced Ukrainian national Yevhen Panov to eight years in prison on sabotage charges that Kyiv contends are groundless.

The Supreme Court of Crimea sentenced Panov on July 13 after finding him guilty of illegal weapons possession, attempted arms and explosives smuggling, and plotting acts of sabotage.

Russian authorities arrested Panov and fellow Ukrainian national Andriy Zakhtey in Crimea in August 2016, and accused them of being partners in a two-person "saboteur group" and of plotting a series of attacks on the peninsula.

Zakhtey, who made a plea deal, was tried in February and sentenced to 61/2 years in prison.

Panov's trial started in April. He pleaded not guilty.

Kyiv has rejected Russian charges against the two men and has called their arrests "a provocation."

Russia has prosecuted and imprisoned several Ukrainians on what rights activists say are trumped up, politically motivated charges since Moscow seized control of the Crimea region in March 2014.

In March 2017, the European Parliament called on Russia to free more than 30 Ukrainian citizens who were in prison or other conditions of restricted freedom in Russia, Crimea, and parts of eastern Ukraine that are controlled by Russia-backed separatists.

Russia moved swiftly to seize control over Crimea after Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was pushed from power in Kyiv by the pro-European Maidan protest movement.

Russia also fomented unrest and backed opponents of Kyiv in eastern Ukraine, where more than 10,300 people have been killed in the ensuing conflict since April 2014.

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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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