Statement against persecution of journalists and human rights activists in Tajikistan

We, the members of the NGO coalition Civic Solidarity Platform, are deeply concerned and outraged regarding the case of an independent Tajikistani journalist Khayrullo Mirsaidov, who faces political persecution by Tajikistan authorities for uncovering government corruption and criticizing the regime of president Emomali Rahmon.

Since mid-October 2018 Khayrullo has been in Georgia, but we believe there is a high probability that Tajik authorities will seek for his extradition or otherwise try to forcefully return him to Tajikistan, where politically motivated imprisonment awaits him. If returned, we also believe he is at risk of torture and other ill treatment.

We urge the international community to pay attention to his case. We also call on the Government of Georgia to ensure that Mr. Mirsaidov’s is not extradited or otherwise forcefully returned to Tajikistan.

Khayrullo Mirsaidov is an independent Tajikistani journalist persecuted for his drawing attention to government corruption and recently sentenced in absentia to eight months’ imprisonment for violating the conditions of his release from politically motivated imprisonment on false charges. Mirsaidov is known both for his fearless journalism, covering corruption as well as social and political issues, and for his role in leading a local comedy troupe, commonly referred to by its Russian-language acronym “KVN”. Tajikistani authorities began persecuting Mirsaidov in late 2017 after he, in November of that year, sent an open letter to Tajikistani president Emomali Rahmon, the Prosecutor General and the head of the Soghd region, calling on them to investigate corruption. In his letter Mirsaidov outlined alleged corruption by the regional Youth and Sports Department in its dealings with the KVN troupe he leads. Subsequently, law-enforcement officials arrested Mirsaidov on December 8, 2017 on false charges of embezzlement and misuse of state funds, and false reporting to the police – charges clearly brought in retaliation for his open letter on corruption. On July 11, 2018 he was found guilty of the same charges and sentenced to twelve years imprisonment.

Following international pressure and condemnation of the sentence from the UN, the EU, the US and others, the Soghd regional court on August 22, commuted Mirsaidov’s prison sentence to an 80 000 Somoni fine (approximately USD 8500). Although releasing Mirsaidov, the court upheld the politically motivated verdict against him and set as one of several conditions for his release that he was not to leave the country. In the middle of October, Mirsaidov left Tajikistan for Georgia in order to, among other things, receive treatment for pneumonia that he contracted in prison, and for psychological consultations necessary for his post-imprisonment wellbeing. Having left the country, he was subsequently sentenced in absentia by the Soghd regional court to eight months in prison for violating the conditions for his release on January 11.

The undersigned are further aware that authorities have confiscated journalistic materials written by Mirsaidov, some of which form harsh criticism of president Rahmon and his regime, thus putting him at grave risk for further criminal prosecution as authorities clamp down brutally on any dissent and routinely prosecute government critics.

The persecution of Mirsaidov has been widely condemned and recognized as politically motivated by international organizations, diplomatic missions and international human rights groups. On July 11, 2018, the embassies of the United Kingdom, Germany, France and the United States along with the European Union Delegation in Tajikistan issued a joint statement expressing their common “grave concern over the trial”, calling on the authorities to re-consider the verdict while concluding that it “will have a negative impact on the freedom of media and expression in Tajikistan”. On July 20, 2018, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, and United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, called the sentence against Mirsaidov “a clearly targeted measure against journalism and the public’s right to information”, adding that “authorities are cracking down on reporting of corruption, rather than on corruption itself”.

The persecution of Mirsaidov takes place during a well-documented human rights crisis in Tajikistan where authorities have eradicated freedom of expression, outlawed the peaceful political opposition and imprisoned hundreds of peaceful activists and critics. During the current rights crisis, the authorities have routinely targeted critics abroad, misusing the Interpol system and issuing extradition requests in efforts to hunt down opponents outside the country. Numerous activists have been detained abroad pursuant to extradition requests and a considerable number have been returned from countries like the Russian Federation and Turkey to Tajikistan where politically motivated imprisonment and torture remain the rule rather than the exception in such cases.

With the January 11 verdict against him, the undersigned believe that Tajikistani authorities, in the manner described above, will seek Mirsaidov’s forceful return to Tajikistan, where he will be unfairly imprisoned, possibly further criminally prosecuted and where he will be at risk of torture.

We therefore respectfully call on the Government of Georgia to ensure Mr. Mirsaidov’s safety and freedom to travel in and from Georgia. Specifically, should the Tadjik government make a request for Mr. Mirsaidov’s detention in Georgia and forcible return to Tajikistan, either through formal extradition proceedings or otherwise, that such request be denied.

We also condemn the continuous practice of political persecutions of independent journalists and activists both in the country and abroad, and call on international community to continue pressure on Tajikistani authorities to immediately put a stop on such persecutions.