New York, December 13, 2017--Tajik authorities should immediately release journalist Khayrullo Mirsaidov and drop all charges against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Tajik authorities arrested Mirsaidov weeks after he published an open letter to the country's president, Emomali Rahmon, the general prosecutor, and the governor of his native Sughd region asking them to crack down on corrupt local authorities.
"We call on the Tajik authorities to drop the charges against Khayrullo Mirsaidov and release him," said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney. "In a place where free media and critical voices are nearly non-existent, journalists like Mirsaidov should be recognized for the important work they do, not locked up on bogus charges."
The Tajik authorities did not immediately respond to CPJ's request for comment.
In the letter, which was published in local media on November 8, Mirsaidov alleged that the sports and youth department head for the Sugh region, Olim Zohidzoda, requested $1,000 in kickbacks from the local comedy troupe Mirsaidov manages.
Zohidzoda denied the allegations and accused the journalist of defamation.
The regional prosecutor general's office in the journalist's native city of Khujand on December 5 summoned Mirsaidov for questioning related to the letter and then arrested him.
On December 8, a local judge charged Mirsaidov with embezzlement, forgery, false reporting to police, and inciting ethnic and religious hatred, and ordered the journalist to remain in detention for two months, local and regional media reported.
The investigation against Miraidov is ongoing; the charges carry a penalty of 21 years in jail.
The journalist's father Khabibullo Mirsaidov told the Tajik-language service of the U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that his son denied the charges.
Mirsaidov has covered politics, human rights issues, rights of ethnic minorities, and environmental problems in Tajikistan and Central Asia since 2000. The journalist has contributed to the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, regional news websites Fergana and Asia-Plus, and has also worked as a media trainer on projects sponsored by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Department for International Development (DFID), and the Index on Censorship.