DUSHANBE (TCA) — Tajik authorities have issued an arrest warrant in absentia for prominent journalist Khairullo Mirsaidov, whose 12-year prison sentence was changed to a fine and community service in August 2018 in a case widely seen as politically motivated, RFE/RL’s Tajik Service reports.
Mirsaidov’s lawyer, Bakhtiyor Nasrulloev, told RFE/RL on February 11 that his client was officially added to the wanted list last week.
According to Nasrulloev, Mirsaidov informed Tajik authorities in October that he planned to travel to Georgia for medical treatment because his health had deteriorated after over a year in jail.
However, the lawyer said, a court ruled that he could not leave Tajikistan because his sentence required that he perform community service and pay the state 20 percent of the salary he receives in Tajikistan.
Mirsaidov left Tajikistan for Georgia despite the court ban, and in January he was sentenced to eight months in prison for parole violation after an in-absentia trial. That sentence came into force last week.
Mirsaidov told RFE/RL via electronic correspondence on February 11 that he did not plan to return to Tajikistan to serve the new sentence, and called the latest court ruling “illegal and unfair.”
“Those who ordered this move have a single goal — to put me behind bars,” Mirsaidov wrote.
Mirsaidov’s December 2017 arrest on financial charges brought condemnation from domestic and international groups including Reporters Without Borders, the National Association of Independent Mass Media in Tajikistan, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International.
He was sentenced in July 2018 to 12 years in prison after being found guilty of embezzling and misusing state funds and of making false reports to police.
Mirsaidov said the charges were filed in retaliation for his critical reporting about government corruption. His arrest came shortly after he had published an open letter accusing senior officials of corruption in the northern Sughd Province.
In August, Mirsaidov’s 12 year prison term was replaced by a fine and community service amid public outcry.
Mirsaidov is an independent journalist and a former correspondent of Asia-Plus and Germany’s Deutsche Welle radio.