A Tajik prosecutor has called for independent local journalist Daler Sharifov to be sentenced to two years and four months in prison.
The prosecutor made the call April 16, a day after Sharifov went on trial on extremism charges that international media freedom watchdogs call "absurd."
Sharifov's lawyer, Abdurahmon Sharifov, called on the court in Dushanbe to acquit his client, saying that the extremism charges against him were baseless.
Sharifov, who writes about domestic politics and religious issues, was arrested Jan. 28 on charges of inciting ethnic, racial, and religious hatred.
Sharifov’s lawyer said April 15 that the judge had told him the trial was "open to the public” but that the number of people allowed into the courtroom would be limited "due to warnings by the World Health Organization" about large gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.
Sharipov’s trial was initially scheduled to begin April 13, but the hearing was postponed for two days because the state prosecutor was absent.
The Prosecutor-General’s Office says the case is based on "more than 200 articles and commentaries containing extremist content" aimed at "inciting religious intolerance" that were published on social media between 2013 and 2019.
Sharifov's relatives, human rights organizations, and media freedom groups have rejected the accusations as unfounded and have demanded his immediate release.
Calling the incitement charges "absurd," Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists have said Sharifov's arrest was aimed at silencing a critical journalist ahead of parliamentary elections in March that were won, as expected, by President Emomali Rahmon's ruling party.
Writing for the independent news website Ozodagon from 2013 until its closure last year following "years of harassment," Sharipov often commented on violations of human rights and religious freedoms, according to RSF.
Eight years ago, the journalist spent several days in hospital after being beaten in a still unpunished attack.