The City of Gdańsk is releasing a documentary that follows its latest ICORN writer in residence, Khairullo Mirsaidov, a recognized and respected investigative journalist in Tajikistan. Filmed during the fall of 2020 and directed by well-known Gdańsk journalist, Małgorzata Żerwe, the short film introduces the audience to Mirsaidov’s personal story as he becomes acquainted with his new city.
We hear the director as she asks questions off-camera, and see the protagonist, walking around the city, riding a bike or buying vegetables at the market, telling his story - a lone citizen who took a stand against corruption in his country and paid a high price. He mentions political absurdities, power scams, but also longing for his family. At one point, he even connects to them via Skype. From the film, audiences learn why Mirsaidov had to leave the country, but also how he sees the differences between life in Western Europe and Asian Tajikistan.
By the time Mirsaidov had to flee in exile, he had 19 years of experience as an investigative journalist. He worked as editor of the independent website Asia Plus, as a correspondent of Deutsche Welle (DW) and Fergana News Agency, among other roles. In his articles and reports, he reported about victims of torture in Tajikistan, political and financial cases of corruption, persecution for freedom of speech, extremism and Islamic terrorism. His work was, and continues to not be, easy. In the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, Tajikistan was ranked 149th out of 180 countries assessed. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Reporters without Borders have reported ongoing repressions, restrictions on freedom of speech and attacks on independent lawyers, journalists, and even family members of opposition activists abroad.
Khairullo Mirsaidov's troubles began in December 2017, after he published a public letter to the President of Tajikistan calling for investigations into the alleged acceptance of bribes by Sughd region chief Abdurakhmon Kodiri. The journalist was soon arrested on charges of inciting ethnic and religious hatred, embezzlement of public funds, forging documents and giving false testimony. In July 2018, a court sentenced him to twelve years of a harsh prison colony, despite condemnation of the trial (as politically motivated) by human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch, Frontline Defenders and the Journalists' Protection Committee, as well as the embassies of the UK, France The US and the EU delegation in the Republic of Tajikistan.
A month later, the Sughd District Court would temporarily quash the sentence, converting it into a heavy fine and other financial penalties, but despite their payment, the repression did not stop. After another prison sentence, Mirsaidov decided to leave the country.
As part of the ICORN programme, to which Gdańsk has been a member for three years, Khairullo was offered safe haven for one year. During that period, he continued his work writing and editing about the observance of human rights in Central Asia, as well as worked on a book on prisons and torture. Gdańsk City Gallery, not only coordinates the programme, but supports and promotes the work of the visiting writer, creating and facilitating opportunities within the local artistic context.
His thoughts and memories are recorded in this new documentary "Khairullo Mirsaidov: from Tajikistan to Gdańsk."
This article has been translated and slightly modified from an original version in Polish by Anna Umięcka that you can read in the City of Gdańsk’s official page.