DUSHANBE, Tajikistan (AP) — A former Tajik government minister turned opposition leader has been convicted on an array of criminal charges and sentenced to 26 years in prison.

Zayd Saidov denies the fraud, rape and other charges against him, and the opposition in the ex-Soviet Central Asian nation has denounced the case as political persecution.

Saidov, a businessman who previously served as industry minister, was arrested in May, a month after he announced the creation of a political party to challenge President Emomali Rakhmon.

Rakhmon extended his more than 20-year rule in November's election that was criticized by Western observers for lack of real competition.

Saidov's lawyer, Shukhrat Kudratov, said his client was convicted Wednesday by Tajikistan's Supreme Court.

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