Monthly Archives: December 2017

EURASIANET: “Tajikistan: International Callers Hit by Move to Throttle Hi-Tech”

Ilhom Nodirov, 25, has been working in Berlin for the past three years, but technology has made keeping in touch with his family in Tajikistan a low-cost affair. As of earlier this month, that all changed.

Authorities are resorting to a heavy-handed method to crush money-saving methods for long-distance communication, citing purported security concerns. Sources inside the state agency responsible for regulating the telephone and Internet sector say that the government’s real motive is to ramp up revenues.

A hugely popular technology known as the next-generation network, or NGN, has for several years enabled phone users to avoid racking up huge bills. People in Tajikistan can open an account with one of several telecommunications service providers and then pass on the log-in details to relatives and friends abroad. The foreign-based caller installs an app on their phone and whenever they are connected to the Internet, they can make their call. All that is then charged is the amount it would cost to make a local call inside Tajikistan.

The appeal is obvious. Nodirov told EurasiaNet.org that at tariffs of 0.10 somoni ($0.01) per minute, he has been able to chat with his relatives for endless hours. If somebody made a regular phone call from Tajikistan to Germany, meanwhile, it would cost 1.40 somoni ($0.15) per minute.

The particular attractiveness of this method is that only one side in the transaction needs be connected to a reliable Internet network. In Tajikistan, the quality of Internet connection is often poor and the penetration patchy in the regions, so programs like Skype are not always feasible.

The ability to save money on long-distance calls is particularly important in Tajikistan, where hundreds of thousands of people travel abroad every year for work. Around 1 million people in the country used NGN services, according to official figures.

On December 18, the Communications Services Agency informed all telecommunications companies in the country to suspend access to NGN accounts.

Authorities had hinted strongly that this was coming a few weeks earlier. On December 15, they decided to drive the message by having bailiffs seal the main premises of Vavilon-T, an Internet provider prized for its particularly good speeds. They cited concerns over the company’s NGN services as their motivation. Within three days, the company complied. Almost all the other industry peers have fallen in line too.

Nodirov’s parents are elderly and struggle to master the intricacies of using smartphone messaging apps. The only way they will be able to keep in touch with their son now is by returning to much more expensive, old-fashioned phone calls, Nodirov said.

These days, Nodirov speaks to his parents in brief bursts, to make sure all is well with them. “If before I spent about 30 somoni a month on speaking to my parents, in the five days [after December 18], I already spent 50 somoni,” he said. “We don’t talk the way we used to, for ages and ages, to find out everything that is going on, but just for five minutes.”

Tajikistan’s communications regulators have devised multiple ways to put the squeeze on telephone companies and their clients over the years. In 2016, they claimed to have created a telecommunications node dubbed the Unified Electronic Communications Switching Center, or EKTs in its Russian language acronym. This system purportedly funneled any type of telecommunications-based exchange – be it by phone or Internet – through a powerful computer.

It is not known beyond all certainty, however, if this system actually exists or whether the government has simply claimed it does to convey the illusion of powerful surveillance capabilities.

More significantly, immaterial of whether the EKTs is actually real or not, the communications agency levies 0.20 somoni ($0.022) for every minute of outgoing phone calls to fund the upkeep of the would-be node.

These stories are grist to the mill of those critics of the Communications Services Agency who grumble that this government body is little more than a money-making racket.

The agency is run by Beg Sabur – né Beg Zukhurov; he adopted a new moniker in line with a craze a few years ago for refashioning names to more closely fit Tajik custom. He is a relative by marriage of President Emomali Rahmon, and his agency’s access to copious sources of revenue has seen it branch into multiple other areas of business, including construction and the hotel industry.

Attempts by the media to gently probe the agency’s activities are met with intense hostility. When an article about the imminent change of policy on NGN appeared in the local media earlier this month, representatives of several telecommunications companies were summoned to the communications regulator’s office for a dressing-down and faced veiled threats of prosecution in the event of more leaks to the press.

All industry insiders that spoke to EurasiaNet.org for this article did so on condition of anonymity.

Trends in the industry would appear to illustrate why the government is eager to quash a cost-saving form of technology. In 2016, Tajik mobile phone subscribers made 150-million-minutes worth of international calls every month. That represents a big drop. According to official data, over the past four years, the volume of international calls has fallen by 70 percent.

Fewer long-distance calls mean lower revenues for the communications agency.

“International voice calls are already yesterday’s news because after the appearance of NGN, [and messaging apps like] Viber, WhatsApp and so on, the volume of international calls has fallen sharply,” one manager at a telecommunications company told EurasiaNet.org. “Rather than call Russia at 1.2 somoni [a minute], it is easier for customers to have megabytes and to talk to their relatives for free. If we used to make our money through voice calls, now we are concentrating more on the Internet, and that is a global trend.”

Communications regulators insist the move against NGN is strictly about security.

“People buy accounts and go to Afghanistan and Syria, and their relatives talk to them as though they were in Tajikistan,” a communications agency representative told EurasiaNet.org.

There is mounting speculation that next in line will be messaging apps like Viber and WhatsApp, which operate on a slightly different principle than NGN. While the communications service representative would not confirm whether they would try to block those apps outright, he said that they needed to be strictly regulated to “preserve stability.”

Attempts to implement outright blockages of Internet-based resources have proven quixotic in the past, however. Facebook has been blocked on several occasions in Tajikistan, only for a growing number of people to learn how to use simple ban-circumventing techniques. Clamping down on one app simply drives telephone users to another, as a source at another Tajik mobile company told EurasiaNet.org.

“Voice communication on WhatsApp was blocked in the [United Arab Emirates], but you could still talk perfectly normally through Telegram,” the source said. “The more smartphones there are around, the more services will enter our lives, and limiting them is not possible. People who are not willing to overpay for voice communications will find some way to get around the restrictions.”

Eurasianet

December 22, 2017

The Diplomat: Attacks on Press Freedom Show Central Asia’s Authoritarian Side

Media freedom continues to be a weak point in Central Asia.

In the past few weeks and months, a staggering number of attacks on press freedom has dotted Central Asia, exposing the hypersensitive disposition of the authorities toward critical voices.

One of the most worrying cases involved independent journalist Khayrullo Mirsaidov. He was arrested after he penned an open letter to Tajik President Emomali Rahmon denouncing a request for a bribe that he received from a public official. The official denied the allegation and sued Mirsaidov for defamation. Mirsaidov was arrested immediately after being interrogated on December 5 and was charged with embezzlement and forgery, which could land him 21 years in jail.

Michael Andersen, a journalist who has collaborated with Mirsaidov for almost two decades, told The Diplomatthat he was an example of independent and rigorous journalism in Tajikistan.

“Mirsaidov has written several articles about the corruption and brutality of the authorities in Tajikistan. And yes, he has had several ‘clashes’ with these authorities when he has taken up the cause and problems of people who have been robbed or mistreated by the authorities. The authorities in Tajikistan do not like people who speak up about corruption and brutality,” Andersen said.

Katie Morris, head of Europe and Central Asia at ARTICLE 19, a freedom of speech and information group, said this could be part of a government campaign to silence critical voices.

“In Tajikistan, the situation has dramatically deteriorated over the past few years. The government seems to be trying to arrest all dissident voices and scare others into silence,” Morris told The Diplomat via email.

One week later, the Tajik government cracked down on telecommunication services that use foreign IP addresses and new generation networks (NGN), mostly used by migrant workers, thus shuttering several messaging applications, such as Viber, WhatsApp, and Telegram, which could further restrict freedom of expression.

In Kyrgyzstan, a number of libel lawsuits against the investigative outlet Zanoza.kg in the summer of 2017 resulted in hefty fines for the publication, accused of having offended the reputation of then-President Almazbek Atambayev. Once the sentence was final, the president said that the event would serve as a precedent.

“This should be a lesson for some journalists,” Atambayev said.

Weeks later, Zanoza.kg and its publisher chose to revive the editorial venture through another name, Kaktus.media.

In another worrying sign of abuse against journalists, on December 9, the border police refused entry to Chris Rickleton, a British journalist who has been living in Kyrgyzstan for almost a decade. In his work with Agence France PresseEurasianet, and Global Voices, Rickleton had impartially covered politics, economy, society, and sports across Central Asia. Despite calls from MPs to disclose the Security Service’s rationale for Rickleton’s deportation upon arrival, authorities have failed to produce an explanation.

On December 19, police seized equipment at the NTS TV channel in Bishkek and banned broadcasting as they are investigating a complaint filed by Grexton Capital Ltd., subsidiary of an offshore entity which opposition media linked to Maksim Bakiyev, son of former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Omurbek Babanov, owner of NTS, lost a presidential election in October, when he ran against Sooronbai Jeenbekov, the candidate supported by former President Almazbek Atambayev.

Political games and attacks on press freedom are increasingly intertwined in a country that most observers hold up as an island of democracy and freedom in Central Asia.

“In Kyrgyzstan, generally, journalists face fewer legislative threats, but impunity for violence and selective application of the law has created an environment in which journalists self-censor on certain topics. This has been a constant under successive governments, although recent governments do seem to be considering the introduction and application of increasingly repressive laws. The Law on Guarantees of the President, used to harass Zanoza, is a major concern,” Morris told The Diplomat.

Neighboring Uzbekistan seemed to have shown signs of a thaw one year after the death of strongman President Islam Karimov. His successor, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, freed some political prisoners, including opposition journalists, prompting optimism among international observers. However, the day-to-day harassment of journalists suggests that change is yet to comeFergana News contributor Bobomurod Abdullayev was arrested in late September on charges of “attacking the constitutional order.” Weeks later, Hayot Nasriddinov, a freelance journalist for Fergana and RFE/RL, was also arrested, but the charges against him were not disclosed. In December, freelance journalist Sid Yanyshev was detained for six hours, while the authorities questioned his rights as a reporter.

Meanwhile, on December 4, Kazakh authorities freed the former president of the National Press Club, Seitkazy Matayev, after 14 months in prison. His son Asset remains in jail.

Last year, two Kazakh news outlets, Nakanune and Pravdivaya Gazeta, suffered the government’s heavy hand, with fines and lawsuits against their editors. In February 2017, Zhanbolat Mamay, editor at the Tribunaopposition newspaper, was jailed for seven months on charges of money laundering and was only released after another sentence banning him from leaving the country and from working as a journalist. In April, the popular Radiotochka website stopped publishing news due to financial difficulties and political pressures.

In 2017, Freedom House ranked all five Central Asian states among the bottom 40 countries for press freedom. In April, Reporters Without Borders showed either stable or slightly worsening statistics for Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Their records will now have to be updated to account for more recent abuses, some of which are listed above.

Harassment, imprisonment, financial, and political pressure are experiences that journalists face every day in Central Asia. Dozens currently sit in jail and international observers have grown increasingly worried about their fate.

“It is vital that the international community steps up now and acts to protect and defend Khayrullo [Mirsaidov]. For a critical journalist in Tajikistan it is extremely dangerous to be sitting in detention,” Andersen said, in a call for help.

The Diplomat

Tajikistan: Asylum Seekers Stranded in Limbo on Polish Border

By Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska

On the 8.28 a.m. train to Terespol, a Polish town at the border with Belarus, Ali watches the barely changing landscape with indifference. This might be the twentieth time he has taken this train with his wife and three kids. Or maybe the twenty-first, he cannot quite remember.

Ali, a well-built young man with dark eyes and a doleful smile, is a member of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT). He is also one of countless Tajiks forced to flee his homeland due to a wave of political repression, including a ban of the IRPT in September 2015.

Escape from Tajikistan has taken people like Ali through Belarus and up to the edge of the European Union, where they have found the door slammed in their face.

The unwritten rule for those without visas and hoping to claim asylum in Poland is to travel in the crowded final sleeper carriage. Some of the passengers chat in the dark, others are frozen, anxiously waiting. Maybe this will be the time they are allowed into Poland. Ali’s children play and misbehave. They have taken this route so often it has almost become a daily routine.

Ali and his family spend their days in Brest, a Belarusian city whose outskirts push up against the western Polish border. The kids do not play outside, nor do they go out much at all. For reasons of security, they live, play, sleep and eat in a hotel room rented out by their parents.

According to data provided by Poland’s Office for Foreigners, a growing number of Tajik nationals began claiming asylum toward the end of 2015, as the crackdown back home was picking up steam. Most chose the border crossing at Terespol, as it is easily accessed by train from Moscow or Minsk.

The number of claims peaked last May, when 129 individuals applied for international protection — compared with 18 the same month a year earlier. In recent months, the number has been declining. Only four asylum applications were registered in November. At the same time, according to data provided by the Polish Border Guard, between January and October 2016, 5,503 Tajik nationals were denied entry into Poland, a surge from 1,896 over the same period in 2015. The figure covering Russian nationals, mostly of Chechen origin, is even greater, standing at more than 68,000 in 2016.

Since the summer of 2016, Poland’s border with Belarus has been experiencing its own small-scale migration crisis. And while the right to seek refuge is a universal right provided under EU and Polish law, the Polish border agency began a large-scale refusal of entry for asylum seekers, claiming that they tried to enter the country without a valid visa, which is not required when applying for refugee status.

Marta Szczepanik, an immigration expert with the Warsaw-based Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, said the number of people being turned away at the Polish border in 2016 reached unprecedented levels. Human Constanta, a Belarusian human rights organization that assists would-be asylum seekers in Brest, has said that during the peak months of drama in August and September, up to 3,000 people were living in the city hoping to be allowed into Poland.

As Russian citizens, Chechen migrants have been able to rent private accommodation and stay in Belarus without registration for up to 90 days. The situation for those from Tajikistan is more complicated. Tajiks are forced to stay in overpriced hotels that can officially register their stay in Belarus. After 90 days, they are no longer allowed to remain in the country. Tajiks can, in special circumstances, apply for a temporary residence in Belarus for up to one year, but few either know about the loophole or choose to avail themselves of it.

In December, Ali and his family were coming to the end of their allowed period. With one day left before their stay in Belarus legally expired, they were again turned back at the border with Poland, and denied the right to claim asylum.

The reasons why migrants are not allowed to claim asylum in Poland are unclear. According to Dariusz Sienicki, a spokesperson for the Border Guard, there were no instances of people being refused the opportunity to apply for refugee status. But human rights groups working with the migrants, as well as the asylum seekers themselves, contend otherwise.

Failure is sometimes the outcome of procedural errors.

According to the Terespol monitoring mission of the office of the Polish Ombudsmen for Human Rights, which is the only body allowed to observe the interview process at the border, the majority of migrants fail to directly request asylum in conversations with the border guards. A number of those who do ask are denied entry to Poland anyhow.

This constitutes a clear violation of international refugee law and the right to asylum, especially since Polish law dictates that the Office for Foreigners, and not the Border Guard, is responsible for handling asylum applications. The Border Guard, therefore, is making decisions outside its purview, while the Polish Office for Foreigners has no representatives at the border.

Szczepanik said denying that a migrant has expressed his or her will to claim asylum has become a common explanation used by authorities. Another problem, Szczepanik added, is methodological. “The questions asked by the border guards are often put in such a way to prove the preponderance of economic factors behind migration, while the part of the story suggesting persecution is usually not pursued,” she said.

As Anna Cieślewska, a Central Asia expert from the Jagiellonian University, explained, the persecution in Tajikistan of the IRPT and its supporters dates back several years, to around 2010, when the government sought to set strict rules on religious life under the pretext of combating Islamic extremism. Repression reached a new level of intensity in September 2015, after an alleged coup attempt by a disaffected deputy defense minister was linked to the party.

The Polish government’s reluctance to acknowledge this downturn has exasperated rights advocates.

Tajikistan’s human rights crackdown “requires the European Union, including Poland, to provide protection for those who have been persecuted on political grounds,” Steve Swerdlow, Human Rights Watch’s Central Asia researcher, told EurasiaNet.org. “It also requires that the right to asylum be protected and implemented consistent with Warsaw’s international obligations, rather than the blatant attempt to do an end-run around refugee law.”

There are multiple examples of Tajik authorities taking their hunt of the opposition beyond their own borders. Maksud Ibragimov, a young Russia-based opposition activist, was stabbed in Moscow in late 2014, and weeks later forcibly deported to Tajikistan, where he was charged with extremism and imprisoned for 17 years. In March 2015, the leader of the anti-government Group 24, Umarali Quvvatov, was assassinated in Istanbul after Turkish authorities refused his extradition to Tajikistan. Rights activists suspect Quvvatov’s killing was the handiwork of people working at the Tajik government’s behest.

Other times, the government in Dushanbe has used international extradition treaties to repatriate critics.

In June 2015, Polish authorities denied Shabnam Khudoydodova, who came to the attention of Tajik authorities for social media postings critical of the government, entry into Poland. Upon her return to Brest, Khudoydodova was stopped by Belarusian police and detained on terrorism charges. The Tajik government had placed her name on an Interpol wanted list, and requested her extradition. Khudoydodova claims that after her arrest she was visited in her cell by Tajik special services officers and beaten.

It took nine months of interventions from international human rights groups and the United States Embassy in Belarus to secure Khudoydodova’s release and passage into Poland, where she is now awaiting a decision on her asylum application.

Cieślewska said there are a few possible factors behind Poland’s hardline position on Tajik and other asylum seekers. One is a perception that large numbers of economic migrants have sought to ride the coattails of people subject to political repression. Economic decline in Russia has left its toll on conditions all across the former Soviet Union, including in Tajikistan. The economic fallout is compelling many would-be labor migrants to look further afield for places to live and work.

Also, Cieślewska noted that in 2015 around 90 percent of the 500 or so applications for asylum submitted by citizens of Tajikistan in Poland were withdrawn, most likely because the applicants moved onward to other western European countries, where salaries are higher and Tajik communities are more vibrant. Given that Berlin hosts the headquarters of the IRPT, the majority of political dissidents aspire to move to Germany.

The stricter admission policy adopted by the Polish authorities could be a response to pressure from within the EU, in particular from Germany, which is struggling to cope with its own massive influx of refugees. Many view Poland as merely a transit point on their way to other destinations, namely Germany. While experts have speculated on the possibility of behind-the-scenes diplomatic wrangling, there is no hard evidence to prove such a claim.

According to the data provided by Poland’s Office for Foreigners, in 2016, 13 Tajik nationals were granted refugee status or another form of international protection in Poland. Another 633 applications were discontinued, most of them due to the absence of the applicant. Six people were sent back to Tajikistan.

This is clearly bad news for Ali and fellow dissidents trying to reach Poland. While the number of families remaining in Brest is slowly declining, and it seems that the worst crisis is over, those escaping Tajikistan in search of international protection remain bereft of escape routes.

Editor’s note:

Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska is a freelance journalist covering the post-Soviet space.

EurasiaNet:

© Eurasianet

Aljazeera: Tajikistan uses Interpol red notice on Mirzorahim Kuzov

A senior member of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), which was banned by the government in August 2015, could be forced to return to the Central Asian country as it makes use of Interpol’s “red notice” system.

On October 9, Greek border guards arrested Mirzorahim Kuzov at Athens International Airport as he was flying from Warsaw – where he had attended an Organization for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) in Europe conference on human rights – to Tehran, via Greece. 

He is now being held at a prison in Athens, having lived in hiding in a third country for the last two years.

His arrest was possible because of a red notice alert issued at Tajikistan’s request, a tool which allows Interpol – an international network of police forces – to pursue people fleeing jurisdiction around the world.

Tajikistan accused Kuzov of “extremism” and participating in an anti-government coup in September 2015 – allegations he denies.

“Everything Tajikistan’s government says about the IRPT or about me is a lie, slander. Interpol has become a weapon against the opposition and democratic forces,” Kuzov told Al Jazeera.

‘A bitter irony’

Countries including Russia, Uzbekistan and China have previously used the Interpol red notice system.

“These governments have ‘nominated’ individuals for so-called crimes under their national criminal codes and often these crimes are not consistent with international legally recognised offences, or are so over-broad and vague as to void their meaning,” Steve Swerdlow, Human Rights Watch (HRW) Central Asia researcher told Al Jazeera.

“Interpol has not instituted a system for vetting these cases in a way that would prevent real harm from being done to individuals,” he said.

Kuzov is one of hundreds of opposition figures who fled Tajikistan in fear of their lives in September 2015.

“It is a bitter irony that [Kuzov] was arrested on his way back from a human rights conference in Warsaw, Poland. Greek authorities have an obligation under international law not to return him to Tajikistan where he faces the real possibility of torture and imprisonment on trumped-up charges,” said Swerdlow.

Following the Tajik election of March 2015, the IRPT failed to reach the threshold for entering parliament, and was left out for the first time since the 1997 peace agreement which ended the civil war. 

Shortly afterwards, President Emomali Rahmon began a campaign against the opposition.

In September 2015, former Defence Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda was accused of – with the support of gunmen – attacking the main police station in Vahdat and the Ministry of Defence in Dushanbe. The authorities soon labelled the incident as a “terrorist” attack and accused the IRPT of plotting to overthrow the government.

Nazarzoda was soon killed in a shoot-out between rebels and government forces.

Although the party condemned the attacks and denied any connection with Nazarzoda, the government banned its operation and jailed all members who had not managed to leave the country.

‘I hope European countries will take necessary measures’

“[If I stayed in Tajikistan] I would share the fate of my fellow party men and my friends. I would be now facing a life sentence or 25 to 30 years in prison,” Kuzov said.

“Kuzov’s case is similar to other senior leaders of the IRPT who have been targeted on politically motivated charges of engaging in an attempted coup in September 2015,” said Swerdlow of HRW.

Kuzov said his family, who stayed in Tajikistan for a period after he fled, paid a high price for his political activity. They now live in Lithuania, where they have applied for refugee status.

“Their documents, including passports, were confiscated,” he said. “They were regularly harassed, intimidated and interrogated by the security services. They said to my wife that if I don’t return, they will arrest her, our children and our relatives.”

Interpol’s constitution obliges the organisation to respect individual freedom and rights. 

In an email to Al Jazeera, Interpol refused to comment on Kuzov’s case.

“If or when police in any of Interpol’s 192 member countries share information with the General Secretariat in Lyon, France, in relation to investigations and individuals, this information remains under the ownership of that member country,” the email read.

“Interpol does not, therefore, comment on specific cases or individuals except in special circumstances and with approval of the member country concerned.”

The organisation said that it considers all requests for the re-evaluation of individual cases. 

However, the review procedure can be long and daunting and in cases like Kuzov’s, there is no time for reassessment.

In November 2016, Interpol adopted a number of measures to improve its information processing mechanisms. For example, it began to remove names of people who have received refugee status from the red notice list.

However, Interpol has failed to apply sanctions against members who have violated its rules.

Kuzov will soon appear before the [Greek] Supreme Court which will make a decision on his extradition. 

He remains optimistic. 

“I hope that European countries and the OSCE will take all necessary measures not to allow for my deportation to Tajikistan,” he said.

Aljazeera

Human Rights Watch: “Greece: Tajik Activist Faces Extradition”

Forced Return Would Violate Ban on Torture, Ill-Treatment.

(Athens) – Greece should not extradite, deport, or otherwise facilitate the return of a Tajik opposition activist to Tajikistan, where he faces possible torture or ill-treatment, Human Rights Watch said today. Mirzorakhim Kuzov, a senior leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), was detained on October 9, 2017, by Greek police at passport control in Athens International Airport as he was in transit after attending a human rights conference in Warsaw, Poland.

The Tajik government banned the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, the country’s leading opposition party, and designated it a terrorist organization in September 2015. Kuzov was detained in Athens under an Interpol “red notice” submitted by Tajik authorities on the basis of politically motivated extremism charges brought in retaliation for his peaceful political opposition. The Tajik government has previously abused the Interpol notice system to target several peaceful political activists, including Muhiddin Kabiri, the party leader.

“It is no secret that Tajikistan has a serious problem with torture and is actively hunting down political opposition figures using Interpol ‘red notices,’” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Greece has a legal obligation not to return anyone to a country where they could face torture or ill-treatment and should abide by those international commitments.”

In recent years, Tajik authorities have dramatically intensified a crackdown on freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said. The government has jailed hundreds of political activists, including several human rights lawyers, and closed down opposition parties.

In September 2015, following clashes between government forces and militants associated with Tajikistan’s deputy defense minister, Abduhalim Nazarzoda, authorities arrested dozens of IRPT members, accusing them of involvement in the violence, despite a lack of evidence. In June 2016, Tajikistan’s Supreme Court sentenced 13 party leaders to lengthy prison terms, including life in prison for 2, on charges of attempting to overthrow the government. The sentences followed an unfair trial initiated in retaliation for their peaceful political opposition, and reflect the government’s pervasive manipulation of the justice system and egregious violations of the right to freedom of expression.

Human Rights Watch has interviewed numerous sources who report that various IRPT activists in prison, including Mahmadali Hayit and Rahmatullo Rajab, have been tortured.

Kuzov is being held in Korydalos prison in Athens. He has told Human Rights Watch that he fled Tajikistan in September 2015 fearing arrest after Tajik police and security services began persecuting him and other party members. He had been in hiding in a third country for the last two years, before attending the human rights conference organized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Warsaw. In August, Kuzov’s family members were also forced to flee Tajikistan, following nearly two years of continuous harassment and repeated interrogations by Tajik security services.

Tajik authorities have charged Kuzov with various crimes of “extremism” under Tajikistan’s criminal code including “public calls for carrying out extremist activity” (art. 307(1)(2)) and “organizing an extremist community” (art. 307(2)(1)). Authorities routinely invoke article 307 charges in politically motivated cases.

Despite reforms outlawing torture, as defined under international standards, in Tajikistan’s criminal code, torture is an enduring problem in Tajikistan. Police and investigators often use it to coerce confessions, and Human Rights Watch has received many credible reports of people associated with political opposition groups being tortured.

As a party to the Convention against Torture and the European Convention of Human Rights, Greece is obliged to ensure that it does not forcibly send anyone to a place where they face a real risk of persecution, torture, or other inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment.

The European Court of Human Rights has issued a number of rulings that sending anyone back to Tajikistan would be a violation of the European Convention because of the serious risk that the person would be tortured or subject to inhuman and degrading treatment. The court also rejected as unreliable assurances from the Tajik government that it would not subject anyone sent back to prohibited treatment, saying that such assurances did not satisfy the host government’s obligation not to return the individuals to places where they faced such risk. The court has yet to issue any subsequent ruling that circumstances in Tajikistan have substantially changed and that extradition or forcible returns to Tajikistan would not violate the convention.

“Kuzov urgently needs protection,” Swerdlow said. “Greek authorities should make sure they don’t send him back to Tajikistan, where it’s clear he is at serious risk of abuse and wouldn’t get a fair trial.”

Human Rights Watch

October 12, 2017

CPJ: Tajik journalist arrested after alleging official corruption

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.

Committee to Pretect Journalists (CPJ)

December 13, 2017

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