Monthly Archives: February 2018

Fairtrials: “INTERPOL removes Red Notice for persecuted Tajikistan opposition leader”

INTERPOL removes Red Notice for persecuted Tajikistan opposition leader

February 28, 2018

Fair trial

INTERPOL announced last week that they had removed the Red Notice – an international wanted person alert – against Muhiddin Kabiri, leader of the Islamic Revival Party (IRPT) of Tajikistan.

Once the second largest political party in Tajikistan estimate to have over 40,000 members, the IRPT was the only officially registered Islamic political party in Central Asia and was the leading political opposition party in Tajikistan. Following severe Government crackdowns on political and religious freedoms in Tajikistan, the IRPT was deregistered as a political party by the Government and put on a blacklist of terrorist organisations. The Government issued an INTERPOL Red Notice against Kabiri, who has been living in exile since 2015 and has successfully claimed political asylum in Europe. But this has not stopped the Tajik authorities attempting to pursue him across borders using INTERPOL- in 2017 a representative of the Tajikistan Prosecutor General’s office said:

Muhiddin Kabiri, chairman of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, is in the Interpol list and is to be arrested immediately. But some European countries are providing asylum to criminals instead of arresting and extraditing them to Tajikistan.”

Fair Trials, a global criminal justice watchdog, has been advocating for the removal of the arrest warrant against Kabiri, who represents a clear case of an authoritarian Government abusing INTERPOL’s systems to persecute political opponents. INTERPOL has a clear policy that Red Notices cannot be used for political means, and a country cannot issue a Red Notice against refugees who have claimed political asylum due to persecution from that country, but it has taken over a year for Kabiri’s Red Notice to finally be deleted. Fair Trials Chief Executive, Jago Russell, said:

For years, Muhiddin Kabiri suffered as a result of Tajikistan’s attempts to stop him campaigning from exile for political and religious freedoms for people in Tajikistan, including for his colleagues, many of whom have been wrongfully arrested and imprisoned. We are delighted that INTERPOL’s improved complaints mechanism has worked as it should, and INTERPOL said “no” to Tajikistan’s abuse of the Red Notice system.”

Upon hearing about the deletion of the Red Notice, Mr. Kabiri said:

We believe human rights are relevant to all of us, every day, and standing up for them is never an easy job. Unfortunately, INTERPOL has been widely misused by authoritarian countries to silence peaceful activists.

Thank you to human rights organizations, especially Fair Trials, that work to improve respect for the fundamental human right to a fair trial and to delete the INTERPOL Red Notices against political dissidents.”

HRW: “Tajikistan: Activist Forcibly Returned From Turkey”

Tajikistan: Activist Forcibly Returned From Turkey

Faces Torture, Politically Motivated Prosecution

(Bishkek) – Tajik officials, with the apparent acquiescence of Turkish authorities, have forcibly and extra-judicially returned a political activist from Istanbul to Tajikistan, Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee said today. The activist, Namunjon Sharipov, faces a real risk of torture and other ill-treatment in Tajikistan.

On February 16, 2018, Tajik officials took custody of Sharipov, a well-known businessman and member of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), from an Istanbul detention facility where he had been held for 11 days. They drove him to the airport, and forced him on a plane to Tajikistan, where he faces terrorism charges for peacefully exercising his freedom of expression.

“Returning someone to a place where they may face torture, arbitrary detention, political prosecution, and other rights violations demonstrates shameless contempt by Turkey and Tajikistan for their international obligations,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch. “By all accounts, Sharipov faces jail and abuse in Tajikistan for no other reason than having a political opinion different than the government’s.”

Sharipov, 55, is a high-ranking member of the opposition party from Tajikistan’s northern Sughd region. The Tajik government first banned the party in September 2015 and later designated it a terrorist organization, arresting hundreds of members on vague and overbroad extremism charges.

The terrorist designation followed an alleged coup attempt, which has not been shown to be linked in any way to the peaceful opposition party. In June 2016, authorities sentenced 14 senior IRPT leaders to lengthy prison terms, including two to life sentences, following a flawed trial. Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee have received credible accounts that several party members, including the activists Mahmadali Hayit and Rahmatullo Rajab, have been tortured in prison.

Sharipov moved to Istanbul in August 2015 and established a tea house popular among Central Asian migrants. His son told Human Rights Watch that on three consecutive days starting on February 2, the consul of the Tajik consulate in Istanbul visited Sharipov at the tea house, encouraging him to return voluntarily to Tajikistan.

“First the diplomat offered him money to return and said the government would make him ‘rich’ and ‘give him whatever he wanted’ if he agreed to come back and publicly disavow the IRPT,” the son said. “My father answered simply that he would ‘think about it.’”

But on the second and third days, the diplomat cajoled and intimidated Sharipov, threatening that there would be “problems for him” if he did not agree to return. “My father said, ‘I have done nothing wrong. Why would I leave?’”

On February 5, Turkish police detained Sharipov on the street outside the tea house and took him to Istanbul’s Kumkapi removal center. At the removal center, Turkish migration authorities informed Sharipov that Tajikistan was seeking his arrest on terrorism charges but that he was not facing imminent deportation to Tajikistan.

Turkish officials at the detention center encouraged Sharipov to consider voluntarily leaving Turkey for a safe third country rather than face lengthy detention while he contested Tajikistan’s request for extradition. Over the next 11 days, Sharipov’s relatives and lawyer visited him at Kumkapi removal center several times. Sharipov’s lawyer told Human Rights Watch that they were repeatedly assured that Sharipov was not at imminent risk of being removed to Tajikistan.

However, they were not informed as to whether a formal extradition request had been made, and if they could therefore begin proceedings to challenge it. The lawyer said Sharipov told him he wanted to find refuge in a safe third country.

On February 16, a Friday, Turkish officials at the detention center told Sharipov’s lawyer that he should purchase a one-way plane ticket for Sharipov to a country of his choosing that did not require a visa, and to pick him up on Monday, February 19. But when the lawyer returned on February 19, Turkish officials said that two Tajik consular officials, one of whom was the consul, had taken Sharipov into custody later on February 16, driven him to the airport, and forced him onto a plane bound for Dushanbe. The officials at the center did not provide the lawyer with any documents in relation to Sharipov’s removal from the detention center or transfer to Tajikistan.

On February 20, Sharipov resurfaced in Dushanbe and called Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik service and made a statement that he had “returned voluntarily” to the country, was “freely going about his affairs,” and denied reports that he had been forcibly returned. But Sharipov’s relatives in Tajikistan reported to his lawyer and activists outside the country that Sharipov is in detention in the capital, has no access to a phone, and is being forced to make such statements. On several previous occasions, Tajik activists who have been forcibly returned to the country have been forced to make such statements to the press under duress.

The Tajik government has carried out a severe human rights crackdown over the last three years, with hundreds of political activists, including several human rights lawyers, jailed and opposition parties banned. Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee have documented a wide-ranging campaign by Tajik authorities to detain, imprison, and silence peaceful opposition activists and perceived critics at home and abroad. Since 2015, Dushanbe has sought the detention and forcible return to Tajikistan of peaceful political activists in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia, Turkey, and elsewhere.

In March 2015, an opposition figure, Umarali Kuvvatov, was shot dead in Istanbul with suspected involvement of the Tajik government. Another activist, Maksud Ibragimov, was stabbed, forcibly disappeared in Russia, returned to Tajikistan, prosecuted and sentenced to 17 years in prison. Tajik authorities have also abused the Interpol notice system to target several peaceful political activists abroad.

Turkish authorities should immediately investigate Sharipov’s forced removal, including whether Turkish law enforcement agents were complicit in illegally transferring Sharipov to Tajikistan, Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee said.

Turkey is a member of the Council of Europe and party to the European Convention on Human Rights, and any involvement of, or acquiescence by, state agents in the extrajudicial transfer of Sharipov to Tajikistan is a serious violation of the convention.

In cases involving unlawful removal of people from Russia, the European Court of Human Rights has warned that “any extra-judicial transfer or extraordinary rendition, by its deliberate circumvention of due process, is an absolute negation of the rule of law and the values protected by the Convention. It therefore amounts to a violation of the most basic rights guaranteed by the Convention.”

“Everything we know about the trials and treatment of people in Sharipov’s position leads us to fear the worst,” said Marius Fossum, Norwegian Helsinki Committee regional representative in Central Asia. “Tajikistan’s international partners, including diplomatic representatives on the ground, should vigorously call on Tajikistan to prevent torture and to refrain from punishing people for the peaceful exercise of their freedom of expression.”

Human rights watch

February 20, 2018 11:01PM EST

What “Britannica” says about IRPT and dictator Rahmon

What Britannica says about IRPT and dictator Rahmon

After his electoral victory in 1999, Rahmonov sought to establish the authority of the central government throughout Tajikistan, arresting some regional warlords and carrying out a campaign to disarm non-state militias. He also began what many observers saw as a drift toward authoritarianism, using the presidency to increase his personal power and steer the country away from the political pluralism called for by the 1997 peace agreement. The U.S.-led war against the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 provided Rahmonov with a favourable climate for a crackdown against the Islamic opposition in Tajikistan. He accused the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT)—which under the peace agreement was one of the opposition groups entitled to a percentage of government posts—of extremism and began dismissing members of the party from their official positions. The party itself, however, remained legal in Tajikistan. Meanwhile, Rahmonov began to install his extended family and personal associates in dominant roles in politics and business in Tajikistan.

In 2003 Rahmonov’s position was strengthened when voters approved a referendum on a package of constitutional amendments that Rahmonov had requested as necessary to modernize the country. These included an amendment loosening presidential term limits, which made it possible for Rahmonov to hold the presidency until 2020.

The suppression of opposition parties and the muzzling of independent media intensified in the run-up to the legislative elections held in February 2005. Independent newspapers were closed, and opposition parties reported that local election boards had refused to place many of their candidates on the ballot. The final result was a lopsided victory for Rahmonov’s People’s Democratic Party, which won 52 of the 63 seats in the Assembly of Representatives.

Rahmonov himself was easily elected to another seven-year term as president with nearly 80 percent of the vote in November 2006. The IRPT, the largest opposition party, had not to fielded a presidential candidate after longtime party head Said Abdullo Nuri died earlier in year. Several other opposition parties nominated candidates, but the parties were too small and poorly known to pose a threat to Rahmonov.

In March 2007 Rahmonov dropped the Russian suffix (-ov) from his surname as an acknowledgment of Tajik identity. The change initiated a trend of “Tajikization” of surnames that was followed by many senior members of the government.

Rahmon won another term as president on November 6, 2013. A coalition of opposition parties and groups, including the IRPT, had attempted to nominate a candidate, but harassment by the authorities prevented her name from reaching the ballot. Five other parties were able to get their candidates on the ballot, but none were well-known enough to receive significant support.

In September 2015 the government banned the IRPT—until then the only legal Islamist party in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia—and placed it on a list of extremist and terrorist organizations. Several of the party’s leaders were later charged with having orchestrated a coup attempt in 2015 and were sentenced to life imprisonment in 2016 in a case that IRPT supporters and human rights groups denounced as politically motivated.

In May 2016 voters in Tajikistan approved a referendum on a package of constitutional changes that included lifting term limits for President Rahmon and lowering the minimum age for presidential candidates from 35 to 30. The amendments further strengthened the Rahmon family’s already tight grip on power; the amendment concerning presidential term limits had been written to apply only to Rahmon, based on his special status as “Leader of the Nation” granted by the Assembly of Representatives in 2015, and the amendment concerning the age of presidential candidates was widely seen as a way to clear a path to the presidency for Rahmon’s son Rustam, who would be in his early thirties at the time of the 2020 presidential election. Another amendment in the referendum banned all political parties based on religion.

Britannica

https://www.britannica.com/place/Tajikistan

RFERL: “HRW Blasts Tajik Journalist’s Criminal Case As ‘Travesty Of Justice”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reiterated its calls on Tajik authorities to release prominent journalist Hairullo Mirsaidov, after his pretrial detention was extended by another two months.
“Bad news from #Tajikistan: Pre-trial detention of independent journalist #KhayrulloMirsaidov is extended by another TWO MONTHS,” Steve Swerdlow, the Central Asia researcher for the New York-based rights group, wrote in a message on Twitter on February 10.

“He has been unlawfully behind bars already for over two months,” Swerdlow wrote. “This travesty of justice should end now.”
Mirsaidov was charged in December with embezzlement, forgery, false reporting to police, and inciting ethnic and religious hatred and could be sentenced to 21 years in prison if tried and convicted.
The journalist’s father, Khabibullo Mirsaidov, has told RFE/RL that his son denies the charges.
The Prosecutor-General’s Office of Soghd region told Dushanbe-based Asia-Plus news agency last week that Mirsaidov’s pretrial detention was extended at the request of the prosecutor with a view to conducting a “full and objective investigation” of the case.
Mirsaidov is an independent journalist and a former correspondent of Asia-Plus and Germany’s Deutsche Welle radio.
He is also the leader of the Tajikistani national KVN comedy team, a stand-up comedy competition which originated among university students in the Soviet Union and is still popular in many post-Soviet states.
His case has drawn international attention, with London-based Amnesty International describing him as “a prisoner of conscience who is being punished solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression.”
In New York, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said journalists like Mirsaidov should be recognized for the important work they do, not locked up on bogus charges.”
Mirsaidov was initially detained in his native city of Khujand on December 5, weeks after he published an open letter to President Emomali Rahmon, Prosecutor-General Yusuf Rahmon, and Sughd region Governor Abdurahmon Qodiri asking them to crack down on corrupt local authorities.

RFERL: “The Happiest Member Of The Rahmon Family”

The nine children of Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, seven daughters and two sons, are doing quite well.

For example, oldest daughter Ozoda Rahmon, 40, is the head of the Tajik president’s executive office; third daughter Rukhshona Rahmonova, 26, is the deputy head of the Foreign Ministry’s international organizations department; sixth daughter Zarina Rahmon, 23, is deputy head of Tajikistan’s largest commercial bank, Orienbonk; and oldest son Rustam Emomali, 30, is the mayor of Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe.

They undoubtedly have good lives, but the member of the family who seems to be having the most fun lately is President Rahmon’s second son, Somon Emomali. Or at least the photos and videos posted on his Instagram page indicate this 18-year-old is having a great time.

But, before you look, remember: Tajikistan has the lowest average monthly salary of the former Soviet republics — the equivalent of about $175. Some people, especially some pensioners, are living on much less than that.

Officially, Tajikistan’s population is some 8.6 million, out of which probably more than 1 million working-age citizens are migrant laborers in Russia or Kazakhstan, legally and illegally, because they could not find decent employment in Tajikistan. Only about a half of Tajikistan’s population has access to clean drinking water.

And, to be fair, Somon does not have a wristwatch collection that could compare to the wristwatches Ibabekir Bekdurdyev, the 28-year-old husband of one of Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov’s nieces, owns.
February 10, 2018

rferl.org

Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: “Tajikistan, Most Muslim Country in Central Asia, Struggles to Rein In Islam”

In the last month alone, local authorities closed almost 100 mosques in the northern part of Tajikistan, the latest effort by Dushanbe to control Islam in the most fervently Muslim country in Central Asia. Yet, this campaign is exceedingly likely to backfire by driving both imams who have lost their jobs as well as their former parishioners and followers to go underground. Indeed, this move may be at least as counterproductive as Dushanbe’s decision two years ago to call home the 6,000 Tajikistani Muslims studying in madrassas (Muslim religious schools) and Islamic universities abroad and then refusing to allow them to work in government-registered mosques. And that entire situation was further exacerbated by the fact that the government has restricted higher Islamic education inside the country to a single Muslim center.

By systematically going after mosques and places of Islamic study, Dushanbe is in large measure recapitulating the unsuccessful Soviet approach, dramatically expanding the Muslim underground in the most Muslim country in Central Asia. As a result, at least some of those Muslim faithful pushed to the shadows could ultimately link up with Islamist radicals coming into the country from Afghanistan, destabilizing the impoverished country still further. If that happens—and there is some evidence that it already is (see below)—the government in Dushanbe and those who want to block the export of Islamist radicalism from Afghanistan are likely to suffer a major defeat and possibly even the overthrow of the secular regime in Tajikistan. In large measure, they will have only themselves to blame for such a loss.

At the end of January, officials in the Tajikistani city of Isfara (Sughd Region) announced that they had closed 45 mosques for failing to maintain “sanitary norms.” Apparently, these former places of worship will be converted into clubs and other social institutions (News.tj, January 25). Then, officials in the neighboring Ghafurov District announced that they were closing 45 mosques supposedly because some of them were built too close together—Tajikistani law bans having two religious facilities within 50 meters of one another—and transforming them into social centers as well (News.tj, January 30).

Officials insist that a sufficient number of mosques will remain open. In the case of the latter closings, the Ghafurov District, which has 360,000 residents, will still have 136 mosques—one for every 2,700 people (Fergananews.com, January 30). The authorities claim there are “about 4,000” officially registered mosques throughout Tajikistan, of which 370 are so-called “cathedral mosques” of significant size. Moreover, according to the government, that there are some 3,914 imams, or one for every 2,210 people in the country, making Tajikistan the most Islamic state in Central Asia by either of these measures (Fergananews.com, November 2, 2017).

But those numbers are deceptive. On the one hand, the government exercises tight control over both mosques and imams. All of the latter are appointed by the government-controlled Council of the Ulema and the State Committee for Religious Affairs. The imams are paid out of government funds, a miserly 800 som ($90) a month. The government also has banned from serving as an imam in official mosques anyone who has received any theological education abroad. This has dramatically limited the number of people in the country who can serve—there is only one Muslim academy in all of Tajikistan, and it is small. It has also diminished the quality of those serving—many Tajikistani imams do not know Arabic or even basic prayers. Furthermore, the government decides on the subjects of the homilies of the imams and regularly distributes to them a special brochure of “recommended” texts. Finally, the country’s security services have set up video surveillance within and around all mosques in the capitals and major cities and many of the mosques in smaller towns as well (Fergananews.com, January 30). It would seem that the authorities have things under control as much as possible.

But on the other hand, there is an alternative Islam, one that in Soviet times Western scholars like Alexandre Bennigsen called “unofficial” or “underground” Islam. It consists of all Islamic practice that the government does not allow. And as Bennigsen showed, the more tightly the Soviet authorities restricted what “official” mosques and imams could do, the larger and more vital became this second face of Islam (Alexandre Bennigsen, Islam in the Soviet Union, London, 1967; Bennigsen, Islamic Threat to the Soviet State, London, 1983).

The reasons for evoking that legacy when discussing present-day Tajikistan are numerous: First, Tajikistan in the 1990s suffered a bitter civil war in which an Islamic party played a major role. That party has now been banned (see EDM, September 11, 2015); but its supporters remain not only in the population but among the military and the civilian bureaucracy (RFE/RL, December 1, 2015). The large number of Tajiks who identify as imams but who cannot work in official mosques because they received their training abroad or because, as now, their mosques have been closed are ready, willing and able to lead those who also do not feel comfortable in the denatured Islam that Dushanbe permits (Emmanuel Karagiannis, “The Challenge of Radical Islam in Tajikistan,” Nationalities Papers, 34:1, 2006, pp. 1–20.). And the Tajiks of northern Afghanistan, many of whom are Islamists, have made inroads in Tajikistan in recent months as have Tajik Islamic State fighters now returning home (Asia Times, February 4, 2018).

Many in Moscow and the West have praised Dushanbe for its moves to control Islamist radicalism. But they have generally failed to understand that by its actions against Islam, the Tajikistani government is radicalizing far more of its citizens than it is reining in.

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 15 Issue: 18

Jamestown.org

Eurasianet: “Tajikistan: Opposition Leader Tried in Absentia”

Tajikistan: Opposition Leader Tried in Absentia

A spokesman for the court declined to state what Muhiddin Kabiri is charged with, saying those details are a “state secret.”

Tajikistan’s Supreme Court has begun hearings in a criminal trial against the exiled leader of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party, or IRPT, Muhiddin Kabiri.

RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, reported on February 1 that Supreme Court spokesman Shermuhammad Shohiyon declined to specify what exact charges Kabiri is actually facing, saying the matter is a state secret.

Kabiri lives in Germany, where he has received political asylum.

IRPT representatives have told Eurasianet that they too do not know what charges Kabiri is facing. The speculated that the accusations might include terrorism, extremism, attempting to topple power through violent means, polygamy and fraud. IRPT has always denied all such accusations of criminality.

In 2017, Tajikistan adopted changes to the law allowing the courts to carry out trials in absentia and to conduct criminal investigations against people outside the country.

Opposition politicians forced to flee overseas maintain that the changes have been adopted specifically with them in mind.

In actual fact, the looser requirements for trials in absentia have also been deployed against people suspected of enlisting in the Islamic States militant group. In some cases, it is not even known whether the people on trial are still alive or not.

The clear danger of this approach is that the need for presenting convincing evidence is quite absent, as illustrated by one recent case.

Last week, a court in the Khatlon region sentenced Shamsiddin Saidov, an IRPT activist now living in Europe, to 15 years in jail. Saidov was found guilty of charges that included terrorism and extremism.

“There is evidence of the defendant’s involvement in terrorism. Nine witnesses were questioned. Photographic evidence was also presented in which he was seen sitting next to Kabiri,” a spokesman for the court told the media.

The IRPT was vaguely tolerated by Tajik authorities until September 2015, when the government embarked on a full-on onslaught against the party, which was at the time the last viable opposition force in the country. Officials said the party was involved in an alleged attempted coup that took place that month. No reliable evidence for the coup having actually taken place has ever been made public.

Following the crackdown, at least 12 senior IRPT members were jailed and sentenced to long prison terms. Kabiri was the only leadership figure to evade arrest as he was out of the country at the time.

Feb 2, 2018

eurasianet