RFERL: “Tajikistan Imprisons Rank-And-File Members Of The Islamic Party”

Tajikistan Imprisons Rank-And-File Members Of The Islamic Party

Once, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) shared power in the government of Tajikistan. The IRPT was the only registered Islamic political party not only in Tajikistan but anywhere in the former Soviet Union.

Today in Tajikistan, you can’t even talk publicly about the IRPT without risking arrest, as was just seen.

Independent Tajik news agency Asia-Plus reported on April 2 that four men, all in their 30s, were sentenced to six years in prison for continuing to speak about the IRPT and supporting the party’s ideas.

Asia-Plus referred to a “source in the Sughd provincial court” who said the four continued party activities in the northern city of Istaravshan despite a ban on the IRPT that has been in effect since late 2015.

The source said, “For example, during 2016, under the guise of having plov, they would meet in chaihanas (teahouses) and, criticize the Supreme Court decision to declare the IRPT a terrorist and extremist organization, and preach party ideas to those gathered.”

Six years, in a maximum-security prison, for talking about subjects that just three years ago, and for 18 years previously, would have been acceptable, or at least legal.

Even after the 1997 Tajik peace accord, when opposition groups such as the IRPT were allowed to return to the villages, towns, and cities, and live openly, the IRPT’s situation was not easy. IRPT members were increasingly harassed, sometimes beaten, and an unofficial campaign to smear the party’s image gained traction in the decade leading up to the IPRT being banned

Places in government, allotted to the opposition as part of the 1997 peace accord, gradually diminished. The IRPT lost its last two seats in parliament in the March 1, 2015, elections, a vote that some felt was rigged.

A few months later, authorities claimed the party was not sufficiently active throughout the country and the IRPT’s registration was revoked. On September 29, 2015, after authorities drew dubious links between the IRPT and a dubious mutiny in one small area of the outskirts of the capital, Tajikistan’s Supreme Court declared the IRPT to be an extremist organization. All its activities were prohibited and 14 high-ranking members still in the country were arrested and later given lengthy prison sentences, two of them life sentences.

The four men in Istaravshan, identified as 33-year-old Kurbonboy Abidov, 38-year-old Nasim Barotov, 30-year-old Shukrat Mavlonov, and 38-year-old Shoumed Okilov, were simply IRPT members.

There were officially some 40,000 of them when the party was legal though unofficially the number might easily have been more than twice that.

The incarceration of the four men seems a new step in the Tajik government’s campaign to wipe all traces of the IRPT from the country and it potentially affects all those tens of thousands of people still in Tajikistan who supported the IRPT when the party was legal.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL

opendemocracy: “Left behind: Eurasia’s overlooked political prisoners appeal for justice”

Left behind: Eurasia’s overlooked political prisoners appeal for justice

Many political prisoners are ignored due to their religion or lack of connections. For civil society groups, working collaboratively might help overcome this challenge of representation.

Kurbon Manonov, a member of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan who died in prison in 2016. Source: Manonov family.On an August morning in 2015, Kurbon Manonov woke at dawn, rolled out his mat and knelt down, whispering one verse of the prayer after another, thanking Allah for all the blessings. He then went out onto the porch of his house in Sangi Javozak, a tiny kishlak of seven families in Tajikistan’s Khatlon region. Sipping his morning tea, he gazed at the Pamir Mountains surrounding the kishlak.

For the previous two months, Manonov, the 74-year-old leader of the local branch of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), had been just like the mountains that hold the village in their stony embrace – intransigent and unswerving. After an ISIS flag appeared one morning in June 2015 in downtown Nurek, the neighbouring town, the State Committee of National Security (GKNB) started visiting Manonov, interrogating him, taking him into custody and beating him. The officials demanded that Manonov confess that he was responsible for the flag and that he was supposedly conspiring with ISIS to make Tajikistan part of Islamic State. Manonov denied any association with ISIS and told his family and fellow party members not to worry.

But when the GKNB turned up at his door that morning, he knew it was the end. Accompanied by three GKNB officers, Manonov walked down to the highway in Nurek, and was then driven to the GKNB office in Kurgontepe where he had been previously interrogated. That afternoon the officials brought him, in handcuffs, to the house of his children. He was allowed to change his clothes and hand over the IRPT office key to the authorities. As he was leaving with the GKNB officers for the detention facility, he turned to his children and told them this was the last time he would see them as a free man. As his son recalls, before getting into the officials’ car, his father lingered to look for the last time at the Pamir Mountains.

In September 2015, Tajikistan’s General Prosecutor’s Office, in fear of the party’s popularity and its criticism of the authoritarian practices, declared IRPT a terrorist organisation. A few months later, extremism charges were brought against Manonov and over 200 other party members, according to the IRPT representative in Lithuania Ilhomjon Yokubzoda. Kurbon Manonov received a 15-year sentence for membership in a terrorist group. His son Abdushukur says he spent the next year in prison, and whenever his family was able to visit, he complained about being tortured – beaten in the head, cold water being poured over his body, being denied food and medical care. After being finally admitted to the medical ward of the Dushanbe Ministry of Justice prison in August 2016, Manonov died there on the hospital bed. The GKNB brought his body to the family in Nurek and didn’t leave until the hastily arranged funeral was over. Manonov’s body was committed to the ground at a cemetary surrounded by the Pamir Mountains.

In September 2016, Ilhomjon Yokubzoda took the news about Manonov’s death along with other IRPT cases to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)’s human rights meeting in Warsaw. He says that representatives of the international community, western governments, civil society listened to him, but remained deathly silent.

Deathly silence

IRPT members describe Manonov as a political prisoner – a subject on which western parliaments and NGOs hold hearings, make statements and run public campaigns. These advocacy efforts, with various degrees of success, help release political prisoners or improve their incarceration conditions. Local civil society groups monitor trials and compile lists of those arrested on political grounds. Across Eurasia, authoritarian states crack down on activists (including people with different political opinions or those practicing their right to religious freedom) to stigmatise and intimidate them, as well as to demonstrate to their societies that this kind of pressure can be applied against anyone. The Eurasia region, notorious for imprisoning the likes of Vaclav Havel, Andrey Sakharov and Khadija Ismayilova, is by no means unacquainted with the issue of political prisoners. Some of them become the face of resistance to oppression. Others, like Manonov, barely get mentioned.

A campaign poster from the Islamic Renaissance Party for Tajikistan’s 2015 parliamentary elections. Ten of the party leaders depicted here are currently behind bars.As Sergey Davidis, head of the Political Prisoners Programme at the Russian organisation Memorial, says, there are cases that easily resonate with the societies in the region, as well as western societies – for example, the cases of journalists and opposition leaders. “People tend to talk more about those whose views are closer to their own,” he says, adding that popular cases can help elevate the overall situation with political prisoners in a given country.

But when it comes to political prisoners, can it really be that some cases are more attractive than others? Why do some cases become known to many, while others are barely mentioned? Turns out that even among the persecuted there is a gradation.

“If something happens to journalists who have worked for western media, their cases get more publicity. Naturally so, because they’d been known in the first place. However, should something happen to those with no such connection, they fall off into oblivion, and working on them isn’t considered particularly ‘sexy’,” says Shahida Tulaganova, an accomplished London-based journalist from Uzbekistan. In her opinion, this is the reason local activists are trying to work with western organisations – it affords them a certain degree of protection.

“If something happens to journalists who have worked for western media, their cases get more publicity”

Barış Altıntaş of the Istanbul-based Media and Law Studies Association echoes Tulaganova’s concern, adding that “The forgotten journalists who don’t have the [right] connections can’t go to the European court, and the same people don’t have access to the western rights organisations, or they don’t have people here who can speak up for them because they’re not part of the [right] ‘tribe’.”

Indeed, IRPT, which played an important role in Tajikistan’s post-civil war reconciliation process, are a good example of those who don’t have a lot of connections in the west and aren’t “part of the right tribe”. “In the past three years, I have travelled all over Europe, met with various officials and human rights groups, explained to them what is happening in Tajikistan and described the atrocities the IRPT prisoners are going through. We have prisoners who received life sentences, prisoners who are very old, prisoners who are being constantly tortured. But we barely see any engagement,” says Ilhomjon Yokubzoda.

Another such outsider group is Azerbaijan’s Muslim Unity Movement (MUM). A number of MUM members and their leader, religious cleric Taleh Bagirzade, were arrested in a 2015 government-orchestrated anti-terrorism operation in Nardaran, a historically conservative village outside Baku. All of the arrested were tortured and received lengthy sentences. Sevinj Huseynova, sister of Abbas Huseynov, a political prisoner of MUM who is serving a 20-year sentence, is frustrated her family member doesn’t receive much attention. Speaking of western governments and international organisations, she says: “They have sold out, they’re beholden somehow, that’s why they don’t want to bring it to the fore, cover it, keep it on the agenda.”

July 2016: family members wait outside as the Baku Court on Serious Crimes opens proceedings against Taleh Bagirzade, members of Muslim Unity and others. Source: Meydan.TV.But a Washington-based Capitol Hill advocacy specialist says the real reason is simply lack of knowledge. “These cases are less known, and, for example, for the U.S. Congress, the connection, and why they should care, is less obvious. Congress people are often very busy, and they just pick something that’s more familiar to them.”

Among other reasons mentioned by those in the field are a lack of concise information in English, lack of legal representation, unwillingness to make an extra effort, anti-Islamic hysteria on an international level as well as class segregation within their own societies and lack of unity among civil societies.

A faceless crowd

But while practitioners describe the obstacles, those with less obvious and comfortable narratives, but yet unjust and politically motivated charges against them, endure extreme hardships behind bars. What’s even more worrisome: these prisoners aren’t seen as individuals, but only as groups. People imprisoned for freedom of religious belief or those who are perceived as such suffer the most. And, according to Norwegian religious freedom outlet Forum-18 editor Felix Corley, the number of people who are being imprisoned for exercising their freedom of religious belief is rapidly increasing in Eurasia.

Sergey Davidis explains that difficulties around the religious prisoners issue is one of the reasons why his organisation prepares two lists – one of religious prisoners (97 people, vast majority of which are Muslim) and general political prisoners (46). Prisoners from Christian or quasi-Christian background receive more attention in comparison to Muslims both in Russia and internationally. In Russia, the most common victims are members of the pan-Islamic political organisation Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a group that Russian authorities banned in 2003. Dozens of people since have been arrested for simply joining meetings or prayers or discussing the doctrine of a caliphate, but there’s hesitation to advocate for them among the civil society.

December 2017: in Kazan, eight men are sentenced to between 18 and 20 years in prison for alleged membership of a “terrorist” cell of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Source: Memorial.“There’s a fear of Islamic terrorism, there’s ISIS. When Muslims are imprisoned for exercising their religious beliefs, they are often imprisoned on extremism and terrorism charges. And of course, in the west, journalists, officials, societies… they see bearded Muslims, and wonder if they are terrorists or not. Sometimes they don’t care enough to look deeper into these issues,” Davidis says, reminding that people who committed or called for violence are never included on the political prisoners lists. Other political prisoners lists, such as the one created by the Working Group on Political Prisoners in the neighbouring Azerbaijan, have the same criteria.

But despite that criteria, advocates become hesitant when dealing with places where little information is available and where historically extremists have indeed originated before. Davidis reminds us of Chechnya where “in the case of attacks on gay men it was clear: the attacks were related to them belonging to the LGBT community,” but when the arrests happen on terrorism charges, those cases are treated with hesitation by practitioners.

Similarly in Uzbekistan the government cut off all information sources and has been falsely imprisoning hundreds of its citizens for allegedly belonging to extremist groups. Tulaganova recalls that when it became clear that the regime in Uzbekistan was imprisoning many people on “religious extremism” charges, “nobody cared.” Those arrested were mostly Muslims, and they were facing religious extremism charges. While there were, in fact, terrorist groups related to Uzbekistan, such as Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, one of most violentgroups that has fought on the side of the Taliban, Uzbek officials have also on multiple occasions falsely arrested people on religious extremism charges for simply having a beard, or attending the mosque, or reading religious literature.

“They’d be mentioned in the reports of the human rights groups, but we didn’t know them as individuals. Everyone who’s convicted under a religious article falls out of the big picture completely”

But due to fear of violent extremism, as well as a lack of information, these people were a “faceless crowd”, Tulaganova says, adding that “they’d be mentioned in the reports of the human rights groups, but we didn’t know them as individuals. Everyone who’s convicted under a religious article falls out of the big picture completely, and, I think, the main reason is because they are Muslim… Just in case, who knows, maybe they are extremists as well.”

In some cases, it’s simply a problem of image and representation, Washington-based advocacy and legal aid group Freedom Now’s executive director Maran Turner says, adding that the IRPT, for example, isn’t even a religious group per se. IRPT is a political party (and for years the only officially registered Islamic party across the former Soviet republics), and the word “Islamic” was added into the name of the party after the collapse of the USSR, but that word does harm the party’s image. Turner recalls being at a conference in 2017 where a Russian activist suggested to the IRPT to change their name.

Internal divisions

But it’s not just a matter of religion or the way international organisations work on those cases. Sometimes, certain political prisoners get overlooked on local civil society level, according to practitioners in the field. In Tajikistan, due to fear of the GKNB and lack of cooperation between various society sub-groups, little work is done on the IRPT political prisoners. In Turkey, where the government has been rapidly cracking down on its opponents following the July 2016 coup d’etat attempt, is one of the vivid examples of internal segregation.

Barış Altıntaş calls it a “class issue, for the lack of a better word”. She says that out of 152 imprisoned journalists in Turkey, only 13 have applications before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). “This is not a problem of the international community but to go before ECHR you have to have a good lawyer. A lawyer who knows how to do these applications, which in itself is a class issue. It’s costly,” she says, adding that for people who are not well-connected, it’s a “social class and world view issue”.

The second part of the problem, according to her, stems from the Turkish journalists’ lack of solidarity. “You have several journalist organisations, and when someone’s arrested or on trial, everybody tries to protect their own person, not necessarily look out for others.” She sees it as the general tendency: “You have all these groups not wanting to come together. There’s this problem of these Gülenist journalists, there’s a lot of stigma, they’re passionately hated, and in the Turkish journalist community that kind of hate [begets] problems over all other ideals that we share: freedom of speech, the right to express your mind and not go to jail for that no matter what your opinion, so it comes to a point where your opinion really matters. If we don’t like you for what you said then we aren’t gonna be on your side when you go to jail because of what you’d said,” she says.


Banksy’s new 70ft mural in New York in support of Turkish artist Zehra Dogan, who has been jailed for nearly three years over one of her paintings. (c) Van Tine Dennis/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved,Partly, Altıntaş blames the journalists themselves who can’t make that distinction very well. “We should defend this person not because we like them, but because they shouldn’t be in prison for not thinking like us, or having horrible ideas, or being an asshole. You shouldn’t be rotting in jail for being a bad person.”

The essence of the fragmentation among the Turkish journalist rights groups is, “those who have means to speak out on behalf of the other journalists, they don’t do that. They do that [only] for their own tribe.”

Search for solutions

The good news is advocates for these voiceless prisoners are looking for ways to elevate their cases and find more sympathisers.

Gobustan prison, Azerbaijan. Source: Wikimapia. Public domain.Former Senior Policy Analyst for the US Commission on Religious Freedom Catherine Cosman says that one effective way to do so is through bringing these cases to ECHR, UN anti-torture mechanisms, Organization for Islamic Cooperation and the OSCE. However, Veysel Ok, a human rights attorney in Istanbul, says to be able to do so, there is a need to increase the capacity of the lawyers who work with these cases and also train them in how to work with supranational mechanisms.

Cosman says it’s also important to have more documents translated into English about these less known cases, and to have more explanatory articles about them. She also points to cooperation within local civil societies.

One such example is the Working Group on Political Prisoners in Azerbaijan, which has been instrumental at putting together detailed descriptions of less popular cases, encouraged trial monitoring and advocacy. When it comes to working within a local civil society, the “most important thing you make sure you talk to everyone, not groups or segments [of the civil society]. You should make sure you talk to many tribes to make sure to find out who’s important and for whom,” Bariş Altintaş says.

All political prisoners’ rights “are violated equally, and attitudes towards them must be equal”

International organisations and multilateral institutions, in their turn, should make an extra effort to look into such cases, according to Baku-based human rights lawyer Javad Javadov. In 2017, representative of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Stefan Schennach visited the high security prison in Gobustan, south of Baku, to investigate prisoner conditions while on a trip to Azerbaijan. In an emailed interview, he said that he had met with prison authorities regarding five prisoners, including religious prisoners Taleh Bagirzade and Abbas Huseynov. However, Javadov says that in future representatives should insist on actually meeting with prisoners during such visits.

In other cases, the persecuted groups should work on their better integration into local civil societies and also should look into rebranding. As good examples, practitioners suggest the cases of a Chinese group Falun Gong that was able to integrate within the Chinese civil society and also elevate its image internationally, as well as Mauritanian group IRA, which had to explain to others that it wasn’t indeed a political group, but an ethnic anti-slavery group.

However, what’s important to keep in mind, according to Tulaganova, is that all political prisoners’ rights “are violated equally, and attitudes towards them must be equal.”

Where’s justice?

While advocates look for solutions, Sevinj Huseynova and Abdushukur Manonov want justice for their family members.

“I want the world to know that there are people who are unjustly imprisoned. Plus, all religious people cannot be the same, the world knows religious people as terrorists, I would want the people to know, this is not true of everybody. Secondly, I want my brother to be freed. He was arrested unjustly,” Huseynova says.

Manonov, says he wants to see those responsible for his father’s death punished: “My elderly father was ill-treated and tortured, and I want the international community and the Tajik government to acknowledge that and to make accountable those involved.”

asiaplus:”Four residents of Istaravshan jailed for membership in the banned Islamic Revival Party”

Four residents of the northern city of Istaravshan have been jailed for membership in the banned Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT).

The Sughd regional court sentenced Qurbonboy Abidov, 33, Nasim Barotov, 38, Shuhrat Mavlonov, 30, and Shoumed Oqilov, 38 to six year in prison each last week.

The sentence followed their conviction on charges of participating in political parties, public or religious associations that are banned in Tajikistan (Article 30 (2) of Tajikistan’s Penal Code).  They will serve their terms in a high-security penal colony.

An official source at the Sughd regional court says they joined the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan during the period from 2007 to 2011.

Founded in October 1990, the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan was the only Islamic party officially registered in former Soviet Central Asia.  The IRPT was registered on December 4, 1991.  It was banned by the Supreme Court in June 1993 and legalized in August 1999.

Since 1999, the party had reportedly been the second-largest party in Tajikistan after the ruling People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan.

In the 2005 and 2010 parliamentary elections, the IRPT won two out of 63 seats in the parliament, but the party suffered a crushing defeat in Tajikistan’s March 2015 vote, failing to clear the 5 percent threshold needed to win parliament seats.

Tajikistan’s Supreme Court banned the Islamic Revival Party as terrorist group on September 29, 2015 on the basis of a suit filed by the Prosecutor-General’s Office.  The Supreme Court ruled that the IRPT should be included on a blacklist of extremist and terrorist organizations.  The verdict forces the closure of the IRPT’s official newspaper Najot and bans the distribution of any video, audio, or printed materials related to the party’s activities.

Party leader Muhiddin Kabiri, who now is in self-imposed exile abroad, denies any wrongdoing or involvement in the violence.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has put IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri on trial in absentia.  In 2017, Tajikistan amended legislation to let courts try and sentence suspects in absentia.

The case has reportedly been classified as “secret,” but some sources say charges against Muhiddin Kabiri include terrorism and involvement in what the government says was an armed attempt to seize power, led by mutinous former Deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda, in September 2015.

09:53, april 3

Read more: https://www.asiaplus.tj/en/node/252793

AlJazeera: “Tajikistan: The success story that failed”

Aljazeera:Tajikistan: The success story that failed

In power since 1992, Rahmon has gradually tightened the noose taking full control of the parliament, the judiciary and the elections, writes Torfeh [Getty]

Tajikistan may be a small country in Central Asia, but it was once hailed by the United Nations as one of the few international success stories of peace and reconciliation.

Yet the events of this year alone have turned Tajikistan into a model, not for success, but for the failure of the international community in sustaining the democratic achievements of a nation that lost 100,000 lives to end a five-year civil war between 1992 and 1997.

The Tajik president, Emomali Rahmon, has movedto make himself president for life, ban and imprison all opposition and silence the media – and the world has remained silent.

Today is the 17th anniversary of the Electoral Law of December 10, 1999, which led to the first multi-party elections observed by the UN and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

This was supposed to put in place a parliament truly reflective of the peace and reconciliation accord of June 1997, guaranteeing a power-sharing system with a 30 percent quota of positions for the opposition, made up mainly of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and the Democratic Party of Tajikistan.

Today, that opposition is all but obliterated. Many have faced suspicious deaths, others allegations of terrorism in “blatantly unfair [trials] behind closed doors, marred by serious violations of due process and credible allegations of torture or ill-treatment in pre-trial detention.” In May 2016, Tajik prosecutors demanded life sentences for leaders of IRPT, which was banned in September 2015.

Tajik President Rahmon, in power since 1992, has gradually tightened the noose: taking full control of the parliament, the judiciary and the elections process, thus overruling the separation of powers.

Controversial constitutional amendments in May 2016 granted him to rule indefinitely, effectively removing all the term limitations. The minimum age for a candidate has been lowered so that the president could hand over to his son.

Where did all go wrong?

But how did this drastic misuse of a UN-observed reconciliation accord happen, and why are the UN, OSCE, Russia and Iran, which designed and observed the process, quiet?

The first reason is the weakness of the opposition itself. The leader of the IRPT, Said Abdullah Nuri, presided over a party that became powerful in the year 2000, with its members filling most of the government positions allocated. It had transformed from an armed organisation to one committed to peaceful and legal political methods.

Yet in the process, the party made too many concessions to the president to ensure those government posts remain intact. This, in turn, created conflict within the IRPT leadership, and deep frustration among many of its members.

The failed democratisation in Tajikistan provides a perfect breeding ground for youth radicalisation.

Moreover, IRPT did not use its power for protecting democratic institutions and democratic rights. Some IRPT members continued to use mosques and madrasas for political activities, despite a legal prohibition. The president used their activities as an excuse to ban and confront them, and then to prohibit Islamic teaching.

Now, 70 percent of all mosques are closed. Important preachers, such as Eishan Nourdinjon Tourajonzoda and Eishan Abdul Khalil, are banned from preaching, religious schools have been closed down and there are cases of forced beard-shaving and removal of headscarves. Muhiddin Kabiri, the leader of IRPT, escaped Tajikistan and is currently somewhere in Europe, fearing for his life.

International silence

The second reason for the deterioration is that the need for post-conflict stabilisation in Tajikistan was never tackled seriously by the two main international guarantors: the OSCE and the UN. Both organisations initially pledged “continued international support”, yet neither really followed through.

On the 10th anniversary of the peace accord, a statement by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made no mention of any problems. At a meeting in June 2015, Ban and Rahmon discussed water sanitation. In a joint press conference that followed, one small sentence was uttered about “implementing UN human rights recommendations”.

Even at the outset, when President Rahmon changed the constitution to increase his tenure from five to seven years, the UN and the OSCE stood by in silence.

A special UN office was set up in May 2000 with the task of “helping to build democratic institutions, and promoting respect for human rights”, but it proved ineffective.

Other UN agencies have been equally silent. While President Rahmon has taken part in several UNESCO events, celebrating Tajik culture, UNESCO has never highlighted the abysmal state of freedom of expression in the arts (and other sectors) in Tajikistan.

Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders have often raised alarms over the treatment of imprisoned journalists, but little UN or OSCE condemnation has been voiced.

Khikmatullo Sayfullozoda, the editor of Najot, a newspaper linked to IRPT was arrestedin September 2015, and sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Harassment of independent journalists has also intensified. Mohiedin Dustov, the editor of Nigoh newspaper, is receiving death threats. Several lawyers who defended the IRPT’s leaders were themselves tried and convicted, while two-thirds of the country’s lawyers have been disbarred.

The OSCE having the “longest-running operation in Central Asia”, has observed five elections in Tajikistan. While it has criticised the processes every time, it has not been outspoken enough about the failures of the electoral process, the sham referendums and the human rights abuses.

READ MORE: Tajikistan – Indefinite autocracy takes hold

As for Iran and Russia, the two main supporters of the conflicting sides, they seem to have concluded a more important deal between themselves over regional power-sharing. This is why Iran has remained surprisingly silent on the treatment of Islam and the IRPT, which it once supported wholeheartedly.

While the international community remains silent on the abuses in Tajikistan, its failed democratisation has become a perfect breeding ground for youth radicalisation. Official figures say 1,094 Tajik nationals have joined the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, known as ISIS). Other militant groups in the region area also recruiting: the Taliban in Afghanistan, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Uighur East Turkestan Islamic Movement of China.

It will soon be clear that this international silence will cost the region dearly.

Massoumeh Torfeh is the former director of strategic communication at the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan and is currently a research associate at the London School of Economics and Political Science specialising in Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia. She was the UN spokesperson in Tajikistan between 1998 and 2000 during the peace and reconciliation process.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.


10 Dec 2016


FREEDOM NOW: “Tajikistan: UN Declares Detention of Opposition Leader Arbitrary; Calls for Release”

Washington, D.C.) – In response to a petition filed by Freedom Now and lawyers with the international law firm Hogan Lovells LLP, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion finding the detention of opposition leader Mahmadali Hayit by the Government of Tajikistan to be in violation of international law. The Working Group—an independent panel of five human rights experts from around the world—called for the release of Hayit.

“We welcome the Working Group’s opinion,” said Freedom Now Legal Director Kate Barth. “It has been 975 days since the Tajikistani government arrested and detained Mahmadli Hayit as part of a broader campaign to vilify peaceful political opposition parties. The highly disproportionate sentence he received violates his fundamental human rights including the right to freedom of expression. Freedom Now calls on the Tajikistani government to respect the Working Group’s opinion and immediately and unconditionally release Hayit.”

Mahmadali Hayit is the deputy chairman of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), a peaceful opposition party. Tajikistan’s efforts to discredit and dismantle the party began shortly before the March 2015 parliamentary elections when several news articles appeared in state-run newspapers that falsely accused the IRPT of terrorism. Imams at state-controlled mosques also delivered sermons denouncing the IRPT and its alleged link to terrorism.

In September 2015, the government accused IRPT members of initiating a failed coup and arrested more than a dozen of its top leaders. Hayit was arrested on September 16, 2015, despite the absence of any evidence that he or any other IRPT members were involved in the failed coup. Relatives of the detained activists informed human rights groups that the detainees were subject to torture and kept incommunicado.

On September 29, 2015, the Supreme Court banned the IRPT and ordered it to cease operations. In its ruling, the Supreme Court determined that the IRPT should be labeled as a terrorist organization, despite the lack of evidence linking it to any terrorist activities.
On February 9, 2016, the Supreme Court began hearing cases against Hayit and his colleagues. Because the charges involved national security concerns all hearings were closed to the public and took place in the Tajikistani State Committee for National Security pre-trial detention facility in Dushanbe rather than in a courtroom. Hayit’s initial lawyer was arrested before the proceedings could begin. Subsequent lawyers fled the country after receiving government threats.

The charges against Hayit and his associates included terrorism, armed rebellion, murder, public appeals to “violent change of the constitutional order,” incitement to racial and religious hatred, and organization of a criminal group. On June 2, 2016, the Supreme Court of Tajikistan sentenced Hayit to life in prison.

In its opinion, the Working Group found that the Government of Tajikistan had committed numerous violations of international law in arresting and detaining Hayit. It determined that Tajikistan violated his rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and participation in public affairs. In addition to affirming the right of Hayit to be released, the Working Group stated that he should be compensated and referred the allegations of torture to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Freedom Now and Hogan Lovells serve as Hayit’s international pro bono counsel. Since adopting the case, Freedom Now has urged the UN Secretary General to raise Hayit’s imprisonment with President Emomali Rahmon and delivered a statement calling for Hayit’s release before the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting.

Freedom now

Freethinkers: “Defend Tajik emigrants from political persecution”

The Forum of Tajik Freethinkers calls on Turkish authorities and international human rights organizations not to allow the extradition from Turkey of a citizen of Tajikistan, Saidullo Valiev, who was detained recently.
The Tajik authorities do not give up opportunities to obtain extradition of the representatives of the Tajik opposition and even their relatives from a number of countries in the hope that these countries are able to forget the legal and civilized norms for the sake of partnership. Earlier, on March 19, 2018 at the request of the government of Tajikistan in Istanbul, the leader of the Tajik opposition movement «Group 24» Zafar Turaev and activist Nasim Sharipov were detained.
According to the Payom.net Internet portal, Saidullo Valiev was detained on May 3, 2018 in Istanbul at his workplace, and the representatives of the Turkish authorities demanded from him to buy a ticket to Dushanbe. After the refusal, Valiyev was asked to leave Turkey on the «extradition condition» and fly to a third country: to Georgia. However, 6 hours before the flight to Tbilisi, Valiyev was offered to fly to Moldova. But on the way to the airport he was detained again and delivered to the Migrant Deportation Center of the Turkish Migration Service.
We regard these actions as threatening the safety, health and life of the citizen Saidullo Valiev and as damaging the international image of Turkey.
We urge the Turkish authorities not to return Saidullo Valiev to Tajikistan where he might face a real of being subject to torture and imprisonment on trumped-up charge.
Saidullo Valiev is the son-in-law of Mirzorakhim Kuzov, one of the members of the IRPT leadership, whose extradition from Athens’ Greek court was denied earlier to the Tajik authorities. The Tajik security forces, following an unsuccessful attempt to request the extradition of Mirzorakhim Kuzov from Europe, continued pressure on his relatives in Tajikistan. As reported, Kuzov’s brother, Rakhim Kuzov, his wife Fotima Davlatova and two of their sons in their homeland, are under pressure from the special services of Tajikistan. At the same time, the elder brother of a member of the IRPT leadership was detained and interrogated for 15 hours.
The Tajik authorities’ stance against civilized and disrespect for the norms of humanism, human rights and their own laws should not be confirmed and encouraged by other self-respecting states.
It is necessary to do everything so that the Tajik authorities stop attempts at abductions and attempts against those who think differently, as it happened to Maksud Ibragimov in Moscow.
Many questions remain about the murder in Istanbul of Umarali Kuvvatov after a series of unsuccessful attempts by Dushanbe to extradite him to Tajikistan. The countries of the world should not be on the sidelines of the Tajik authorities and help them persecute Tajik dissidents and even their relatives outside Tajikistan, as is the case with Saydullo Valiev. Citizens of Tajikistan should not become second-class people also outside their own country. By pursuing Tajik emigrants and flouting their rights outside the country, the Tajik authorities also violate the jurisdiction of other countries and international legal and civilized norms.
The Forum of Tajik Freethinkers


timesca: “For Tajikistan’s asylum seekers, Poland is a dead end”

For Tajikistan’s asylum seekers, Poland is a dead end

DUSHANBE (TCA) — The ban of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan and subsequent persecution of the opposition party activists by Tajik authorities has forced many of them to seek political asylum in the European Union, where they often get unwelcome reception. We are republishing this article on the issue by Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska, originally published by Eurasianet:

Kalandar Sadurdinov, a 70-year-old from Tajikistan, is one of thousands wanted back home for his opposition activism. He spends much of his time these days getting treatment for an array of ailments, ranging from liver trouble to brain damage. His wife and six children wait for him at the refugee facility in Biała Podlaska, on the far eastern edge of Poland, where the whole family now lives.

And earlier this month, Polish authorities informed Sadurdinov, who is worn down by months of bureaucratic wrangling and has trouble speaking and can barely walk, that they have rejected his application for asylum.

Sadurdinov is among a growing number of Tajik political refugees to find Poland an unwelcoming haven.

He arrived in September 2017 through a border crossing near the Belarusian city of Brest. That crossing presents a natural approach point for Tajiks making their way across Russia and Belarus toward the relative safety of the European Union. Remaining in Russia, or even traveling to other once-secure locations like Turkey, leaves political figures open to murder and assaults at the hands of agents for the Tajik government. In some instances, governments in those countries have actively abetted Tajikistan in effecting extralegal extraditions – kidnapping, to all intents and purposes.

The wave of Tajik flight began in the fall of 2015, when Tajikistan summarily banned the Islamic Renaissance Party, or IRPT. The existence of the opposition group had long been warily tolerated, but President Emomali Rahmon’s regime brought that to an end with a spate of arrests and the decision to dub the IRPT a terrorist organization. No country in the West endorses that decision, which is almost universally accepted as being politically motivated.

In 2016, 882 Tajiks applied for asylum in Poland. With the exodus having attenuated, the number of applications is falling. Last year, only 154 Tajiks formally sought haven in the country.

The number of rejections, meanwhile, is rising. According to the Office for Foreigners, 153 Tajik citizens were denied asylum last year. That number was 109 in 2016.

Fleeing Poland

Around 100 or so IRPT members have received asylum in Poland. Another 25 cases are pending review following initial rejections. Prolonged waiting generates anxiety. Fear of potential deportation to Tajikistan, where IRPT members face imprisonment and possible torture, compels many to try their luck in other EU nations like Germany, Austria and France, before they complete the asylum-seeking procedure in Poland. It isn’t just the specter of deportation that informs this strategy.

“In other countries, like Germany, France and Austria, there are more migrants, people are used to different cultures and asylum seekers can meet people from their countries,” Muhamadjon Kabirov, an IRPT member who has been granted refugee status in Poland, told Eurasianet. “For Muslims, there are lots of mosques. And the economy is much better, the standard of living is higher.”

The problem with this solution, however, is that it is illegal.

EU law requires people fleeing their home nation to apply for asylum in their first port of entry. Under the bloc’s Dublin Convention, people improperly found to have wandered across the continent’s unfettered borders will be sent back to the country in which they first arrived. The thinking behind the convention was to avoid what has contentiously been dubbed “asylum tourism” – which describes concerns that some people may be roving around Europe lodging multiple applications.

In 2017, there were 189 Tajiks who filed for asylum in Poland only then to leave for another country and fall prey to this rule.

One such person was Jamshed Yorov, a lawyer and human rights activist, who was prosecuted in 2016 in Tajikistan on suspicion of abetting an extremist organization. The charge stemmed from his willingness to provide legal representation to jailed IRPT leaders. He was only released after a swell of international campaigns. His brother Buzurgmehr, also a lawyer for the IRPT, has been handed a series of prison sentences, currently totaling 28 years.

Jamshed Yorov says that when he left Poland for Germany, in March last year, it was because he had been receiving threats from Tajik authorities, who managed to discover his whereabouts.

“I felt it was dangerous to stay in Poland, to work and write. I received threats and I was afraid to stay. That is why I left,” Yorov told Eurasianet.

Such concerns are not unfounded. At least one prominent Tajik opposition leader has been murdered while in exile – in Istanbul.

No more support

There are many factors tempting Tajiks into the legal peril of skipping Poland. Language barriers and lack of employment make long-term settlement unappealing.

Marta Szczepanik, a migration expert with the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, adds that another major issue is the Polish government’s anemic efforts to accommodate asylum seekers.

“The Polish government has frozen financing for the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund,” Szczepanik told Eurasianet. “The first tranche of funding ended in mid-2015, but some projects were extended till 2016. As a result, many initiatives organized in refugee centers, such as classes for children, language courses, workshops for women and legal services have been discontinued.”

Populist rhetorical claims of huge numbers of foreign nationals seeking to enter Poland has also added a political dimension to the problem. Anti-Islamic sentiments have also been brewing for years. The most recent expression of that trend was seen in November, when around 60,000 people, many of them from elsewhere in Europe, gathered in Warsaw for a far-right march that included Islam among its targets.

The rate of positive asylum decisions in Poland is considerably lower than in the rest of the EU. Around 40 percent of all asylum applications in the EU were successful in 2017, according the Malta-based European Asylum Support Office. In Poland, the rate was just 19 percent.

Dark side of the Polish asylum system

When an asylum seeker arrives at the border, with travel documents in hand, officers at the crossing should under international law grant them access. Polish border guards have repeatedly flouted such requirements.

In 2017, 34 complaints over perceived unjust decisions by the Polish border service were filed with the courts. Most of these appeals were organized by a group of lawyers who traveled to the Polish-Belarusian crossing in March that year to provide support to a group of 26 asylum seekers who were being denied entry to Poland. In 11 of the 34 cases, courts found in favor of the complainants.

On some occasions, the real trouble starts after asylum seekers enter Poland. The European Court of Human Rights is currently considering the case of one Tajik woman who was together with her family placed in a guarded detention center in the town of Przemyśl, across the border from Ukraine. The woman says Polish officials disregarded the bundle of documentation that she insists proves she had been previously subjected to torture. The law states that victims of violence may not be placed in guarded detention centers.

After ten months in detention, the woman, who has not been named, attempted suicide. It was only then that a Przemyśl district court ruled that the family should be transferred to an open refugee reception facility.

This case has consequential implications. If the European Court of Human Rights finds in the woman’s favor, some victims of violence may seek to use the precedent to argue in court that they should not be liable for deportation to Poland.

“The decision about leaving is often a survival strategy – an attempt to do something – when a person feels staying in Poland may not be possible,” Szczepanik said.

Written by Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska


2018 Tajikistan’s Repression Beyond Borders: the case of Namunjon Sharipov ( by Ayesha Kenan, Nathan Sutton, Saipira Furstenberg) Posted by Saipira Furstenberg

On the 20ht of February, Namunjon Sharipov, a senior leader of the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) was forcefully returned from Turkey to Tajikistan. Namunjon Sharipov, a senior leader of the IRPT fled Tajikistan to Turkey in August 2015. In Turkey, Sharipov’s opened a Tajik teahouse and worked as a businessman. Prior to the banning of the IRPT, he was chairman of the revision committee of the party in the Sughd region.

The forceful return of Namunjon Sharipov to Tajikistan suggests that his return was politically motivated. Before his arrest, Sharipov was visited daily by an employee of the State Committee for National Security of Tajikistan Firdavs Holikov, who worked under diplomatic cover in the Tajik consulate in Istanbul[1]. It’s been reported that initially, Holikov offered Sharipov money to return to Tajikistan and denounce the IRPT, promising that in case of voluntary return, he will not be threatened with criminal liability[2]. Yet in case of disobedience, should Sharipov not return to Tajikistan, he would face more aggressive consequences.

Holikov was true to his word, as on February 5th, Sharipov was detained by Turkish authorities on migration charges and held in Istanbul at the Kumkapi removal centre[3]. It was here that Sharipov was told that the Tajik authorities were seeking to extradite him to face terrorism charges. On February 16th, Sharipov was informed via his lawyer that he would be allowed to make a one-way journey to a country of his choice that he did not require a visa to enter. This turned out to be a lie, as when his lawyer arrived to collect Sharipov on February 19th, Turkish authorities informed him that the Tajik consul and another Tajik official had arrived on the 16th, taken Sharipov in to custody and then forced him on to a flight to the capital of Tajikistan, Dushanbe[4].

Following this event, no documents were provided to Sharipov’s lawyer, neither confirming his removal from the Turkish detention Centre, or his extradition by Tajik authorities[5]. No communication was heard from Sharipov until February 20th, when he made a call to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik service, in which he stated that he had “returned voluntarily” to Tajikistan and was “freely going about his affairs”[6] (Human Rights Watch, 2018). It’s been strongly assumed that Sharipov has been forced to make such a statement under duress.

Since 2015, the authoritarian regime of Tajikistan has been pursuing its most severe crackdown of any opposition group parties daring to challenge the regime of Rahmon. Until 2015, the IRPT was the only meaningful opposition party. However in 2015, the situation rapidly deteriorated. After March 2015 elections Rahmon deprived the party of its parliament seats and declared the group as a “terrorist organisation” in September of that year. Since then, the government has continued its persecution of party members and especially members of its executive council. According to Human Rights Watch, it is estimated that Tajikistan has jailed nearly 200 IRPT activists as a result of the crackdown[7]. Further The Central Asian Political Exile (CAPE) database at the University of Exeter, documents the highest increase in the persecution of political exiles in recent years by Central Asian governments as being from that of Tajikistan[8].

It seems unlikely that Sharipov would have returned to Tajikistan by his own free will. Especially considering the risk of torture and ill treatment that he is expected to face in Tajikistan. According to Human Rights Watch, Sharipov is currently held in detention centre in Tajikistan, in Dushanbe. His family have stated that he has no free access to a telephone[9]. It can be strongly assumed, that Sharipov’s future wellbeing in detention is open to speculation.

The experience of Namunjon Sharipov’s is not unique and only adds to a growing number of individual cases of Tajik opposition members who fled their country and have been subject to extraterritorial persecutions by their home government.

We recall, in 2015, Umarali Kuvatov, the leader of the Group 24, which opposes President Rahmon’s administration and its autocratic ruling, was shot dead on the streets of Istanbul, shaking the Tajikistani exiled opposition community. Prior his dead, Kuvatov had told Amnesty International in 2015[10] that he and his family had received threats, as well as being told by sympathisers that there had been “orders” to harm them, allegedly by the highest levels of Tajikistan’s authorities.

Similarly, in 2012, Dodojon Atovulloev, the founder of the opposition movement of “Charogi Ruz”, one of Tajikistan’s first independent newspapers and critical of President Rahmon, was stabbed several times on the streets of Moscow, surviving these attacks[11]. Atovulloev’s brother-in-law who also lives in Moscow had said that he Atovulloev had been “under constant threats and pressure” for years before the attack.

Despite the common assumption of the Central Asian regions isolation, the countries within it operate through a tangled web of transnational connections, allowing them to practice their extra-territorial repression and breach international laws and human rights.International action is needed to prevent the extradition of political exiles and refugees to Central Asian countries where they are likely to face torture, ill treatment and/ or death.


[1] Ferghana News, 2018. “ В Турции задержали активиста запрещенной в Таджикистане исламской партии”, 07.02.2018. [Online]. Available at: http://www.fergananews.com/news/28261[Accessed : 2 March 2018

[2] Human Rights Watch. (2018). Tajikistan: Activist Forcibly Returned From Turkey. Available: https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/02/20/tajikistan-activist-forcibly-returned-turkey. Last accessed 28th Feb 2018. [Accessed : 2 March 2018

[3]The Diplomat. (2018). Tajik Activist Returned to Tajikistan From Turkey. Available: https://thediplomat.com/2018/02/tajik-activist-returned-to-tajikistan-from-turkey/. [Last accessed 28th Feb 2018] [Accessed : 2 March 2018

[4] Human Rights Watch. (2018). Tajikistan: Activist Forcibly Returned From Turkey. Available: https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/02/20/tajikistan-activist-forcibly-returned-turkey. Last accessed 28th Feb 2018. [Accessed : 2 March 2018

[5] Human Rights Watch. (2018). Tajikistan: Activist Forcibly Returned From Turkey. Available: https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/02/20/tajikistan-activist-forcibly-returned-turkey. Last accessed 28th Feb 2018. [Accessed : 2 March 2018]

[6] Radio Free Europe 2018. “Нуъмонджон Шарифов заявил, что он добровольно вернулся в Таджикистан”. 20th February 2018. [Online]. Available at: https://rus.ozodi.org/a/29050803.html[Accessed : 2 March 2018]

[7] Sverdlow, S.(2016). ‘Tajikistan’s Fight Against Political Islam: How Fears of Terrorism Stifle Free Speech ’. March 15, 2016. Human Rights Watch .[Online]. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/03/15/tajikistans-fight-against-political-islam

[8] Exeter Central Asian Studies Network (Excas). (2016). Central Asian Political Exiles Database. Available: https://excas.net/exiles/. Last accessed 27th Feb 2018

[9] Human Rights Watch. (2018). Tajikistan: Activist Forcibly Returned From Turkey. Available: https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/02/20/tajikistan-activist-forcibly-returned-turkey. Last accessed 28th Feb 2018. [Accessed : 2 March 2018

[10] Amnesty International. (2015). Tajikistani Dissenters at Grave Risk after an Opposition Leader Shot Dead in Turkey. Available: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/03/tajikistan-opposition-leader-shot-dead-in-turkey/. Last accessed 27th Feb 2018.

[11] Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty (RFERL). (2012). Tajik Opposition Activist Stabbed in Moscow. Available: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajik_opposition_leader_atovuloyev_stabbed_moscow/24450461.html. Last accessed 26th Feb 2018.

06 March. 2018

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