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.
In early October of this year, after attending an OSCE human rights meeting in Warsaw, Poland, Mirzorakhim Kuzov, a senior leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), was detained by Greek police at passport control at Athens Airport. Kuzov was held under an Interpol ‘Red Notice’ warrant released by Tajik authorities, who accuse him of politically motivated extremism. On the 1st of December 2017, Kuzov was released from detention; the Greek court ruled out his extradition to Tajikistan on the grounds that charges against Kuzov were politically motivated.
Since 2015, the Tajik government, under the mantra of the “war against terrorism”, is pursuing its most intense human rights crackdown with the banning of the country’s main democratic opposition parties: IRPT and Group 24. The Tajik government has labelled these opponents as “extremist” groups in order to discredit them and legitimise security measures against their members. Further, the systematic jailing of political opponents and the country’s independent legal professionals, as well as the harassment of journalists and nongovernmental organizations, is rapidly becoming ‘normality’ in Tajikistan. Moreover, retaliation and collective punishment against the relatives of perceived government critics, in and outside the country, has been a constant feature of the crackdown. The authorities have often targeted the relatives of activists who have fled abroad and continued their vocal activism in exile. Since 2015, as the Central Asia Political Exile (CAPE) Database demonstrates, the government is systematically targeting critics and dissents abroad, by seeking their detention and extradition back to Tajikistan. In September 2016 for instance, Dushanbe used tactics of collective punishment to retaliate against activists abroad who took part in a human rights conference set up by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Another tactic employed by the government is the practice of enforced disappearance to silence opposition critics. In 2015, Maksud Ibragimov, the activist for the Youth for the Rebirth of Tajikistan movement was abducted in Russia and sentenced to 17 years’ imprisonment upon his forced repatriation to Tajikistan.
Further, as has been recently observed, increasingly autocratic dictators are using their formal and informal links between those ‘near and dear’ to them. Formal intelligence sharing arrangements through bilateral or multilateral agreements, such as the Collective Security Treaty Organisation and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation structures, facilitate the targeting of the individuals and opposition groups abroad. In the light of the recent history of terrorist attacks in Russia, fighting terrorism has become a top priority for the Russian government. Given the large number of migrants in Russia from Central Asia and particularly from Tajikistan, and growing concerns about their possible radicalisation, cooperation between the FSB and national security services from Central Asian countries has strengthened. Individual cases from the CAPE database demonstrate how Russian security services have proven willing to detain, kidnap and extradite targetted individuals requested by the governments of Central Asia. The CAPE data highlights that the highest amount of forcible returns and disappearance are from Tajikistan. The recent case of Khurshed Odinayev provides a clear illustration of these observations:
On the 29th of November, the Supreme Court of Russian Federation decided to extradite Khurshed Odinayev, a citizen of Tajikistan, to his homeland despite the ban of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). It’s important to note that prior to this decision, the Tadjik citizen, was also kidnapped from Federal Penalty Service Belgorod region on, two weeks before his release date from detention. Khurshed Odinayev was detained at the request of the Tajik authorities and placed in Belgorod City SIZO-3 (pre-trial detention centre) in the autumn of 2016. Back in his home country he is accused of supposedly engaging fellow citizens in military operations on the territory of other countries while staying in Russia.
Dictators around the world have embraced INTERPOL as a repressive tool to persecute dissidents beyond their home borders. In December 2017, the head of the national bureau of Interpol in Tajikistan, Abdugaffor Azizov told in the media, that the government has put 2,528 citizens of Tajikistan on the list of internationally wanted fugitives. In recent years, as our data demonstrates, the Tajik government has tried to control and persecute dissidents and activists abroad by issuing politically motivated ‘Red Notices’ through INTERPOL. Bruno Min from the organisation Fair Trials also notes that authoritarian states have misused INTERPOL mechanisms of international cooperation to export human rights abuses. The issue of politically motivated ‘Red Notices’ has led to the wrongful detention of many innocent victims, as in the case of Mirzorakhim Kuzov. The US government acknowledged Tajikistan of misusing terrorism allegations as a pretext to target independent voices, including dissidents living abroad. On the 9th of November 2016 INTERPOL adopted a set of reforms to address these concerns. The reforms aim to strengthen the internal review process and make delisting decisions of the targeted individual binding on the organization rules and respect of human rights. Yet so far the implementation of these reforms to stop abusive requests from authoritarian states has been poor. As the case of Mirzorakhim Kuzov demonstrates, the real challenge for INTERPOL is to effectively review and distinguish between genuine criminal cases and those that are politically motivated.
Tajikistan’s appalling records in human rights, torture, enforced detention and forced repatriation of dissidents and political activists in and outside the country raises serious concerns, yet the international outrage, particularly from the European Union (EU), is barely audible. The EU’s current Central Asia strategy, adopted in 2007, forms the political template between Brussels and Central Asia’s five former Soviet republics. Given the rapid deterioration of human rights and freedom of speech in Tajikistan but also in the other four Central Asian states as CAPE database demonstrates, it is increasingly important to address human rights abuses in the region. Clearly future bilateral and international agreements in the region should leverage economic and foreign aid support based on meaningful human rights progress in the region, anything short of that would likely to result in empty promises.
Over 10,000 prisoners are held currently in jail, pre-trial and preliminary investigation institutions in Tajikistan. Among them are 321 women and 47 minors, Asia Plus reports, citing Justice Minister Rustam Shokhmurod.
According to the official, there is no such category as “political” among prisoners, as the law does not foresee such a concept.
“Besides, there is no authority that could determine the category of political prisoners. Our prisons contain inmates who committed crimes and were convicted in accordance with our Criminal Code,” the minister continued.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch ascertained that the persecution of opposition members in Tajikistan again worsened last year.
“Authorities’ use of torture to obtain confessions remains a serious concern. In 2017, the government continues to block various websites with information critical of the government, subject human rights groups to harassment, including a law requiring non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to register all sources of funding from foreign sources, restricts media freedoms, and has enforced serious restrictions on religious practice,” human rights activists wrote. According to their estimates, at least 150 political activists and their lawyers remain in Tajik prisons, including on trumped-up criminal cases.
Last July, HRW stated that the authorities of Tajikistan are harassing the relatives of ten opposition members who took part in a conference in Germany on July 09, 2017 as payback for them speaking out against the authorities.
“The Tajik government’s vicious campaign of intimidation against dissidents’ relatives is widening and becoming ever more brazen. The simultaneous actions by security services and local officials across numerous cities suggest a policy of collective punishment sanctioned at the highest levels, which should end immediately,” Steve Swerdlow, who represents HRW in the countries of Central Asia, said at the time.
Among those persecuted for political reasons, according to human rights activists, are activists of the Islamic Revival Party (PIVT) that was banned in Tajikistan as well as their relatives. PIVT was the only officially registered Islamic party in Central Asia.
In Tajikistan, it was considered an opposition force. According to official data as of July 2014, PIVT had about 40 thousand members. Some of its activists were forced to leave the country after the party had been banned. A number of those who stayed in Tajikistan were subsequently imprisoned.
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 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.”
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 coveredpolitics, 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.
(Bishkek) – Tajik authorities have detained, interrogated, and threatened relatives of 10 peaceful opposition activists who took part in a conference in Germany on July 9, 2017, in retaliation for the peaceful exercise of their fundamental rights, Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee said today.
Activists provided details about 10 incidents in cities around the country that have been sanctioned by the Tajik government at the highest level. Tajik security services officers and local officials publicly shamed, banned from leaving the country, and threatened to confiscate the property of the activists’ relatives, and in one case threatened to rape an activist’s daughter.
“The Tajik government’s vicious campaign of intimidation against dissidents’ relatives is widening and becoming ever more brazen,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The simultaneous actions by security services and local officials across numerous cities suggest a policy of collective punishment sanctioned at the highest levels, which should end immediately.”
Hundreds of political activists, including several human rights lawyers, have been jailed in the widening crackdown on free expression, and opposition parties banned. The authorities are also violating the rights of family members who remain in the country, primarily relatives of members of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and the opposition movement Group 24. National and local officials mobilize vigilante groups of “concerned citizens,” including school officials, who surround relatives’ homes and brand the families “enemies of the people.”
The latest string of attacks was retaliation against opposition activists who attended the July 9 conference in Dortmund, Germany, marking the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Peace Accords that formally ended Tajikistan’s 1992-1997 civil war. On July 10, Tajik media reported that a pro-government security analyst, Saifullo Safarov, deputy director of the Strategic Research Center of the Office of the President of Tajikistan, appeared on national television condemning the opposition activists who attended the Dortmund conference. He stated that their attempts to unite into a coordinated opposition movement posed a “serious threat” to Tajikistan’s national security.
Earlier incidents of retaliation occurred in September and December 2016, when activists abroad engaged in peaceful protests.
IRPT activists provided detailed accounts to Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee about violations against their families committed by authorities between July 7 and July 10 in the capital, Dushanbe, and seven other villages and cities across the country. In each case, security services officers explicitly linked their visits and abusive actions to the participation of the people’s relatives in a peaceful political conference in Dortmund, Germany.
The United States, the European Union and its member states, and other international partners should urgently address the growing pattern of retaliatory attacks in Tajikistan as part of the wider deteriorating human rights situation there and publicly condemn the abuses, Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee said. Washington, Brussels, and other actors should consider asset freezes and visa denials to Tajik officials and government entities that take part in these abuses.
“The catalogue of retaliatory abuse in Tajikistan simply for exercising freedom of expression is staggering,” said Marius Fossum, Central Asia representative for the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “No one should be publicly shamed, pressured to divorce their spouse, or be threatened with having their child raped or property arbitrarily confiscated under any circumstances, let alone for the exercise of basic human rights.”
On July 7, 2017, police and security services officers in Sebiston, a village in Tajikistan’s southern Dangara district, went to the home of the parents of Jannatulloh Komilov, an IRPT activist now based in Germany. The officers berated Komilov’s elderly mother, Saima Kulova, for her son’s opposition activities, and questioned and intimidated his brothers, Zubaidulloh and Ubaidulloh Komilov. The officials threatened to confiscate the family’s home and adjoining land unless Jannatulloh Komilov ceases his participation in opposition activities abroad. Two days later, officials returned, detaining Komilov’s father-in-law, Zubaidulloh Atovulloev, overnight.
On July 7 and 8, several security service officers in the southern city of Kulob threatened the Turkey-based IRPT activist Bobojon Kayumov’s mother and father at their family home. The officers stated that unless Kayumov ended his opposition work and specifically refrained from participating in the Dortmund conference they would “demolish” the family’s home. The officers then forced the two to record a videotaped statement condemning their son’s activities. On July 9, officers detained Kayumov’s father, holding him at the Kulob city security services facility until nighttime, and repeatedly interrogated him.
Jamshed Yorov is a Germany-based lawyer and the brother of Buzurgmehr Yorov. a lawyer imprisoned in Tajikistan since September 2015. He is serving a 25-year sentence following a flawed trial on politically motivated charges after publicly announcing he would represent jailed IRPT members. Jamshed Yorov participated in the Dortmund conference and made a public statement on July 9.
The next day security services officers went to his family’s home in Vahdat, Tajikistan, and told Yorov’s wife, Dilbar Zuhurova, that she and her children were barred from leaving Tajikistan and would be imprisoned if they tried to leave. Yorov told Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee that officers pressured Zuhurova to divorce him, promising to supply her with food and money if she agrees. They also threatened to rape Jamshed’s 15-year-old daughter.
Pandovchi Sari dasht Village, Nurobod District
On July 8, security service officers detained Asomuddin Saidov, father of Poland-based IRPT activist Islomiddin Saidov, in the village of Pandowchi Sari dasht in Tajikistan’s central Nurobod district. The officers took the father to the Dushanbe security services detention facility for interrogation. They showed Saidov pictures of his son taking part in peaceful demonstrations in Warsaw in September 2016 and threatened to take “necessary actions” against his son if he would not cease his political activism. The officers also visited Islomiddin’s sister’s home in Dushanbe seeking to interrogate her.
On July 9 and 10, Pandowchi Sari dasht village officials summoned the father in front of a group of “concerned citizens” while officials and others denounced his son and the entire family for their “treacherous” political activities against the government. Officials and other people publicly shamed Saidov and exhorted him to bring his son back to Tajikistan to face justice.
Pakhtakor Village, Jayhun Village Council, Khatlon Region
On July 8, security service officers in the village of Pakhtakor in Tajikistan’s southern Khatlon region visited the home of Abdumuslim Rustamov, brother of IRPT activist Iftikhor Rustamov, as well as the separate homes of Iftikhor’s sisters Sabohat Khodjaeva and Zarnigor Rustamova, interrogating them about Rustamov’s political activities. They threatened further problems if he continues his opposition political activity.
On July 11, security service officers in the same village took Masnavikhon Faizrahmonova, the mother of the Austria-based IRPT activist and spokesman Mahmudjon Faizrahmonov, to the local security services building to be interrogated about her son’s activities. The authorities held a public meeting where various village residents condemned Faizrahmonov and his brothers for their political activities. Faizrahmonov told Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee that the community had ostracized his family and that his mother’s health markedly deteriorated following the public shaming.
On July 7 security service officers in the northern city of Khujand summoned relatives of IRPT activist Ilhomjon Yakubov to their facility, where the officers interrogated them for hours about his activities and threatened them with further unspecified “consequences” if he continues his political activism.
On July 8, authorities in the Rudaki district went to the home of Muhammadi Teshaev, the former head of the IRPT’s chapter in this area. They interrogated his family members and threatened to confiscate their house if Teshaev does not stop his political work.
Before the Dortmund conference, security service officers in Dushanbe went to the family home of Poland-based IRPT activist Gulbarg Saifova, a relative of the exiled IRPT chairman Muhiddin Kabiri, who is also based in Europe. Officers forced Saifova’s parents to videotape a recording denouncing Saifova’s and Kabiri’s activities. Saifova ran for parliament in the March 2015 elections but was forced to flee the country and seek refuge in Poland due to persecution for her association with the IRPT.
On July 7, police in Dushanbe’s Firdavsi district visited the home of Europe-based IRPT activists Mijgona and Sayriniso Amonova and interrogated their father. Police officers called the women “traitors” and pressured their father to seek their return to Tajikistan so they could ask forgiveness of President Emomali Rahmon.
A year on from the arrest of 14 high-ranking members of the opposition Islamic
Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), in September 2015, Tajikistan’s human rights
landscape has worsened dramatically. They were all convicted following an unfair trial and
sentenced to long-term imprisonment; scores of other individuals have since been
criminally prosecuted in connection with the same events. Information relating to their
prosecution is extremely sparse and patchy, and points to numerous human rights
The prosecution of the 14 high-ranking IRPT members is linked to the violent unrest of
September 2015 which the authorities reported as an armed attempt by the former
Tajikistani Deputy Defence Minister Abdukhalim Nazarzoda and his supporters to seize
Due to the authorities’ near-total grip on news reporting in the country, there has
been very little independent public scrutiny of the official account of these events.
Virtually all vestiges of peaceful dissent have been suppressed in Tajikistan, and fear of
reprisals for any form of criticism of the authorities has permeated Tajikistani society. In
this context, discussing these events, and particularly their fallout in human rights terms,
has become a taboo subject within the country.