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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

 

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

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

timesca

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.

Sources

[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

RFERL: “Rare Triumph For Tajikistan’s IRPT, As Leader Removed From Interpol’s ‘Red Notice'”

There was something of a victory for the embattled Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) on March 2 when the IRPT’s leader, Muhiddin Kabiri, announced that Interpol had taken his name off its wanted list.

It was a rare triumph for the IPRT, which just two weeks earlier saw one of its members in exile (as so many are) “forcibly and extrajudicially returned… from Istanbul to Tajikistan,” according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The removal of Kabiri from the Interpol “Red Notice” list is also a sign international law enforcement organizations are being more diligent in ascertaining whether requests from governments to declare their citizens wanted are genuine concerns for safety or political vendettas.

IRPT spokesman Mahmudjon Faizrahmonov welcomed the news of “the removal of Interpol’s Red Notice against Mr. Kabiri, a peaceful and moderate politician,” and said Interpol’s decision was “a setback for the Dushanbe government’s efforts to portray its opponents as militants and terrorists.”

“Militants and terrorists” is exactly how the Tajik government has described the IRPT, at least recently. The party was banned in September 2015 and not long after declared an extremist group.

That came after 18 years of fairly successful coexistence between the government and the IRPT. The two were combatants during the 1992-97 civil war, but the conflict ended with a peace deal that gave places in the government to the IRPT and its wartime allies.

The IRPT was the only registered Islamic party in Central Asia. The IRPT spoke against radical Islamic groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Iraq and Syria.

This stance by the IRPT was valuable to the secular government of President Emomali Rahmon since the Islamic party’s authority to speak out against extremism, like the extremism in neighboring Afghanistan, resonated far more loudly and credibly with Tajikistan’s population than that of the government or state-appointed clerics.

It is against Interpol’s constitution for individuals to be targeted because of their political or religious beliefs…but this has not stopped authoritarian governments like Tajikistan targeting political exiles.”
— Edward Lemon, Columbia University’s Harriman Institute

But the IRPT’s places in government gradually dwindled and the party lost its last two seats in parliament in elections on March 1, 2015, that some, including the IRPT, calimed were rigged. That June, the party had its registration taken away and when the allegedly renegade Deputy Defense Minister Abdulhalim Nazarzoda supposedly rebelled in early September 2015, Tajik authorities quickly connected Nazarzoda to the IRPT.

For the record, Nazarzoda was with the opposition during the civil war, but he left not long after the conflict began and only returned after it was over. He had been in the Tajik military since just after the war ended and had been a high-ranking officer since 2005, so there were questions about his strange decision to start an insurrection and even more questions about his purported ties to the IRPT.

Such questions did not matter to Tajik authorities, who then banned the IRPT and declared it an extremist group, just like Al-Qaeda or the so-called Islamic State militant group.

Kabiri was outside the country at the time, but 14 senior members of the party who were in Tajikistan after the party was declared an extremist group were arrested and given lengthy prison terms, including two life sentences, following what HRW called “a flawed trial.” Dozens, at least, of other IRPT members were also imprisoned and the Tajik government asked Interpol to place many of the IRPT leaders and members outside the country on the international wanted list.

But while Kabiri is free, there are concerns that IRPT member Namunjon Sharipov “faces a real risk of torture and other ill-treatment in Tajikistan,” according to HRW.

Sharipov is a high-ranking member of the IRPT from Tajikistan’s northern Sughd region. Since August 2015, he has been living in Istanbul, where he operated a teahouse, but on February 20 he called RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, known locally as Ozodi, to say he had “voluntarily returned” to Tajikistan.

Sharipov said he planned to visit the northern town of Isfara and then return to Istanbul in “about a week,” but as of early March there was no word he had flown back to Turkey.

HRW said in its report about Sharipov that his son explained that “on three consecutive days starting on February 2, the consul of the Tajik Consulate in Istanbul visited Sharipov at the teahouse, encouraging him to return voluntarily to Tajikistan.”

Turkish police detained Sharipov on February 5. Family members were able to see him several times, but on February 16 he was apparently put on a plane to Dushanbe.

Sharipov’s family and lawyer say Sharipov is being detained in Tajikistan and was forced to make statements like the one to Ozodi. HRW noted, “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.”

Kabiri and Sharipov’s fates are different, but the sort of ordeals they have gone through were described in a report John Heathershaw and Edward Lemon authored in October 2017.

The authors said the Tajik government targets exiles by placing them “on international wanted lists through Interpol and regional organizations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.”

However, there are also cases when exiles “are forcibly transferred, or rendered, back to their home country.”

Lemon, currently a postdoctorate fellow at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute, told Qishloq Ovozi: “It is against Interpol’s constitution for individuals to be targeted because of their political or religious beliefs…but this has not stopped authoritarian governments like Tajikistan targeting political exiles.”

Lemon said, “Interpol has been reforming. In 2015, it announced that it would no longer issue Red Notices for those with confirmed refugee status.” But Lemon added, “Even after having a Red Notice delisted, not all national police agencies will remove your file from their own national databases” and “governments can also continue to target individuals by issuing ‘diffusions,’ arrest requests sent directly to member states without being reviewed by Interpol.”

The Tajik government now calls the IRPT an extremist group, but when the IRPT was registered it was the second largest political party in Tajikistan with some 40,000 members and likely more than twice that many supporters. And it was a genuine opposition party.

With no strong opposition party remaining in Tajikistan, President Rahmon has made some interesting moves.

The IRPT was officially banned on September 29, 2015.

In December 2015, Tajikistan’s parliament, which was by then completely packed with members from pro-presidential parties, voted to give Rahmon the title of “founder of peace and national unity – leader of the nation.”

Rahmon’s daughter Ozoda was appointed chief of the presidential staff in January 2016.

In May 2016, a referendum was held on changes to the constitution that struck presidential terms limits — Rahmon is currently serving his fourth term — and lowered the eligibility age for a presidential candidate from 35 to 30. Rahmon’s eldest son, Rustam Emomali, turned 30 in December.

Rustam Emomali was appointed mayor of Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe, in January 2017.

And the Norway-based religious rights group Forum 18 just reported on February 26 that during 2017, “1,938 mosques were in 2017 forcibly closed and converted to secular uses.”

Likely none of these recent changes would have gone uncontested if there had been a strong opposition party still present in Tajikistan.

Qishloq Ovozi

March 03, 2018