Tag Archives: Human Rights

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later, authorities claimed the party was not sufficiently active throughout the country and the IRPT’s registration was revoked.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.

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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.”

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

HRW: “Tajikistan: Activist Forcibly Returned From Turkey”

Tajikistan: Activist Forcibly Returned From Turkey

Faces Torture, Politically Motivated Prosecution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human rights watch

February 20, 2018 11:01PM EST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 15 Issue: 18

Jamestown.org

Eurasianet: “Tajikistan: Opposition Leader Tried in Absentia”

Tajikistan: Opposition Leader Tried in Absentia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feb 2, 2018

eurasianet

excas.net: “Tajikistan Human rights abuse: the use of international system to target dissidents abroad (by Saipira Furstenberg and Elizabeth Talbott, Univeristy of Exeter)”

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[1].

 

 

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[2] 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[3]. 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[4].

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[5].

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[6]. 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[7].

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[8] 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[9]. 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[10]. 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.

 

[1] Ferghana News 2017. ‘Greece refuses handover of Tajik political activist’. 1 December,2017.[Online].Available at: http://enews.fergananews.com/news.php?id=3629&mode=snews [Accessed: 10 December, 2017].

[2] Lemon, E. 2016. ‘The long arm of the despot’.Open Democracy. 24 February 2016. [Online]. Available at: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/edward-lemon/long-arm-of-despot [Accessed: 10 December, 2017].

[3] Human Rights Watch,2016. ‘Tajikistan: Severe Crackdown on Political Opposition US, EU Should Urgently Raise Abuses’. 17 Feb. 2016. [Online]. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/02/17/tajikistan-severe-crackdown-political-opposition [Accessed: 10 December, 2017].

[4] Putz C., 2016. ‘OSCE Manages to Irritate Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Human Rights Advocates, Too’. The Diplomat. September 27, 2016. [Online] Available at: https://thediplomat.com/2016/09/osce-manages-to-irritate-tajikistan-kyrgyzstan-and-human-rights-advocates-too/ [Accessed: 10 December, 2017].

[5] Human Rights Watch, 2017. ‘Moldova: Activist Faces Extradition to Tajikistan Forced Return Could Lead to Torture, Ill-Treatment’. 17 August, 2015. [Online]. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/10/10/how-eu-should-tackle-tajikistan-crackdown [Accessed: 10 December, 2017].

[6] Galeotti, M. 2016. ‘RepressIntern”: Russia’s security cooperation with fellow authoritarians’. 22 November, 2016. [Online]. Available at: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mark-galeotti/repressintern-russian-security-cooperation-with-fellow-authoritarians [Accessed: 10 December,2017].

[7] Ferghana News, 2017. ‘Supreme Court of Russia ignores European Court of Human Rights ban on extraditing Tajik citizen’. 29 November, 2017.[Online]. Available at: http://enews.fergananews.com/news.php?id=3625&mode=snews [Accessed: 10 December,2017].

[8]  Interfax, 2017. ‘Almost 1,900 Tajik terrorists wanted by Interpol – Dushanbe’. 23 November, 2017. [Online]. Available at: http://www.interfax.com/newsinf.asp?pg=8&id=792406 [Accessed: 10 December,2017].

[9] Min, B. 2017. ‘INTERPOL reforms and the challenges ahead for cross-border cooperation’. Foreign Policy Centre Report ‘Closing the Door: the challenge facing activists from the former Soviet Union seeking asylum or refuge’, December 4, 2017. [Online]. Available at: https://fpc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Closing-the-Door-publication-Dec-2017.pdf [Accessed: 10 December, 2017]

[10] United States Department of State, ‘Country Reports on Terrorism 2016 – Tajikistan’, 19 July 2017.[Online]. available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/5981e413c.html %5BAccessed 10 October 2017]

15 Jan.2018
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