A spokesman for the court declined to state what Muhiddin Kabiri is charged with, saying those details are a “state secret.”
Feb 2, 2018
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.
TEHRAN – The defeat of Daesh (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria has made the terrorist group to change the geography of its activities and Central Asian countries must be watchful of this threat, Iranian Ambassador to Tajikistan Hojjatollah Faghani warned in a meeting with Tajik Parliament speaker Shukurjon Zuhurov in Dushanbe on Sunday.
Faghani also voiced Iran’s willingness to share experiences with Tajikistan in counter-terrorism efforts.
Ambassador Faghani and Shukurjon Zuhurov also discussed ways to expand mutual relationship.
The two sides also discussed parliamentary cooperation and reviewed the latest regional and international developments, IRNA reported.
Referring to a recent visit to Tajikistan by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as well as the holding of a joint economic commission meeting in Dushanbe, Faghani said relations between the two countries are rapidly gaining momentum.
The Iranian diplomat also highlighted the need to exchange parliamentary delegations and friendship groups.
The Tajik speaker, for his part, said Dushanbe attaches special importance to ties with Iran in view of the two countries’ common language and historical and cultural commonalities.
He assessed the future of bilateral relations as promising.
On November 9, Foreign Minister Zarif met with President Emomali Rahmon in Dushanbe to discuss ways to improve economic and trade relations and coordinate their counterterrorism efforts in the region. Zarif also participated in the inauguration ceremony of Iran’s new embassy building in the Tajik capital.
Though Russian authorities believe the St. Petersburg suspect Akbarzhon Jalilov, 22, was a suicide bomber, they arrested eight people in connection with the attack on Monday, and chief of Russian intelligence Alexander Bortnikov said they were also from Central Asian republics.
Both attacks have drawn attention to region with a history of separatism, and in recent years, a source of Islamist extremism. Though neither attack has been claimed by any group so far, both have mirrors in those by the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). The group coordinated similar bombings at train stations in Brussels in March 2016 that killed 32, and a suicide attack on Ataturk airport in Istanbul in June that killed 44 civilians, in which the suspects were also from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. ISIS’s propaganda wing has encouraged its “soldiers” to attack western targets by using vehicle rammings, and an ISIS-inspired attack in Nice in July 2016 killed 86.
There are concerns about the growth of religious extremism in Central Asia—since the rise of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in 2014 experts estimate up to 4,000 people from central Asia have gone to fight for the group in Iraq and Syria. Russia’s shared borders with much of Central Asia have made it nervous. In a speech to the U.N. general assembly in September 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed concern over the growing threat of international terrorism in the region.
Much of Central Asia was formerly part of the Soviet Union, under which sources of identity such as religion and nationality were repressed. “In the 1990s when Communism collapsed, tradition withered away, and there wasn’t much prosperity. Conditions were ripe for a new ideology, and some people, especially young men looking to become heroes, were drawn to that,” says Anna Matleeva, visiting senior research fellow in the department for war studies at King’s College London.
A variety of extreme religious movements operate across Central Asia including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islam (Party of Islamic Liberation, HuT) the Jamaat of Central Asian Mujahidin and the Uyghur Islamic Party of Eastern Turkestan separatist group. Foreign organizations banned across the region include al Qaeda, Afghanistan’s Taliban, and the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Recruiters for ISIS are present in cities across the region. They target mostly poorer regions, suburbs, towns, areas with big bazaars, a crossroads perhaps, with a good communication network; places that allow a mixing of people anonymously,” Matleeva adds. There are several hotspots of extremism in the central Asian region, within the republics, as well as in regions with a strong separatist bent, such as Xinjiang in China.
Uzbekistan, an authoritarian country, led by the dictator Islam Karimov until 2016, borders Afghanistan to the South, Turkmenistan to the west, and Russia to the north. The largest single group of people joining ISIS from Central Asia is from Uzbekistan, say Crisis Group experts.
A 39-year-old Uzbek man is in custody over an attack in Sweden which killed four in the capital, including a Belgian, a Briton, and two Swedes. Police said that he had “expressed sympathy for extremist organizations” including ISIS.
Reuters reports suggest that Uzbek recruits for ISIS could be in the thousands. The International Center for Conflict Resolution ( ICSR ) estimates that more than 500 Uzbek nationals have traveled to Syria to fight for ISIS in its self-styled caliphate. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan became part of ISIS in 2015, and is active in northern Afghanistan alongside the Taliban. The IMU wants to overthrow the Uzbek government and create Turkistan, or an Islamic caliphate which stretches from Xinjiang to the Caspian Sea.
The home of Jalilov, the alleged St Petersburg attacker, has experienced a “slow arc towards fundamentalism,” according to a June article in The Diplomat, a magazine specialising in Asian affairs. One of the bombers of the Boston marathon in 2013 was born in Kyrgyzstan, as was one of the attackers who hit Ataturk airport. Recruitment for extremist groups, particularly ISIS, is a concern for the tiny country. Estimates vary on the number of citizens that have gone to fight for ISIS, but several reports put the figure at around 500.
Of those who left to fight in Iraq and Syria, around 40 jihadists have returned and authorities are concerned about the influence they may have, and have cracked down on suspected extremist cells as a result.
Through 2015 and 2016 authorities carried out several raids in the capital Bishkek, and in Osh, on targets suspected or terror-related activities. They killed four during the anti-terror operation in July 2015, and detained several more, claiming the black flag of ISIS was flying above the house. In August 2016, police said they had broken up a suspected ISIS cell in Bishkek, and later that year the 10th Main Directorate, a government arm that usually deals with terror-related investigations, conducted weapons raids in Bishkek and Osh.
Other extremist movements besides ISIS have been active in the country, including a domestic arm of Iraqi Shia group Jaishul Mahdi that the government held responsible for bombings in 2010 and 2011. In 2011 the security services highlighted the emergence of an organization called the Islamic Movement of Kyrgyzstan (IMK) and analysts at the Crisis Group believe it has grown and provides assistance to people aiming to fight in Syria with ISIS.
China is convinced that Xinjiang, an autonomous territory located in the far west of the country, and home to Uighur separatists and a Muslim-majority population, poses a threat to the country’s stability to such an extent that entering Urumqi, the capital, feels like entering a warzone. Armored vehicles and riot police line the streets, and there are constant alerts of possible uprisings. The government blamed the minority Uighurs for a knife attack in Xinjiang that left eight dead in February. Ethnic tensions between the Uighurs and China’s majority Han population have been exacerbated by Beijing’s crackdown on rights and civil liberties in the region.
In late February Chinese authorities were on high alert after an ISIS video released by the Al-Furat division of ISIS, their propaganda arm, suggested an attack in the region was imminent.
Since then Beijing directed that all cars in Xinjiang must have GPS, claiming that the form of monitoring was to protect against attacks. The army also marched through Urumqi, in a show of anti-extremist strength.
Though the government has claimed that around 1,000 Tajiks have gone to fight for ISIS, analysts are skeptical, as the government has linked unrest to Islamic extremism when quashing dissent. Previously it was only Central Asian country with Islam represented politically, but President Emomoli Rahmon succeeded after 2015 in concentrating power in his hands after closing the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan. In July that year, Gulmorod Khalimov, the head of Tajikistan’s special forces became a high-profile defection to ISIS—he appeared in a propaganda video for the group, criticizing the Tajik government’s policy toward Islam.
Often, the authorities of the Central Asian states fight against supporters of the so-called “Islamic states” by using the actions of their political opponents to prosecute their family members. In particular, under the slogan of combating Islamic extremism Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon has been repressing the leaders of Islamic Revolutionary Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and their family more than two years.
It should be noted that the IRPT was the largest opposition party in the country and the only Islamic political party that officially registered in Central Asia. Two years ago, on September 29, 2015, the Supreme Court of Tajikistan declared the IRPT as a terrorist organization that threatened the security and stability of the state. Now the activities of the IRPT are prohibited, its leader Said Abdullo Nuri signed a peace agreement with the President Emomali Rahmon at the end of the civil war in Tajikistan in June 1997.
The court decision stated that the party was directly associated with the attempt of mutiny, undertaken in September 2015 by the Deputy Defense Minister, General Abdukhalim Nazarzoda. The rebellion was suppressed, and in mid-September the authorities arrested virtually the whole IRPT leadership. Only the leader of the party, Kabiri Muhiddin, escaped arrest because a few months before these events he had left for Europe.
On June 2, 2016, the Supreme Court of Tajikistan sentenced the Deputy Leaders of the IRPT Umarali Hisainov and Mahmadali Haitov to life imprisonment, 11 party activists up to 28 years of imprisonment. The court found them guilty of terrorism, religious extremism, a coup d’état attempt, the overthrow of the constitutional form of the government and murder. According to Amnesty International, the trial did not meet the requirements of fair trial and is clearly of a political nature. The UN condemned the verdicts to the leaders of the IRPT.
Today, the whole arsenal of the state’s punitive machine is directed not only against activists of the party, but also against members of their family. Authorities took the passports from many wives and children of convicted IRPT members, so that they could not leave the country. Many relatives lost their employment. The fiscal authorities of the country have closed or confiscated medium and small businesses, which belonged to members of the IRPT. The property of the party was also confiscated. More than 10 relatives of the party leader Mukhiddin Kabiri were detained, including his 95-year-old father Tillo Kabirov, who died in October 2016. After this, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom expressed concern over the repressive policies of the Tajik government against the relatives of the leader of the IRPT.
State television and pro-governmental media call convicts “enemies of the Tajik people.” Due to the call of officers of the government, from time to time Tajik youth burn portraits of opposition leaders, throw stones at their homes, throw eggs at the relatives of convicted IRPT members. All this is reminiscent of the times of Stalin’s repression which were subjected not only to “enemies of the people” but also members of their families. Because of fear of physical violence and political repression, more than 1,500 IRPT activists and their family members left the country. On June 12, 2017, the IRPT political council made a statement from Germany expressing its outrage at the persecution of relatives of its activists in Tajikistan and urged the world community to intervene. But this is hardly affecting the government.
Thus, the President Emomali Rahmon skillfully used the threat of Islamic radicalism and the struggle with ISIS jihadists to eliminate the political opposition represented by the IRPT. In the absence of real political competition, the Head of the state strengthened his authoritarian power, appointed his son the mayor of the capital, daughter – the head of the presidential administration. The president decided to create the most comfortable conditions for the transfer of power by inheritance using a monarchical pattern of repressive methods not only against opponents but also their closest relatives.
No One Writes to the Colonel Halimov
Four brothers of the past commander of the Special Police Force of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Tajikistan, Colonel Gulmurod Halimov, who joined ISIS militants in April 2015 due to religious belief, were killed. It is known that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi appointed him to the post of “Minister of Military Affairs” of the Islamic state. Because of his rich background he became the iconic agitational figure of the Caliphate, who several times urged Tajik migrants in Russia to join the jihad. He stated that they had become “slaves of the disbelievers “, instead of being “slaves of Allah”, after which he called his compatriots to go to Syria for war. At one time, the US State Department announced a $ 3 million reward for the information on the whereabouts of Halimov. On April 15, 2017 the British magazine “The Times” reported that the Tajik colonel was liquidated in consequence of the air strike in the west of Mosul, but so far there is no concrete confirmation of this.
On July 5, 2017 full blood brothers of the disgraced colonel Gulmorod, Sultonmurod Halimov and Fozil Halimov, and his nephew Afzal Abdurashidov and their close relative Naim Rahmonov were murdered by covert means of interior ministry member. They were buried by the relatives in Darai Foni village without washing and “Janoza” ceremony. Under Islamic canons the man who fought on Allah track and fell down on the battlefield is called “Shakhid”. So, shakhid will not be washed (do the ghusl) and buried in their clothes. Also three his brothers, Ali, Komil and Nazir, were arrested.
According to law enforcement authorities of Tajikistan, relatives of Halimov Gulmorod intended to cross the Tajik-Afghan border in the vicinity of Chubek village and join ISIS. Allegedly on the Afghan side of the Pyanj River, the brothers and relatives of Colonel Halimov were awaited by Islamic state militants. But the probability of this version raises deep suspicions, as the authorities of the country have started using punitive technologies against the innocent relatives of Colonel Halimov.
For example, in June 2017, the Dushanbe City Court sentenced the son of a runaway colonel, Gulmurod Behrouz who had just graduated from school, to 10 years in prison. According to the investigation, the young man maintained contact with his father and wanted to flee to him who was in Syria. But at the trial which was held in closed mode, no evidence was given of his guilt. He himself declared his innocence. According to him, after his father’s escape, he had never contacted him, and he found out about his father’s fate from social media platforms. According to the statement of the first wife of the runaway colonel Nazokat Murodova, due to financial difficulties she could not hire a lawyer for her son. Her son did a small business to help his family financially, and now they are left without a breadwinner and live in the grip of poverty. She does not intend to appeal the verdict to a higher court, since she does not believe in the justice of the judges. She added that the authorities fulfilled the political order and made her son a victim in the fight against Islamic radicalism, although by the law her son should not be responsible for the actions of his father.
The analysis shows that the personal mistake of Colonel Gulmurod Halimov to join ISIS made a social outcast not only of his blood brothers and family members, but also of all fellow villagers in Darai Fony village in the south of Tajikistan, where he was born and raised. Today, all the power of the repressive apparatus of the state is directed against the inhabitants of this village. One of the residents of this village, on condition of anonymity, informed us that Stalin’s repression had returned to them, when the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs shot down “enemies of the people” without trial and investigation, and expelled members of their families to Siberia for hard labor.
ISIS is a convenient lever for the authorities of Central Asia in the fight against political opposition
Unfortunately, lawyers, local human rights organizations, the Human Rights Association in Central Asia and the regional offices of Human Rights Watch are forced to turn a blind eye to the obvious facts of human rights violations in lawsuits related to Islamic radicalism. Opposing the authorities may turn into accusations against them as ISIS extremists. Recently it happened, for example, the well-known Tajik lawyer Buzurgmekhr Yorov who defended the leaders of the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan, and himself was sentenced to 23 years imprisonment on October 6, 2016. He was found guilty of “fraud”, “a mass appeal for overthrowing the constitutional order”, “incitement of national or religious hatred.” The court also condemned for 21 years the lawyer Nuriddin Makhamov, who defended his colleague Buzurgmkhar Yorov. Thus, the authorities wanted to teach a lesson for all lawyers and human rights defenders who wanted to protect “Islamic radicals” in the future.
Recently, authoritarian rulers of the Central Asian states have successfully mastered a new trend, blaming all of their political opponents for links with the jihadists of the Islamic state. It turned out that this is a very convenient screen to justify its repressive actions. In the case of criticism by Western European countries, the United States and international organizations about human rights violations, democratic norms and censorship of freedom of speech, authoritarian leaders of Central Asia unanimously affirm that they are fighting ideological supporters of ISIS. Indeed, if the entire civilized world fights against Islamic extremism and international terrorism, the Western powers will not defend the one who is accused of having links with Islamists. Thus, the rulers of the five Central Asian republics have learned to benefit from the world struggle against religious extremism, through which they strengthen their power and pursue oppression against their political opposition.
In January 2017 one of the critics of the government of Kyrgyzstan, former parliamentary deputy Maksat Kunakunov was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment with the confiscation of his personal property “for the attempted coup and the financing of the local cell of the international terrorist group ISIS”. Closer to the presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan which will be held in October 2017, the conveyor of political repression against opposition leaders has intensified. So, on April 17, 2017 Pervomaisky district court of Bishkek sentenced strong opponents of the president, opposition politicians Bektur Asanov, Kubanychbek Kadyrov, Ernest Karybekov and Dastan Sarygulov to 20 years imprisonment for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and to seize power.” The accused at the trial which was held in closed mode categorically rejected the accusations and said that the authorities pursued them for their opposition activities. Also, political repression touched prominent leader of the opposition Ata Meken party Tekebayev Omurbek and Sadyr Japarov, who were arrested on the eve of the presidential election. Today, the trial of them continues. But it is already clear that he cannot take part in the upcoming elections. Thus, President Almazbek Atambayev used the threat of Islamic radicalism for the repression of the political opposition and for the transfer of power to his successor the current Prime Minister, Sooronbai Jeenbekov.
With the emergence of the so-called “Islamic state” in the Middle East and the activation of the Taliban militants, ISIS in Afghanistan, the political regimes of Central Asia have found a convenient political tool to influence public sentiments and to distract society from economic problems. As you can see by the analysis, the heads of the region through the threat of ISIS have been and are clearing the political field of opponents, pursue their opponents and strengthen their authoritarian regime. By the decision of improvised courts, the oppositionists easily turn political figures into criminals by accusing them of being ISIS supporters. The authorities are at work to further develop such methods that develop a negative attitude towards the opposition party in their society. The presidents of the five former republics of the Soviet empire whose population is Sunni Muslims, dream of having an opposition only characterized under the ISIS grouping, so that overseas society does not raise questions about their methods of fighting in order to continue “maintaining stability.”
But the authorities must understand that the constant accusation of the opposition in connection with Islamic radicals is beneficial, first of all, to local Wahhabis and Salafis who bear the idea of building a Caliphate in Central Asia. Supporters of Al Qaeda and ISIS will try to join their ranks at the expense of those who suffered from the repression of the authorities and the injustice of corrupt courts. The repression of the opposition gives additional radical arguments to the recruitment of new jihadists into the hands of radical Islamic groups. In order to successfully resist the ideology of radical Islamism, the authorities need to improve the social and economic conditions of the population, carry out radical reforms of the judicial branch of government and law enforcement agencies, and eradicate corruption in state structures.
The space for peaceful dissent continued to shrink drastically. The authorities invoked national security concerns and the fight against terrorism to justify increasingly harsh restrictions on freedoms of expression and association. Members of the banned opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) were sentenced to life and long-term imprisonment on terrorism charges in blatantly unfair secret trials. Allegations that they were tortured to obtain confessions were not effectively and impartially investigated. Lawyers representing IRPT members faced harassment, arbitrary detention, prosecution and long prison terms on politically motivated charges.
In May a national referendum approved wide-ranging amendments to the Constitution. These included removing the limit on presidential terms in office, effectively enabling President Rahmon to retain the presidency beyond the next elections, and banning religion- and nationality-based political parties. In November “insulting the leader of the nation” was made a criminal offence.
At least 170 individuals were prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to prison for their alleged involvement in the armed clashes between government forces and armed groups in the capital, Dushanbe, in September 2015, which the authorities described as an attempt to seize power by a former deputy defence minister, Abdukhalim Nazarzoda. Due to the authorities’ near-total control of news reporting there was little independent public scrutiny of the official account which, in turn, cast doubt on the prosecutions.
Exiled members of the banned opposition party, Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and opposition “Group 24” activists attended and picketed the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the OSCE in Warsaw, Poland, in September. Some reported that police and security services threatened, arbitrarily detained, questioned and in some cases physically assaulted their family members in Tajikistan in retaliation for their peaceful protest in Warsaw. The government delegation left the event early in protest against a “terrorist organisation banned in Tajikistan” being admitted among other civil society participants.
The authorities continued to emphatically reject allegations of the politically motivated criminal prosecution, unfair trial and torture and other ill-treatment of 14 IRPT leaders for their alleged role in the September 2015 clashes. The trial at the Supreme Court began in February and was conducted in secrecy, inside the pre-trial detention centre of the State Committee for National Security. In June, all the defendants were convicted. Two deputy IRPT leaders, Umarali Khisainov (also known as Saidumur Khusaini) and Makhmadali Khaitov (Mukhammadalii Hait), were given life sentences. Zarafo Khujaeva (Rakhmoni) was sentenced to two years in prison; she was released on 5 September under a presidential pardon. Other sentences ranged from 14 to 28 years.
The sparse initial official information relating to the prosecution of the IRPT leaders, including the charges they faced, had already been removed from official sources (including the Prosecutor General’s Office website and the official news agency Khovar) in 2015, and any further information suppressed. The defence lawyers were compelled to sign non-disclosure agreements regarding all details of the case and the legal proceedings. The verdict and official records of the court proceedings were not officially released. In August, a leaked copy of the verdict was published online. The Prosecutor General’s Office refused to comment on its authenticity but its suspected source was nevertheless prosecuted (see below).
In March the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression expressed concern that “the drastic measures taken against IRPT represent a serious setback for an open political environment. The government accuses the IRPT and its members of serious crimes but it has refused to give public access to the trial and evidence”.1
Persecution of defence lawyers
Lawyers who worked on the case of the 14 IRPT leaders faced harassment, intimidation and, in some cases, arbitrary detention and prosecution. In October, the Dushanbe City Court sentenced Buzurgmekhr Yorov and Nuriddin Makhkamov, two lawyers representing several co-defendants in the IRPT case, to 23 and 21 years in prison respectively following an unfair trial. Apart from the first court hearing in May, all sessions were closed to the media and the public. Both lawyers were found guilty of “arousing national, racial, local or religious hostility”, fraud, “public calls for violent change of the constitutional order of the Republic of Tajikistan”, and “public calls for undertaking extremist activities”. Buzurgmekhr Yorov was also found guilty of forgery. Both denied any wrongdoing and an appeal was pending at the end of the year. Neither will be able to practise law upon release unless their convictions are fully overturned.2
On 22 August, Jamshed Yorov, also a defence lawyer in the IRPT case and the brother of Buzurgmekhr Yorov, was detained on charges of “divulging state secrets”. He was accused of leaking the text of the Supreme Court’s decision in the IRPT case. He was released on 30 September.
A second trial against Buzurgmekhr Yorov opened on 12 December at pre-trial detention centre number 1 in Dushanbe. He was accused of disrespecting the court and insulting government officials in his final statement to Dushanbe City Court.
Torture and other ill-treatment
In May, legal safeguards against torture and other ill-treatment of detainees were strengthened. These included: reducing the maximum length of time a person can be held in detention without charge to three days; defining detention as starting from the moment of de facto deprivation of liberty; giving detainees the right to confidential access to a lawyer from the moment of deprivation of liberty; and making medical examinations of suspects obligatory prior to placing them in temporary detention.
There were still no independent mechanisms for the investigation of torture or other ill-treatment. The NGO Coalition against Torture registered 60 complaints of torture but believed the real figure to be much higher.
In September, the UN Human Rights Council adopted the outcomes of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Tajikistan. The government rejected recommendations to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and set up a National Preventive Mechanism. It did, however, accept recommendations to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR and to fully abolish the death penalty.
Freedom of association
The Ministry of Justice provided draft regulations for the implementation of the amended Law on Public Associations. However, it failed to specify time limits for decisions on the compulsory registration of foreign funding for NGOs, or to clarify whether a grant could be used before the official registration. The draft regulations limited inspections of NGOs to once every two years, but left this rule and the grounds for inspections open to wide interpretation.
In January a district court dismissed the Tax Committee’s liquidation proceedings against the established human rights and democracy think tank, Nota Bene.
Freedom of expression
The authorities continued to impose further restrictions on the media and reduced access to independent information. In August the government issued a five-year decree giving it the right to “regulate and control” the content of all television and radio networks through the State Broadcasting Committee.
Independent media outlets and individual journalists faced intimidation and harassment by police and the security services for covering the IRPT case and other politically sensitive issues. Some were forced to leave the country. In November, independent newspaper Nigoh and independent website Tojnews announced their closure because “conditions no longer exist for independent media and free journalism”. Nigoh had reported on the trial of lawyer Buzurgmekhr Yorov.
The authorities continued to order internet service providers to block access to certain news or social media sites, but without acknowledging this publicly. Individuals and groups affected by the measures were not able to effectively challenge them in court. A government decree also required internet providers and telecommunications operators to channel their services through a new single communications centre under the state-owned company Tajiktelecom. In March, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression expressed concern that “the widespread blocking of websites and networks, including mobile services… was disproportionate and incompatible with international standards”.
Rights to water and sanitation
In July the UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation published his report on Tajikistan. The report found that approximately 40% of the population, and nearly half of the rural population, relied on water supply sources which were often insufficient or did not meet water quality standards. This put a significant burden on women and children, some of whom spent on average four to six hours each day fetching water. The Special Rapporteur noted that the lack of water and sanitation in public institutions in particular had a direct negative impact on other rights, such as the rights to health, education, work and life. He urged the government to eliminate disparities in access to water and sanitation and to address the needs of the most vulnerable groups, including women and girls in rural areas, resettled people, refugees, asylum-seekers and stateless persons.
The government accepted recommendations from the UPR process to improve access to safe drinking water but rejected recommendations to ratify the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR.
State suppression of unofficial Islam, the humiliation of having to work as migrant laborers abroad, and a former special-forces commander flipping to the Islamic State group: these are the main factors behind why Tajikistan finds itself the world’s leading exporter of suicide bombers to Islamic State (IS) battlefields.
Experts singled out these factors when assessing how the impoverished Central Asian state came out on top in a recent report listing the origins of suicide bombers sent to Iraq and Syria, on whose territory IS’s diminishing so-called caliphate stands.
The report by The Hague-based International Center for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT) claimed that 27 Tajiks had carried out suicide operations in Iraq and Syria from December 2015 to November 2016, the highest among all foreign individuals whose country of origin had been identified.
The report — War by Suicide: A Statistical Analysis of the Islamic State’s Martyrdom Industry — has put the spotlight on Tajikistan’s struggle against extremism and why Tajiks would be so significantly represented among IS suicide bombers.
As if to underscore the findings, the IS’s Aamaq news agency has claimed that two Tajiks were among those responsible for the suicide bombing and gun attack on a military hospital in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on March 8 that killed at least 49 people. The claim from the extremist group, which has made inroads in Afghanistan since 2015, has not been verified by either Tajik or Afghan authorities.
‘Disproportionality’ Of Tajiks
Tajik’s Interior Ministry said in January that around 1,100 of its citizens were fighting in Syria and Iraq. At least 300 of them have reportedly been killed there, according to Dushanbe, while more than 60 have returned home voluntarily and been pardoned by the authorities under a blanket amnesty.
Charlie Winter, the author of the ICCT report, says Tajiks are “disproportionally represented” on the list of suicide bombers — the number of Tajiks joining IS pales in comparison to that of citizens of some other countries. For example, 6,500 Tunisians and 2,500 Saudis are estimated to have joined IS.
Winter says that the statistics suggest that “Tajiks were being singled out for use in suicide attacks at least in part because of their nationality.”
Flipping To Islamic State
Analysts say the case of a high-ranking, U.S.-trained, Tajik special-forces commander who vacated his post and defected to IS in Syria could help answer the question as to why so many Tajiks are being used as suicide bombers.
Colonel Gulmurod Halimov, the former commander of the Tajik Interior Ministry’s special forces known as the OMON, reportedly joined the IS extremist group in 2015. Counterterrorism experts believe Halimov has risen through the ranks to become the top IS military commander.
“Why Tajiks have been used so frequently could be because Halimov is reported to be the IS supreme military commander,” says Edward Lemon, a fellow at Colombia University who researches Tajikistan. “It is possible that Halimov is behind the move to use Tajiks more frequently by persuading them to volunteer.”
Halimov, dressed in black IS garb, appeared in an online propaganda video in May 2015 saying he had joined the extremist group to protest the Tajik government’s ban on Islamic dress in schools and offices, and limitations on public prayer.
Analysts also suggest pressure exerted by Tajikistan’s government on Islamic political and religious groups and unsanctioned Islam has played into the hands of IS recruiters.
As part of the peace deal ending the country’s 1992-97 civil war, the united Tajik opposition was guaranteed a place in government. That gave the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), the dominant opposition force and the lone Islamic component, a prominent role in Tajikistan.
A screen grab of former Tajik Colonel Gulmurod Halimov in an IS propaganda video from 2015.
The inclusion of the IRPT, the first officially recognized Islamic party in Central Asia, was seen as a sign of openness on the part of Dushanbe and as giving moderates the upper hand within the party itself.
But over the years the Tajik authorities increased their control on all things relating to Islam, supporting only state-approved mosques and Islamic leaders, and shutting down hundreds of unregistered mosques across the country. In 2015 it banned the IRPT altogether and arrested its leadership.
The effort to deter citizens from Islam not in keeping with the official line, analysts note, may have pushed some believers to more dangerous streams of the religion.
“When the IRPT was part of the [government] one of their main tasks was to educate people not to go to IS,” says Sophie Roche, a researcher at the University of Heidelberg, in Germany. “Once [the party] was forbidden we had an enormous increase [of Tajiks joining IS] — students and, in one case, 40 people from one village.”
Analyst Lemon says IS recruiters often target individuals who are socially isolated or have experienced some form of trauma or personal crisis.
He adds that the vast majority of recruitment takes place in Russia, where millions of Tajik citizens work as migrant laborers.
Researcher Roche says the sense of “humiliation” they feel over their situation plays an important role in recruitment in Russia, where migrant workers often perform menial jobs and are often targeted for abuse and harassment.
“Most of the migrants do work which is very post-colonial and they have a loss of status in that country,” says Roche, who has researched Tajik migrants in Russia.
“If you fail in Russia because you don’t have a job or you don’t earn enough to really build a status you turn toward religion to gain respect,” says Roche, although she adds that few who turn to Islam join the ranks of IS militants.