Tajikistan should reverse repressions against human rights defenders and free those jailed
Civil Rights Defenders is appalled by the recent convictions and sentencing to lengthy prison terms of journalists, lawyers, and activists in Tajikistan in connection to the May 2022 protests which the government violently suppressed. Civil Rights Defenders deplores the repressions carried out by the Tajik authorities and urges the nation’s judicial authorities to overturn the verdicts and release all government critics.
The protests took place in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) in connection to the death of a local man in November 2021. He was killed by the police. More than 20 persons died during the protests after the authorities sent armed police force against the protesters.
Most recently, the 65 years-old human rights defender and former journalist Ulfatkhonim Mamadshoyeva, detained in May by Tajikistan’s national security agency, was reportedly sentenced by the nation’s Supreme Court to 21 years in jail on a series of charges in connection to the protests. Prior to her detention, Mamadshoyeva told the media that she played no role in the protests and that she visited the region to conduct work in a project that she was taking part in. In the past, Mamadshoyeva founded and led the local nongovernmental organisation Nomus va Insof whose projects focused on the rights of women and children. According to news reports, Mamadshoyeva’s trial was held behind closed doors and her sentencing took place during the week of 5 December 2022. The authorities have not commented on Mamadshoyeva’s case to this day.
Last week, Tajik judges also convicted at least two lawyers, Manuchehr Kholiknazarov and Faromuz Irgashev, on a separate series of charges in connection to the GBAO protests. They were sentenced to 15 and 30 years respectively, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. Both lawyers participated in the so-called Commission 44, an informal group tasked with investigating police abuses in the region and facilitating a dialogue between the protesters and the authorities. Irgashev was the head of the Commission and is known in Tajikistan as a person who unsuccessfully sought to run as an independent candidate in the 2020 presidential elections, where his registration was denied. Kholiknazarov, the head of the regional lawyers’ association and a member of the Tajik Coalition Against Torture, was detained by the national security service agents in May, Human Rights Watch reported. According to reports, Kholiknazarov and Irgashev were tried and sentenced behind closed doors.
Since September, judges in Tajikistan issued guilty verdicts to at least 4 independent journalists, Abdullo Ghurbati, Daler Imomali, Khushruz Jumayev, Zavqibek Saidamini, and several civic activists, including both Mamadshoyeva’s brother and former husband. One more journalist, Abdusattor Pirmuhammadzoda, is currently on trial. Those sentenced were tried behind closed doors, with charges ranging from assaulting a police officer to membership in a criminal or an extremist group, Committee to Protect Journalists said. The journalists were given prison sentences from seven to ten years, whereas Mamadshoeva’s former husband, Kholbash Kholbashev, was sentenced to life in jail. The activist’s brother, Khursand Mamadshoyev, was sentenced to 18 years in jail.
“We condemn the ongoing repressions against journalists, lawyers, and human rights defenders in Tajikistan, and urge President Emomali Rakhmon and his government to cease their attacks, end prosecution of government critics, and release all the those imprisoned in retaliation for their work or exercise of their human rights and freedoms”, said Anders L. Pettersson, Executive Director at Civil Rights Defenders.
“Their arrests and sentencing were carried out in daring violation of the international human rights documents that the Tajik government ratified and pledged to respect. The ongoing intimidating attacks by the security services go at odds with the constitution of Tajikistan which guarantees respect for human rights and civic freedoms for all”, Anders continues.
Tajikistan’s human rights record remains abysmal, mostly due to the waves of repression that authorities have been carrying out for almost a decade. The government of Emomali Rakhmon – who holds office since 1994 – imprisoned most of his political opponents, including the members of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT) that until 2015 was represented in the national parliament. According to media reports, the Tajik authorities accused the party leadership and its members of a wide range of criminal charges, labelled it as terrorist, and banned not only its activities but any association with it. The repressions against the IRPT also put lawyers who represented its members in the courtrooms in the government crosshairs. Most prominent of them is Buzurgmehr Yorov, a Tajik lawyer who was arrested in September 2015 and sentenced to 28 years in jail after he agreed to defend the party leaders in court. He remains imprisoned today.
Speaking on 9 December from the Tajik capital Dushanbe, Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, presented some of the results of the fact-finding mission that she conducted on the ground. Although the government barred Lawlor from travelling to the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region and denied her request to visit Mamadshoyeva, Yorov, and others in jail, the UN official nevertheless succeeded in gathering information from the embattled human rights corps in the country. Lawlor said the information will be included in the report that her office will present to the UN Human Rights Council in 2024.
The UN Special Rapporteur’s findings describe government repressions in detail: targeting of journalists, activists, and lawyers with surveillance, interrogation, arrests, and prosecution on a wide array of criminal charges that carry lengthy jail terms; denial of access to legal help and abuse of fair trial rights; imposing of excessive bureaucratic burden and other types of obstruction against human rights NGOs. Unless reversed, these and other actions carried against the embattled human rights defenders can lead to a severe deterioration and human rights crisis in Tajikistan, UN’s Mary Lawlor concluded in the report presentation.