A brother of jailed Tajik lawyer Saidnuriddin Shamsiddinov has been sentenced to four years in prison on charges that he rejects.
Bahovaddin Shamsiddinov’s relatives told RFE/RL on January 19 that he was found guilty of allegedly being associated with the banned Group 24 movement, fraud, illegal land sales, and the spreading of false information. According to them, Shamsiddinov pleaded not guilty and called all the charges “slander.”
Officials from the Vakhsh district court confirmed to RFE/RL that Bahovaddin Shamsiddinov was sentenced to four years in prison on January 19.
The exiled spokesman of Group 24, Ubaidullo Saidi, told RFE/RL that Shamsiddinov had nothing to do with the opposition movement.
Bahovaddin Shamsiddinov’s brother, a noted lawyer and outspoken government critic, was sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison in December 2020 after a court in Khatlon found him guilty of fraud, illegal land sales, and spreading false information.
Saidnuriddin Shamsiddinov also rejected all the charges, saying the case was politically motivated as retaliation for his open criticism of officials.
In late 2021, Shamsiddinov’s sentence was extended by eight months after a court found him guilty of having links with Group 24, which he also rejected.
Group 24 was founded by well-known businessman and opposition politician Umarali Quvatov in 2012.
In 2014, Tajikistan’s Supreme Court declared the group extremist and banned it from the country. Dozens of the group’s members and supporters have been arrested and many of them sentenced to lengthy prison terms.
In March 2015, Quvatov was assassinated in Istanbul, Turkey.
In a joint letter to the Minister of Justice of the Republic of Tajikistan, Lawyers for Lawyers and Freedom Now have expressed their concern about the on-going imprisonment of lawyer Buzurghmehr Yorov.
On 6 October 2016, Mr. Yorov was found guilty for several violations of the Criminal Code and sentenced to 23 years imprisonment. In 2017, his sentence was increased with 5 years for insulting government officials. Mr. Yorov received a total sentence of 28 years, which was reduced by six years in the mass amnesty of December 2019.
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded in 2019 that Mr Yorov’s imprisonment was unmotivated and a violation of several international standards. They ordered the immediate release of Mr. Yorov, without success.
According to our information, Mr. Yorov has suffered serious ill-treatment and is at grave risk at the moment. On 16 November 2022, he was placed in solitary confinement in a punishment cell for expressing its disagreement with the President. Here, Mr. Yorov is reportedly tortured, which has even led to hospitalization. On 17 November, Mr. Yorov is transferred to a different prison without notice to the Ministry of Justice or his family. He was held incommunicado until 10 December, when his wife was allowed to visit him and noticed he had bruising on his neck and face, a sign of mistreatment.
Lawyers for Lawyers and Lawyers for Lawyers and Freedom Now are deeply concerned about the safety and health of Mr. Yorov and respectfully urge the authorities of Tajikistan to:
– Immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Yorov in compliance with the WGAD decision; and
– Ensure his safety and health according to international standards.
Six civil society activists from the Gorno-Badakshan Autonomous Region in Tajikistan, detained in connection with protests in May 2022, have received lengthy prison terms after closed, unfair trials, Human Rights Watch said today.
Among them is Ulfatkhonim Mamadshoeva, a 65-year-old independent journalist and civil rights activist, who was sentenced to 21 years in prison on charges of conspiring against the state and organizing the protests. Her former husband, Kholbash Kholbashov, was sentenced to life in prison in September.
“The trials of the Gorno-Badakshan activists were held behind closed doors without access to lawyers or the evidence against them, in violation of fundamental fair trial standards,” said Syinat Sultanalieva, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Tajikistan authorities should immediately release these six activists, along with the other activists who have been locked up for legitimate exercise of their rights and drop all charges against them.”
The other five activists who were convicted in trials on December 9 and 10 are members of Commission 44, an independent group established in 2021 to investigate the death of Gulbiddin Ziyobekov, a resident of the region killed by police in November 2021, whose death sparked an initial round of protests in Khorog, the regional capital.
The convicted activists are Faromuz Irgashov, a lawyer who headed Commission 44, sentenced to 30 years; Muzaffar Muborakshoev, a civil rights activist, 29 years; Khursand Mamadshoev, brother of Ulfatkhonim Mamadshoeva, 18 years; Manuchekhr Kholiknazarov, head of the Association of Lawyers in Pamir, 15 years; and Khushruz Djumaev, a civil rights activist and blogger known by the pseudonym Khushom Gulyam, 8 years. All were charged with “participation in a criminal association” under article 187 of the Criminal Code of Tajikistan. In June, two other members of the group were also sentenced to 18 years each.
The persecution of activists, journalists, and lawyers from the autonomous region has been ongoing since May, following a government crackdown on peaceful protests by the local population, the Pamiri, a distinct ethnic and religious minority, whom the government has long discriminated against. The authorities have arrested and detained more than 200 people on charges related to the protests and ensuing clashes. According to the United Nations special rapporteur on minority issues, as many as 40 people may have been killed in a special “anti-terrorism operation” that the Tajik authorities conducted in the region to quash the protests.
Tajik prosecutors have asked a court in Dushanbe to convict and sentence to 30 years in prison Faromuz Irgashev, an activist and former lawmaker in the volatile Gorno-Badakhshan region (GBAO), on charges of receiving illegal financial support from abroad, organizing an unsanctioned rally, and participating in the activities of a criminal group.
Two sources close to the trial, which started in October and is being held behind closed doors, told RFE/RL on December 1 that the prosecutor asked the court to sentence Irgashev last week.
The 32-year-old lawyer was arrested in May with several other activists in the wake of the deadly dispersal of protesters in GBAO. It is not known how he pleaded.
Irgashev was a lawyer for the Commission 44 group, which was created in November last year in GBAO to facilitate a dialogue between regional authorities and anti-government protesters. The group’s efforts led to the peaceful resolution of protests in the region.
In May, the protests in GBAO resumed as people demanded a thorough investigation into the 2021 death of an activist while in police custody and the refusal by regional authorities to consider the resignation of the regional governor and the mayor of GBAO’s capital, Khorugh.
The rallies intensified after one of the protesters was killed by police in May, prompting the authorities to launch a “counterterrorist operation.”
Authorities violently dispersed the protesters, arresting dozens of them. Irgashev and at least six other members of Commission 44 were among those apprehended. Two of them were later sentenced to 18 years in prison each.
In August, Tajikistan’s Supreme Court declared Commission 44 to be a criminal group.
Protests are rare in the tightly controlled nation of 9.5 million where President Emomali Rahmon has ruled with an iron fist for nearly three decades.
The trials of several human rights defenders and journalists, who have been charged with various criminal offenses in apparent retaliation for their criticism of the government’s repressive policies in the restive Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO), recently began in Tajikistan. International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) are seriously concerned about the non-transparent and politically motivated nature of these proceedings and call on the Tajikistani authorities to drop the charges against the defenders and journalists and immediately and unconditionally release them.
The trial of human rights lawyer and director of the Pamir’s Lawyers Association Manuchehr Kholiknazarov and other activists, including Faromuz Irgashev, Muzaffar Muborakshoev, Khushom Gulyam (Khushruz Jumaev) and Khursand Mamadshoev, who are members of Commission 44 – a government–civil society commission established in November 2021 to investigate the killing of protester Gulbiddin Ziyobekov and the subsequent crackdown on mass protests in GBAO – began on 20 September 2022 behind closed doors at the Supreme Court in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan.
The trial in the case of independent journalist Abdullo Gurbati began a day later, on 21 September at the Shohmansur District Court in Tajikistan. On 15 September the investigation into the case of journalist Daler Imomali was also completed and his case will be submitted to court in the near future.
The closed trial against independent journalist and human rights defender Ulfatkhonim Mamadshoeva is ongoing at a detention facility of the State Committee for National Security (SCNS) in Dushanbe.
Dozens of residents of an autonomous region in Tajikistan detained since May 2022 protests are facing closed, unfair trials, Human Rights Watch said today. Defendants are being tried on serious charges often without access to lawyers or the evidence against them in violation of their due process rights.
The authorities have arrested and detained more than 200 people in Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakshan autonomous region (GBAO), including at least 90 activists, on charges related to the protests and ensuing clashes. The residents of the isolated mountainous region are Pamiri, a distinct ethnic and religious minority, whom the government has long discriminated against.
“Dozens of activists and other members of the Pamiri minority in the Gorno-Badakshan autonomous region are facing unfair trials behind closed doors without access to lawyers,” said Syinat Sultanalieva, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Without lawyers, defendants can’t get a fair trial and are at greater risk of being tortured or otherwise mistreated.”
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Tajikistan acceded to in 1999, provides that everyone charged with a criminal offense is entitled to a fair and public hearing, has access to counsel and adequate time to prepare a defense, and is able to examine the evidence against them.
The region has only seven lawyers who are officially registered as members of the GBAO Bar Association to cover the population of 250,000. And lawyers from other regions of the country report being warned against taking up the cases of those arrested, while others fear retaliation. Several of those charged are reported to have been forcibly disappeared from Russia and taken to the region to face trial.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Tajikistan.
Description of the situation
The Observatory has been informed about the arbitrary detention of lawyer Manuchehr Kholiknazarov, who leads the Pamir Lawyers Association, a member organisation of the Civil Society Coalition against Torture and Impunity in Tajikistan, and a member of the civil society human rights initiative Commission 44’ Together with Kholiknazarov, other members of Commission 44, including lawyer Faromuz Irgashov and Khursand Mamadshoev were also detained. Mr. Mamadshoev is the brother of human rights defender, journalist, and representative of the Pamiri minority Ulfathonim Mamadshoeva, arbitrarily detained since May 18, 2022. Commission 44 is a group of lawyers, human rights defenders and activists established in Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous (GBAO) region to investigate police brutality that took place in the region in November 2021 and led to several civilians killed and dozens injured.
On May 28, 2022, Manuchehr Kholiknazarov, Faromuz Irgashov and Khursand Mamadshoev were summoned by the local Prosecutor’s Office in the city of Khorog and interrogated about “receiving money from the banned National Alliance of Tajikistan”. They were subsequently placed in a pre-trial detention centre under the Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. On June 6, they were taken from Khorog to Dushanbe, and placed in the detention center of Tajikistan’s State Committee of National Security, where they remained detained at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal.
Manuchehr Kholiknazarov, Faromuz Irgashov and Khursand Mamadshoev are charged under Article 187, part 2 , of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Tajikistan: “participation in a criminal association”. If convicted and sentenced, they face up to 12 years of imprisonment.
At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, Tajik authorities had not officially commented on the detention of Manuchehr Kholiknazarov, Faromuz Irgashov and Khursand Mamadshoev. It is also unknown whether the three human rights defenders have access to legal assistance.
The Observatory recalls that since May 14, 2022, the GBAO region has been in a state of high tension as around a thousand protesters gathered in Khorog and announced that they would start an indefinite protest from May 16, 2022, unless the regional leader Alisher Mirzonabot resigned and an effective investigation was conducted into the killing of Gulbidin Ziyobekov by police in November 2021. On May 16, 2022, several hundred people gathered in Khorog city centre, and military and special forces reportedly violently dispersed the protest, resulting in at least one death and several injuries. The Internet connection in the entire GBAO region has been cut off since May 16. On May 17 and 18, 2022, security forces continued attacks on civilians, including those who were acting peacefully, reportedly using tear gas grenades and live munition against protesters. On May 18, 2022, the Interior Ministry announced the start of an “anti-terrorist operation” in Badakhshan. Independent journalists who cover the ongoing anti-government protests and the violence against the demonstrators are subjected to threats and attacks, and prominent human rights defenders are criminalised and arbitrarily detained on trumped-up charges. At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, it is known that at least 40 persons have been killed and hundreds detained amid the crackdown on protesters.
On May, 22, 2022, the UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues expressed concern over the impact the use of counter-terrorism operations to quell protests could have in creating more violence in GBAO region, and called on the authorities of Tajikistan to immediately implement prevention measures that meet international human rights standards.
The Observatory strongly condemns the arbitrary detention of Manuchehr Kholiknazarov, Faromuz Irgashov and Khursand Mamadshoev and urges the authorities in Tajikistan to immediately and unconditionally release them and to put an end to the judicial harassment against them. The Observatory calls on the authorities to put an immediate end to the violence and excessive and unlawful use of force against peaceful protesters and human rights defenders in Tajikistan.
Human rights lawyer Abdulmachid Rizoyev, imprisoned since June 2021 for posting humorous comments on Facebook, has not been able to see any of his lawyers since 11 August 2021 and since 4 September his family has not been permitted to visit him. International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) is concerned that the lack of contact with the outside world significantly increases the risk that he will be subjected to torture or other forms of ill-treatment. Abdulmachid Rizoyev has been imprisoned to punish him for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and he should be released immediately and unconditionally.
On 14 June 2021, Shokhmansur District Court of Dushanbe sentenced Rizoyev to five and a half years’ imprisonment in a high security prison after finding him guilty of “public calls to carry out extremist activity through the media or the internet” (Article 307 of the Criminal Code). In July, one of Rizoyev’s lawyers filed a complaint with the Cassation Instance of Dushanbe City Court urging the court to annul the verdict and close the case against the human rights lawyer, but the court did not satisfy the complaint. In September 2021, his term was reduced to three years’ imprisonment under an amnesty law marking the 30th anniversary of Tajikistan’s independence.
The charges against Abdulmachid Rizoyev were based on a number of posts he had made on Facebook, which the prosecutor claimed were “hidden calls for extremism”, although they did not feature any kind of reference to violence. For example, the prosecutor found “hidden extremist” content, in one post where Rizoyev wrote that “A wise government fights the roots of protests, an ignorant government fights the protesters.” The following post was also deemed to represent a call for extremism: “We, Tajikistanis, come in the third category here: 1) The people have to live well. 2) The people have to live. 3) The people have to.”[i]
In court, Rizoyev maintained his innocence and stated that he had never held or promoted extremist views. IPHR is concerned that the criminal case was fabricated to punish him for his professional work defending the rights of Dushanbe residents whose homes were due to be demolished to make way for new construction projects. Previously he also provided legal assistance to military conscripts and soldiers subjected to abuse.
In November 2021, the family and lawyers of human rights defender Abdulmajid Rizoev were informed that he is being held in solitary confinement in Khujand in northern Tajikistan. On 11 August 2021, Dushanbe City Court rejected the cassation appeal to review the case of Abdulmajid Rizoev, and he was then transferred to the high-security prison in Khujand and placed in solitary confinement, where he is expected to serve the sentence handed down to him on 14 June 2021 in relation to posts he published on his Facebook page. According to Abdulmajid Rizoev’s lawyers, the human rights defender will remain in solitary confinement until at least until March.
On 11 August 2021, the Dushanbe City Court rejected the cassation appeal to review Abdulmajid Rizoev’s case, which the human rights defender’s lawyer applied for on 16 July 2021. On 14 June 2021, human rights defender Abdulmajid Rizoev was sentenced to 5 years and 6 months’ imprisonment for “public calls for performance of an extremist activity made using the mass media or the Internet” under Part 2, Article 307.1 of the Criminal Code of Tajikistan. The human rights defender has been detained in centre No.1 in Dushanbe since his arrest on 18 November 2020.
Abdulmajid Rizoev is a human rights defender and a lawyer, and was formerly a member of the Association of Young Lawyers “Amparo”, which was forcibly dissolved in 2012. As part of his human rights work, Abdulmajid Rizoev has been monitoring human rights violations occurring within the Tajikistan military during conscription and military service, and providing legal consultation to conscripts and soldiers, including those who have been subjected to physical and psychological abuse as new recruits in the army. In recent years, he has also been actively involved in defending the rights of residents in Dushanbe whose homes are to be demolished due to new construction projects underway. The defender provides the residents with legal representation, lodges complaints on their behalf and informs them of their rights to compensation and resettlement.
International rights watchdogs have long charged that the judiciary system in Tajikistan is often used to punish perceived enemies of the government.
There are, indeed, many cases in recent years to support those claims. And even when moved to gestures of mercy, the Tajik courts and state officials seem callous in their actions.
The following are some of the most egregious recent cases.
Buzurgmehr Yorov is a Tajik attorney who was detained in late September 2015 and shortly thereafter sentenced to 28 years in prison.
In honor of Tajikistan marking 30 years of independence this year, an amnesty has been granted to some prisoners. Yorov had four years removed from his long sentence.
The 50-year-old attorney had a reputation for defending people who had little, if any, chance of proving their innocence in Tajik courts.
He defended members of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), a group that had been in a power-sharing agreement with President Emomali Rahmon’s government and was later seen by Rahmon as an impediment to his exerting greater control over the country.
Yorov also defended fellow lawyer Fakhriddin Zokirov, who was the attorney of businessman Zayd Saidov.
Saidov founded a new political party — Tajikistan Now — in April 2013 and was convicted in December that same year on charges of fraud, polygamy, and statutory rape, charges seen as politically motivated.
Zokirov was arrested in March 2014 on forgery charges and was held for eight months before he received an amnesty.
Saidov’s second lawyer, Shuhrat Kudratov, was sentenced to nine years in prison on charges of fraud and bribery. His term was shortened after two rounds of amnesties.