HUMAN RIGHTS IN TAJIKISTAN

HUMAN RIGHTS IN TAJIKISTAN

Tajikistan is a little freer than Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan but over time has clamped down more and more on political activism. People are relatively free to speak their minds but there have been clamp downs on Islamic practices and democracy does not exist.

Economic and political conditions discourage the development of independent media. The approach of the 2005 parliamentary and 2006 presidential elections brought increased closures of independent and opposition newspapers and attacks on journalists. In 2003 the government blocked access to the only Internet Web site run by the political opposition. Constitutional guarantees of a fair trial are not always observed, and torture often is used against individuals accused of crimes. Pretrial detention often is lengthy, and prosecutors control court proceedings. Prisons are overcrowded, and the incidence of tuberculosis and malnutrition is high among inmates. Some activities of religious groups have been restricted by the requirement for registration with the State Committee on Religious Affairs. Islamic pilgrimages are restricted, and proselytizing groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses have suffered occasional persecution. Violence against women is frequent, and Tajikistan is a source and transit point for trafficking in women. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007**]

According to the U.S. Department of State: “Tajikistan is an authoritarian state dominated politically by President Emomali Rahmon and his supporters. The constitution provides for a multi-party political system, but the government obstructed political pluralism. The November 2013 presidential election lacked pluralism and genuine choice and did not meet international standards. Authorities maintained effective control over security forces. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Tajikistan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]

The most significant human rights problems included citizens' inability to change their government through free and fair elections; torture and abuse of detainees and other persons by security forces; repression of political activism; and restrictions on freedoms of expression, press, and the free flow of information, including the repeated blockage of several independent news and social networking websites; and poor religious freedom conditions, as well as violence and discrimination against women. \*\

Other human rights problems included violence and discrimination against women; arbitrary arrest; denial of the right to a fair trial; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; prohibition of international monitors’ access to prisons; corruption; limitations on worker rights; and trafficking in persons, including sex and labor trafficking. Officials in the security services and elsewhere in the government acted with impunity. There were very few prosecutions of government officials for human rights abuses. The courts convicted one official in December 2013 for torture and two officials during the year for abuse of power. The law provides for the rights and freedoms of every person regardless of race, gender, disability, language, or social status, but there was discrimination against women and persons with disabilities. Trafficking in persons for sexual and labor exploitation remained a problem. \*\

Human Rights in the 1990s

Under the extension of emergency powers justified by the government in response to opposition in 1993 and 1994, numerous human rights violations were alleged on both sides of the civil war. A wave of executions and "disappearances" of opposition figures began after antireformist forces captured Dushanbe in December 1992. The People's Front of Tajikistan, a paramilitary group supported by the government, was responsible in many such cases. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In 1993 and 1994, a number of journalists were arrested, and prisoners of conscience were tortured for alleged antigovernment activities. In 1994 some prisoners of conscience and political prisoners were released in prisoner exchanges with opposition forces. The death sentence, applicable by Tajikistani law to eighteen peacetime offenses, was officially applied in six cases in both 1993 and 1994, but only one person, a political prisoner, is known to have been executed in 1994. No state executions were reported in 1995. *

Afghanistan-based oppositionist forces, who labeled themselves a government in exile, were accused by the Dushanbe government of killing a large number of civilians and some government soldiers near the Afghan border. These accusations had not been confirmed by impartial observers as of early 1996. Amnesty International appealed to both sides to desist, without apparent effect. *

Disappearances and Deaths in Detention in Tajikistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. On January 19, Isfara Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) member Umedjon Todzhiev died in an Isfara prison hospital. In an attempt to escape alleged torture in November 2013, Todzhiev jumped from a third-story window at an Isfara police station after police reportedly tortured him for two days. The coroner’s report cited heart failure as the cause of death, although Todzhiev’s family and defense lawyer Faizinisso Vohidova claimed that Todzhiev died as a result of torture during interrogations in the Isfara Ministry of Internal Affairs and subsequent lack of medical care. According to Vohidova the authorities did not take Todzhiev to the hospital until January 4. The Ombudsman’s Office told the media on February 7 that the Prosecutor’s Office had opened criminal investigations against several police officers in Isfara but did not mention how many officers were charged. Authorities had arrested Todzhiev in Isfara District on October 30 under suspicion of extortion but later charged him with membership in a banned Islamist organization, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. There was no update on the investigations at year’s end. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Tajikistan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]

On January 19, 2014, a detainee died as a result of suspected torture while in police custody. On March 31, Nizomiddin Homidov died in a police station in Vakhsh District, Khatlon region. Local police officers had detained Homidov during the nights of March 30 and 31 on suspicion of theft. Authorities returned his body to relatives on April 1. His father told reporters the body bore traces of torture, including broken ribs and hematomas on the wrists, neck, and back, and he accused police of killing his son. Vakhsh police station representatives countered that Homidov had committed suicide by hanging. The Vakhsh prosecutor’s office launched an investigation into the death and instituted criminal proceedings for negligence against Zaynuddin Nazriyev, the officer in charge during Homidov’s March 31 detention. The government did not report on the progress of the investigation. \*\

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances during the year. The government did not investigate the politically motivated disappearance of Salimboy Shamsiddion, the head of the Society of Uzbeks in Khatlon Province, who disappeared in March 2013. There was no additional information on this case. Impunity remained a serious problem. In April the Sughd Regional Prosecutor’s Office freed two officers in connection with the 2010 death of Ismonboy Boboey. Authorities had held and released the officers numerous times on suspicion of torturing Boboey prior to his death. \*\

Torture in Tajikistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “The constitution prohibits the use of torture. Although in 2012 the government amended the criminal code to create a separate article defining torture in accordance with international law, there continued to be reports of beatings, torture, and other forms of coercion to extract confessions during interrogations. Officials did not grant sufficient access to information to allow human rights organizations to investigate claims of torture. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Tajikistan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]

On March 25, 2014, officers from the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Department of Combatting Organized Crime (DCOC) arrested Tolib Shodiev for allegedly plotting a terrorist attack against the state-owned aluminum factory, TALCO. Although the law stipulates that law enforcement officers must document all detentions within three hours of the moment of detention, officers did not document Shodiev’s detention until April 1. During his trial Shodiev said that DCOC officers tortured him for seven days until he signed a confession. On August 12, a court convicted Shodiev of banditry, terrorism, and publicly calling for the overthrow of constitutional order and sentenced him to 18 years’ imprisonment.

On May 6, Vakhdat city police arrested Jamshed Narzulloev and his friends Dzhuma, Alisher, and Said under suspicion of fraud and unlawful deprivation of liberty in relation to a $3,000 loan Narzulloev made to his acquaintance Kudratullo Nazarov earlier in the year. Narzulloev's lawyer Bobobek Pirov told journalists the defendants had kidnapped and beat Nazarov until Nazarov's friend gave the defendants $3,000. According to Jamshed Narzulloev's father, Safarali Narzulloev, police tortured the four men to extract confessions. The alleged torture reportedly included pouring boiling water on the suspects, administering electric shocks to their genitals and hands, and beating them. Safarali Narzulloev told reporters that his son's lawyer had seen evidence of torture on his son, and requested a medical examination. The defendants' lawyers failed to raise allegations of torture during the trial, however. The results of the medical exam were never made available to the defendants or their families. Pirov further stated that the medical examination found no evidence of torture on his client. \*\

Arbitrary Arrest and Detention in Tajikistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “The law does not explicitly prohibit arbitrary arrests, which were common. The law states that police must inform the Prosecutor’s Office of an arrest within 12 hours and file charges within 10 days. Few citizens were aware of their right to appeal an arrest, and there were few checks on the power of police and military officers to detain individuals. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Tajikistan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]

Official impunity continued to be a serious problem. While authorities took limited steps to hold perpetrators accountable, reports of torture and mistreatment of prisoners continued, and the culture of impunity and corruption weakened investigations and prosecutions. In some cases during pretrial detention hearings or trials, judges dismissed defendants’ allegations of abuse and torture during detention. For example, the investigations into the deaths of Safarali Sangov and Bahromiddin Shodiev, who died in March and October 2011 respectively, lasted for more than two years. In Sangov’s case, two police officers were convicted of negligence but were later granted amnesty. In Shodiev’s case, a court convicted one officer of negligence and sentenced him to two years’ correctional labor. In 2013 courts later awarded Sangov’s family compensation of Tajikistan Somoni (TJS) 46,500 ($9,500) and Shodiev’s family, TJS 14,000 ($2,850). Victims of police abuse may submit a formal complaint in writing to the officer’s superior or the Office of the Ombudsman. Most victims reportedly chose to remain silent rather than risk official retaliation. The Office of the Ombudsman made few efforts to respond to complaints about human rights violations and rarely intervened, claiming that the office did not have the power to make statements or recommendations regarding criminal cases. \*\

Arbitrary Arrest: The government generally provided a rationale for arrests, but sometimes detainees and civil society groups reported that authorities falsified charges or inflated minor incidents to make politically motivated arrests. On March 7, the Anticorruption Agency arrested Fakhriddin Zokirov, a defense lawyer who had represented businessman and former minister of industry Zaid Saidov, on suspicion of obtaining a large loan under false pretenses (large-scale fraud). Authorities had arrested Saidov in May 2013 after he announced his intention to launch a new political party before the November 2013 presidential election. Media reports claimed the arrest of the lawyer was related to his legal defense of Saidov, who a court sentenced to 26 years’ imprisonment in December 2013. According to the Anticorruption Agency, lawyer Zokirov used a nonexistent cotton gin as collateral to obtain a TJS 4.75 million ($970,000) loan from Tojik Sodirot Bank. On July 7, a Dushanbe court extended Zokirov’s detention for two months until September 6. His case went to trial on September 9. Authorities released him from detention November 3, under the new amnesty law signed by President Rahmon on October 30. \*\

Two other lawyers who defended former minister Saidov, Shukhrat Qudratov and Iskhok Tabarov, announced on March 3 that they had received threats in connection with a lawsuit they brought against Fattoh Saidov, the head of the Anticorruption Agency. Qudratov told journalists he had received telephone threats on several occasions and noticed strangers surveilling his children. On July 21, the Anticorruption Agency arrested Qudratov, and agency officials forcibly entered and searched his house without a search warrant. Officers seized purported bribe money as material evidence. According to a statement made later that day, the Anticorruption Agency charged Qudratov with bribery, conspiracy to commit a crime, and complicity in a crime. Legal experts and human rights activists claimed Qudratov’s arrest was politically motivated, due to his defense of former minister Saidov and his activities as deputy head of the Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan. Qudratov remained in custody at year’s end. \*\

Amnesty International reported in 2012 that arrest procedures allowed for routine arbitrary detention for indefinite periods at the discretion of detaining authorities. Some police and judicial officials regularly accepted bribes in exchange for lenient sentencing or release. Law enforcement officials must request an extension from a judge to detain an individual in pretrial detention after two, six, and 12 months. \*\

Political Prisoners in Tajikistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “While authorities claimed there were no political prisoners or politically motivated arrests, opposition parties and local and international observers reported the government selectively arrested and prosecuted political opponents. There was no reliable estimate of the number of political prisoners. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Tajikistan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]

In December 2013 a court found Zaid Saidov, who announced his intention to form a new political opposition party, guilty on five criminal charges and sentenced him to 26 years in prison. Saidov’s lawyers reported he received threatening text messages “to stay away from politics” after the announcement of a new political party. The NGO Human Rights Watch reported that Saidov’s prosecution was designed to remove a vocal political opponent from the political arena. \*\

On July 30, a Vanj District Court in Gorno-Badakhshon Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) sentenced IRPT regional head Saodatsho Adolatov to five years’ imprisonment for incitement of ethnic, racial, regional, or religious enmity. GKNB officials arrested Adolatov on April 15 after they received a letter signed by 30 residents of Yazgulom Village in the GBAO accusing Adolatov of repeatedly insulting his fellow villagers and creating an atmosphere of hatred. On April 16, the IRPT released a statement claiming that authorities orchestrated Adolatov’s arrest in order to discredit the IRPT. Adolatov was the second IRPT GBAO regional head authorities have arrested. In 2012 security personnel detained the previous head, Sherik Karamkhudoev, and the Supreme Court convicted him for founding an organized criminal group, organizing mass disorders, and possessing illegal weapons during the 2012 security operation in Khorugh. The court sentenced Karamkhudoev to 14 years’ imprisonment in May 2013. \*\

Harassment and Big Brother Tactics in Tajikistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “The constitution states that the home is inviolable. With certain exceptions it is illegal to enter the home by force or deprive a person of a home. The law states that police may not enter and search a private home without the approval of a judge. Authorities may carry out searches without a prosecutor’s authorization in exceptional cases, “where there is an actual risk that the object searched for and subject to seizure may cause a possible delay in discovering it, be lost, damaged, or used for criminal purposes, or a fugitive may escape.” The law states that courts must be notified of such searches within 24 hours. Police frequently ignored these laws and infringed on citizens’ right to privacy, including personal searches without a warrant. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Tajikistan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]

In June 2014 authorities detained Alexander Sodiqov, a Tajik Ph.D. student living in Canada, and charged him with treason while he was conducting research in the GBAO. GKNB officers searched his mother’s house on June 17 without a prosecutor’s authorization and confiscated Sodiqov’s computer and data storage cards. \*\

According to the law, “when sufficient grounds exist to believe that information, documents, or objects that are relevant to the criminal case may be contained in letters, telegrams, radiograms, packages, parcels, or other mail and telegraph correspondence, they may be intercepted” with a warrant issued by a judge. The law states that only a judge may authorize monitoring of telephone or other communication. Security offices often monitored communications without judicial authorization. \*\

Freedom of Speech, Assembly and Association in Tajikistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “The law provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government restricted these rights...The authorities continued to curb freedom of speech through detentions, prosecutions, and the threat of heavy fines. By law a person may be imprisoned for as long as five years for insulting the president. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Tajikistan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]

The constitution provides the right to freedom of assembly, but the government required that individuals obtain permission from the government to stage public demonstrations. Individuals considering staging peaceful protests reportedly chose not to do so due to fear of government reprisal. \*\

On February 6, approximately 60 Khujand residents, mostly women, gathered in front of the regional office of the electricity monopoly, Barqi Tojik, to protest electricity shortages during a period of severely cold weather. Barqi Tojik officials met with protesters but did not indicate whether they took any actions in response to the protesters’ complaint. One Barqi Tojik official told the media that the government could not provide uninterrupted electricity during periods of severe cold. Protesters said they observed that areas where government officials resided did not experience electricity shortages. \*\

The constitution protects freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. There were no instances of the government shutting down NGOs, but civil society organizations reported a noticeable increase in the number and intensity of registration and tax inspections by authorities. \*\

Freedom of Religion, See Religion

Freedom Press in Tajikistan

According to the U.S. Department of State:“The law provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government restricted these rights. In July the government adopted an amendment to the Law on Emergency Situations that allows the government to limit or prohibit the use of audio/video recording equipment, mobile networks, and internet networks, as well as to monitor and censor mass media to “maintain peace.” The law does not clearly define what constitutes an emergency situation. The government did not invoke the law during the year.[Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Tajikistan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]

Press Freedoms: Independent media were active, despite significant and repeated government pressure on media outlets. Although some print media published political commentary and investigatory material critical of the government, journalists observed that authorities considered certain topics off limits, including derogatory information about the president or his family or questions about financial improprieties by those close to the president. \*\

Several independent television and radio stations were available in a small portion of the country, but the government controlled most broadcasting transmission facilities. The government allowed some international media to operate freely and permitted rebroadcasts of Russian television and radio programs. \*\

Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to face harassment and intimidation by government officials. Although the government decriminalized libel in 2012, state officials regularly filed defamation complaints against news outlets in retaliation for publishing stories critical of the government. \*\

On February 25, the Firdavsi District Court found Asia Plus newspaper editor Olga Tutubalina and the Asia Plus Media Group liable for insult to honor and moral damages as a result of an article she published in May 2013 that quoted Lenin’s 1919 letter to Maxim Gorky saying the intelligentsia were the “excrement” of society. The court ordered the media group and Tutubalina to publish a retraction and pay the three plaintiffs a total of TJS 30,000 ($6,100) in damages. On April 30, the Dushanbe City Court upheld the district court decision. Tutubalina appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which upheld the original decision on September 15. \*\

Censorship and Libel in Tajikistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists regularly practiced self-censorship to avoid retribution from officials. Opposition politicians had limited access to state-run television. The government gave opposition parties minimal broadcast time to express their political views, while the president’s party had numerous opportunities to broadcast its messages. Local media providers believed the government tasked a group of state agents specifically with monitoring the internet and flagging any content they believed to be critical of the president or government officials. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Tajikistan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]

Libel Laws/National Security: In 2012 the government repealed the law criminalizing libel and defamation, and the offenses were downgraded to civil violations, although the law retains controversial provisions that make publicly insulting the president an offense punishable by a fine or up to five years in jail. Nevertheless, libel judgments were common, particularly against newspapers critical of the government. \*\

The government exercised some restrictions on the distribution of materials, requiring all newspapers and magazines with circulations exceeding 99 recipients to register with the Ministry of Culture. The government continued to control all major printing presses and the supply of newsprint. \*\

Community radio stations continued to experience registration and licensing problems that prevented them from broadcasting. Independent radio and television stations experienced bureaucratic delays to registration. The government restricted issuance of licenses to new stations, in part through an excessively complex application process. For example, new stations must be licensed by the Commission of the National Committee on Television and Radio, which directly manages national television and radio stations. The government continued to deny the BBC a renewal of its license to broadcast on FM radio. \*\

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016

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