AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL REPORT 2015/16: TAJIKISTAN

The Amnesty International Report 2015/16 documents the state of human rights in 160 countries and territories during 2015. In many regions, large numbers of refugees were on the move against a backdrop of conflict and repression. Torture and the failure to uphold sexual and reproductive rights were key concerns. Government surveillance and impunity continued to deny many their rights. This report also celebrates those who stand up for human rights across the world, often in difficult and dangerous circumstances. It is essential reading for policy makers, activists and anyone with an interest in human rights.



TAJIKISTAN

Republic of Tajikistan

Head of state: Emomali Rahmon

Head of government: Qokhir Rasulzoda

Authorities continued to impose sweeping restrictions on freedom of expression. Several prominent human rights NGOs were targeted for “inspections” by various authorities, and some were “advised” to close down. Members of opposition groups faced increasing harassment, violence and even death, both in Tajikistan and in exile. Some political opposition activists and those accused of religious extremism were abducted and forcibly returned from several former Soviet countries. Lawyers representing opposition activists or those charged with anti-state offences were themselves at risk of harassment, intimidation and punitive arrest. Torture and other ill-treatment remained widespread, and lawyers were repeatedly denied access to their clients.


BACKGROUND

The country faced increasing economic difficulties. Due to the recession in Russia and other traditional destinations for labour migrants, foreign remittances (the equivalent of half the country’s GDP) fell by 40-60% in US dollar terms according to different estimates, and many of the labour migrants – reportedly over a million in Russia alone – were expected to start returning to Tajikistan.

Parliamentary elections were held on 1 March in an atmosphere of increasing reprisals against any political dissent, with only pro-government parties gaining seats in the newly elected legislature. The government reported attacks by armed groups against police on 4 September in and near Dushanbe, the capital, with at least 26 people killed, including nine police officers. Little independent information on the incident emerged, due to the government’s control of the media. The authorities blamed the violence on former Deputy Minister of Defence Abdukhalim Nazarzoda, who escaped the scene but was killed in a security operation on 16 September.


FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Freedom of expression remained severely restricted and access to information was increasingly controlled by the authorities. Independent media outlets and journalists who were critical of the authorities faced intimidation and harassment, including personal attacks in pro-government media, particularly ahead of the parliamentary elections. Regulations were introduced in June requiring state agencies to submit all public communications to Khovar, the state information agency, and mandating media outlets to report on official events exclusively based on information vetted by Khovar. The government’s Communications Service denied that it had ordered internet service providers to block access to certain news or social media sites, but evidence to the contrary continued to emerge. Various media and social media sites were blocked in May, after a video was posted by a former highranking police official announcing that he had joined the armed group Islamic State (IS) in Syria.


FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

Amendments to the Law on Public Associations, enacted in August, oblige NGOs registered as public associations with the Ministry of Justice to notify it about any foreign funding they receive. In June, the Ministry proposed a new law requiring that all non-profit organizations, including NGOs, register with it. NGOs in Tajikistan feared that, if passed, the law would give the government the means to deny them registration and thus prevent them from operating legally. Several prominent NGOs were subjected to “inspections” by various government bodies, including the Ministry of Justice, the Tax Committee, the Prosecutor General's Office, and the State Committee on National Security, under the pretext of “national security considerations”. Some NGOs were informally “advised” to close down. In June, the Tax Committee initiated liquidation proceedings against the public foundation Nota Bene. In August, the Bureau on Human Rights and Rule of Law was issued a fine of TJS 42,639 (over US$6,000) for purported tax violations that were never explained.


REPRESSION OF DISSENT

Members of opposition groups, including Group 24 (banned by the Supreme Court as “extremist” in October 2014) and the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), faced increasing harassment and violence. The leader of the political movement Youth for Tajikistan Revival, Maksud Ibragimov, who held Russian citizenship and lived in Moscow, Russia, where he survived an assassination attempt in November 2014, was put on Tajikistan’s list of wanted individuals in October 2014. According to his family, on 20 January five men claiming to be Russian immigration officials took him from his flat to an unknown location. On 30 January, Tajikistani authorities reported that Maksud Ibragimov was in pre-trial detention in Dushanbe on charges of “extremism”. In June, he was sentenced to 17 years’ imprisonment.

On 5 March, Umarali Kuvvatov, an exiled founding member of Group 24, was shot dead by unknown men in Istanbul, Turkey. He had earlier expressed concerns that the authorities had ordered his assassination. 

Following months of harassment of its members, the IRPT lost its two remaining seats in Parliament in the March elections. On 28 August, the Ministry of Justice ordered the IRPT to cease its activities by 7 September, claiming it lacked sufficient popular support to qualify as a registered party. In September, 13 high-ranking members of the IRPT were arrested on charges of involvement in “criminal groups” and linking them to the violence on 4 September, which the party’s exiled leader, Mukhiddin Kabiri, refuted. On 29 September, the IRPT was designated a “terrorist organization” by the Prosecutor General, on the grounds that several of its members had been involved in groups promoting “extremism”, and that the party had used its newspaper, Salvation, and other media to spread “extremist ideas” and promote religious hatred. The designation was later confirmed by the Supreme Court. 

On 13 January, human rights lawyer Shukhrat Kudratov was sentenced to nine years in prison on charges of fraud and bribery. He claimed the charges were politically motivated and linked to his work for the defence of opposition activist and former Minister of Energy and Industry Zaid Saidov (sentenced in 2013 to 26 years in prison). On 28 September, police arrested Buzurgmekhr Yorov, a lawyer representing detained IRPT members, on unrelated charges of fraud and forgery, and seized documents relating to the IRPT cases in violation of Tajikistan’s own laws.


TORTURE AND OTHER ILL-TREATMENT

Torture and other ill-treatment remained widespread despite the adoption in 2013 of an Action Plan to implement recommendations by the UN Committee against Torture. By mid-August, the NGO Coalition against Torture registered 25 new cases of torture. In most cases, relatives and victims declined to file complaints for fear of reprisals, and many more cases of torture were likely to have gone unreported. Criminal prosecutions against law enforcement officials suspected of torture were rare, and frequently terminated or suspended before completion.

Lawyers were repeatedly denied access to their clients in detention, often for several days at a time. Individuals perceived to be threats to national security, including members of religious movements and Islamist groups or parties, were at particular risk of arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detention, torture and other ill-treatment. 

Shortly before his own arrest, lawyer Buzurgmekhr Yorov told the media that Umarali Khisainov (also known as Saidumar Khusaini), one of his IRPT clients who was arrested on 13 September, had complained about beatings and other ill-treatment in police custody.

On 9 April, Shamsiddin Zaydulloev was arrested without a warrant at his family’s flat in Dushanbe, and taken to the Drug Control Agency building. His mother was able to see him in detention the same day, where he confirmed that he had been beaten. After subsequently being denied access to Shamsiddin Zaydulloev, his mother hired a lawyer who was not allowed to visit his client without the written permission of the investigator in charge of the case. On 13 April, his parents learned that he had died in police custody and noticed multiple bruises on his body in the morgue. They took photographs, hired a new lawyer and demanded a forensic medical examination, which concluded that Shamsiddin Zaydulloev had died of pneumonia. The family contested the findings and the Prosecutor General’s Office ordered a second forensic examination, which found on 3 August that Shamsiddin Zaydulloev had suffered serious injuries, including five broken ribs and a fractured skull, which may have caused his death. An additional forensic examination was orderedto finally establish the cause of his death, and its outcome was still pending at the end of the year.


Shared from: AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

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