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Tajikistan: Senior Member Of Islamic Party Dies In Jail

  • Bruce Pannier --> Shamsuddin Shamsuddinov, undated (Courtesy Photo) A leading member of Central Asia's only legal Islamic party has died in prison in Tajikistan under questionable circumstances.

Shamsuddin Shamsuddinov, who was a leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRP) during the country's civil war of 1992-97, was a key figure in the party, but also one of the most controversial. Among other things, the 55-year-old was convicted in 2004 of organizing a criminal group.

IRP officials confirmed to RFE/RL's Tajik Service that Shamsuddinov, believed to be suffering from tuberculosis, died today in a prison on the outskirts of the Tajik capital, Dushanbe. Senior IRP official Hikmatullo Saifullozoda said the party had hoped to honor Shamsuddinov, but relatives asked to bury his body in accordance with Islamic tradition.

"As for a man who was sentenced because of false and fabricated accusations, we were eager to make a funeral ceremony at the party's headquarter for participation by followers and activists," Saifullozoda said. "But since the relatives have the right to decide, his brothers asked to transfer the body to the north."

Although he had recently been transferred to a hospital ward, officials blamed his death not on tuberculosis but on cancer. Shamsuddinov's relatives have told RFE/RL that they do not believe the officials' explanation of his death. RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports that one prisoner says he saw Shamsuddinov a few days ago and that he looked all right. But Saifullozoda says he was ill.

Unlike most of the IRP leadership, Shamsuddinov was from northern, not southern, Tajikistan. This raised the deputy chairman's importance considerably in the party, which relied on him to help the IRP gain support in the more industrial north, home to 40 percent of the population.

IRP Says Arrest Politically Motivated, Violates Amnesty

The IRP became Central Asia's only legal Islamic party after the 1997 peace deal that ended the civil war. As part of the deal, which ended hostilities that killed some 100,000 people, the party received an amnesty for its members and a share of power. It had been the dominant faction of the United Tajik Opposition, which also included democratic groups opposed to the government of mostly former communists backed by Moscow.

The IRP supported Shamsuddinov after his arrest and conviction in January 2004 on charges of organizing a criminal group, illegally crossing the border, and polygamy. The IRP maintained that the charges were politically motivated and that the timing of his arrest and conviction were meant to hurt the IRP in parliamentary elections in early 2005. Other party members were also arrested at the time, but Shamsuddinov was the most senior figure to be imprisoned.

At the time, another IRP deputy leader, Muhiddin Kabiri, who is now the party's head, criticized the court ruling and pointed out that Shamsuddinov should have been immune from prosecution because of the amnesty the IRP received as part of the 1997 peace deal.

"I think he was sentenced mistakenly. There were some mistakes in his case," Kabiri said. "Because even if he has been involved in some armed groups, he already has been amnestied. There is no secret that we have had three general amnesties that applied to all armed groups, including government and opposition groups. And I'm not sure that Shamsuddinov had any connection with criminal bands."

Said Abdullo Nuri, the longtime head of the IRP, also expressed disappointment at the time with the verdict against Shamsuddinov, saying he was expecting President Emomali Rahmon to intervene in Shamsuddinov's case.

Nuri said that "frankly, we did not expect government officials, especially the respected Emomali Sharipovich [Rahmon], to approve of this verdict. We believed that [Rahmon] would free Shamsuddinov because the charges against him amounted to slander."

Nuri died in 2006. But until his death, he continued to say he believed Rahmon would one day grant Shamsuddinov a presidential amnesty.

(Salimjon Aioubov of RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report.)
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