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Tajikistan: Former Opposition Leader Urges Civil War Amnesty

Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda (file photo) March 15, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda is back in Tajikistan's political spotlight this week after making a controversial call for amnesty for some of the jailed people who fought in the country's civil war.

Some think that Turajonzoda -- the country's former spiritual leader and head of the Islamic opposition -- is signaling his intention to return to a leading role in Tajikistan's political scene.

When Tajikistan became independent in late 1991, Turajonzoda was the qazi qalon, the highest spiritual authority for Tajikistan's Muslims. He was 37 years old at the time.

Turajonzoda's coming forward now to publicize the amnesty proposal may be a sign that he is about to again take a more active role in the country's politics.

ARCHIVE: RFE/RL spoke with Turajonzoda in June 2006.

Return From Exile

Within a year he was forced to flee the country after becoming an opposition leader. He only returned in February 1998.

On March 12, Turajonzoda -- who is now a senator -- made a controversial appeal to authorities, as he explained to RFE/RL's Tajik Service.

"Originally [the amnesty] was [Said Abdullo] Nuri's idea to mark the 10-year anniversary of the signing of the peace deal," he said. "The talk was of an amnesty for those people who are still in jail. I proposed to him that there should be a full amnesty and he accepted this wholeheartedly but added that we should also include the liquidation of those criminal cases still pending against all leaders of the opposition."

Nuri, who died last year, was the leader of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) that grouped both Islamic and democratic forces against the government of former Soviet Communist party officials that took control of the country after independence.

Nuri's second-in-command was Turajonzoda. The two led the UTO during Tajikistan's five-year civil war, a war that claimed up to 100,000 lives by some estimates and devastated the already poor country's economy and infrastructure.

Paid Their Dues

Both sides committed atrocities during the war. A peace agreement was signed in June 1997 officially ending the war, although some on both sides refused to recognize that peace and its terms. An amnesty was declared, but not everyone qualified for it and many people, particularly opposition fighters, were later jailed. Turajonzoda said now it is time to let those people out of prison.

Turajonzoda in 1994 (RFE/RL)

"The president of Tajikistan has the right to declare an amnesty in honor of the 10-year anniversary," he said. "That means former members of the opposition, some of who probably were sentenced for serious crimes and some others who stopped fighting late [in the war]. If you remember, antigovernment activity by some continued after the peace deal was signed."

"These people have sat in jail for a long time," he continued. "Their families and children were left without providers. They appealed to us to help these [incarcerated] relatives. Those jailed have sent us letters from prison in which they say they regret their deeds and if released they will work honestly for the country. I sent those letters to the president also."

Turajonzoda said that many opposition supporters were convicted based on flimsy evidence and even some of those amnestied remain fearful that they, or their families, could still face problems from criminal files kept by the government.

"The criminal cases were made during that [the civil war] on the basis of war-time information and also without proper evidence," he said. "Therefore, despite the fact that by order of the president these cases were closed and leaders amnestied, these cases are kept on file. Optimistically, one hopes the state would not use these cases for political motives."

Falsely Imprisoned?

"But we have a period of some 30 or 40 years, when maybe we won't even be alive, when these cases could be used against future generations for personal motives," he added. "Also, historians will reach conclusions about our roles in the war in Tajikistan and these conclusions won't be true because the cases are based on lies and unconfirmed information."

Shodi Shabdolov, the leader of the Communist Party, which backed the Tajik government during the civil war, agreed with Turajonzoda that the criminal cases are potentially harmful to the country's future harmony.

"I support [the argument] that these criminal cases could be used with political motives or against the children and families of those who participated in the war on both sides," Shabdolov said.
It is unclear exactly how many people would benefit from the proposed amnesty.

"The letters we have received [from jailed opposition supporters] came from seven people; I sent these along to the president, but they said they wrote on behalf of 700 people [still in jail]," he said. "I personally cannot say how many opposition supporters are still in jail."

Seeking Government Support

The signing of a cease-fire agreement that ended hostilities in December 1996 (TASS)

But some, like Abduqayum Yusufov, the chairman of Tajikistan's Independent Lawyers' Association, think that the government will not accept Turajonzoda's proposed amnesty, despite all of its good intentions.

"I hope and believe that all grudges will be gone from our hearts and everyone will truly forgive each other and live in peace and harmony," he said. "But I am far from believing that this proposal from the opposition will be fulfilled by the president and parliament."

The amnesty proposal may indeed find little support in the Tajik government, which is now almost entirely filled with supporters of President Imomali Rakhmonov. But it is interesting that Turajonzoda is the person proposing the amnesty.

Turajonzoda received a government post (deputy prime minister) as part of the peace deal that ended the war and in 1999 surprisingly resigned from the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan just as it was about to select a presidential candidate.

Turajonzoda has remained in the government since then but has kept relatively quiet and was certainly not the government critic he was during most of the 1990s. His revelation that the amnesty was Nuri's idea indicates Turajonzoda has not severed all his ties to his old party. His coming forward now to publicize this proposal may be a sign that Turajonzoda is about to again take a more active role in the country's politics.

(Salimjon Aioubov of the Tajik Service contributed to this report.)

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