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Tajikistan: Rights Groups Say Executions Increasing

Statistics on the death penalty are a state secret in Tajikistan. Still, human rights activists say they have reason to believe the number of executions is rising. They are campaigning for a moratorium, but public opinion on the issue is divided.

Prague, 7 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- International organizations and human rights groups say the number of people receiving the death penalty has increased in Tajikistan over the past three years.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Dushanbe says some 240 people were sentenced to death in the past year. About 100 executions were carried out. Most of the people put to death were convicted of murder, kidnapping, or drug trafficking.

Although the death penalty has fallen out of favor in many countries, Tajikistan is not considering abolishing capital punishment anytime soon. It has, however, set up a working group to consider reducing the number of capital crimes and the number of people eligible for the death sentence.

Local opinion remains divided on the issue, especially since the country has only relatively recently emerged from years of civil war, and war criminals continue to roam freely.

Sulton Hamadov, an independent journalist, said there are many armed individuals who have committed serious crimes and are capable of committing more. "While discussing the abolition of the death penalty, we should take into consideration our current realities. Tajikistan has just come out of civil war. There are still many people who were responsible for horrific crimes during the war but still have not been brought to justice," Hamadov said.

Vaisuddin Fathiddinov, the head of the Tajik Military Court, told RFE/RL about two men who were executed last month. He said the two, Amrulloh Rasulov and Abdurahim Kholov, were former rebels of the Tajik United Opposition who had massacred a family of 13 people, including a baby and a pregnant woman. "[Whether] we want it or not, we cannot change a person who is capable of killing a baby and a pregnant woman. Some people say we should change the death penalty to life imprisonment, but from a financial point of view, Tajikistan cannot afford that. Apart from this, who would guarantee that they won't escape and commit more crimes?" Fathiddinov said.

However, polls of legal professionals carried out by the nongovernmental Soros Foundation show strong support for a moratorium on the death sentence.

Rights groups are proposing that the government reduce the number of crimes punishable by death and exempt men over the age of 60 and all women. This, they say, could pave the way to an eventual complete moratorium. Current law forbids executing men over 65 and pregnant women.

Some 14 crimes now carry a death sentence. Parliament is discussing a proposal to eliminate five capital offenses, including genocide. This is unlikely to have a significant impact on executions since genocide is a rare charge.

Oinihol Bobonazarova, the chairwoman of the Soros Foundation in Dushanbe, opposes the death penalty. She has complained about the secrecy surrounding the death penalty and what she said is a lack of fair trials. "Unfortunately, statistics on the death penalty are secret [in Tajikistan]. According to Tajik law, this information should not be considered a state secret. No one actually knows how many people are sentenced to death, how many of the sentences have been carried out. According to our sources, [since 2000] more than 100 people have been sentenced to death every year," Bobonazarova said.

Bobonazarova said she believes that nine people were sentenced to death in February alone. She said most of these sentences will be carried out in secret, with doubts about the guilt of those convicted, as well as about the fairness of their trials.

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.