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Families Get Official Silent Treatment Following Deadly Tajik Prison Riot

Ruqiya Ismoilova (center) says police didn't let her see the body they said was her son.

The bodies of inmates killed in a deadly riot in northern Tajikistan are being abruptly buried under the watchful eyes of police officers who -- in some cases -- don't allow the families to identify the victims.

"I begged them to let me lift the shroud to let me see my son's face for the last time and at least make sure that this really is my son, not someone else," says Ruqiya Ismoilova, who was informed that her 23-year-old son had been killed in the November 7 incident. "But they didn't let me."

"Officers brought the body in an ambulance and put it in the grave. They didn't allow anyone to come close," Ismoilova said on November 12.

Ismoilova's son, Bahrom, had been serving a 12-year term on extremism-related charges in the maximum-security prison in Khujand, northern Tajikistan.

At least 50 inmates were reportedly killed, along with two guards, and numerous others injured in the riot that broke out at the prison on the evening of November 7, sources have told RFE/RL.

Nearly a week later, Tajik authorities have yet to comment on what took place at the prison located some 300 kilometers north of the capital, Dushanbe.

Designed for 750 inmates, the facility reportedly housed some 800 prisoners, many of them convicted on charges related to terrorism and extremism, murder, and drug trafficking, among other serious crimes, security sources said on condition of anonymity.

The official number of dead and wounded among the inmates remains unknown, leaving their family members desperately searching for information about the fate of their loved ones.

The prison has been closed to visitors since the riot, and the families say they cannot reach officials to determine if their imprisoned relatives are dead or alive.

"I called many officials to find out about my son, but either they don't answer the calls, or say they have no information," the mother of one inmate told RFE/RL.

In the northern town of Isfara, Masuda Sodiqova is left wondering if her son Farhod, who was serving time at the Khujand facility, is safe.

"We're extremely worried," Sodiqova says. "I can't sleep at night. All we know is that there was a riot in the prison. We don't know who to talk to."

Prison guard Ehson Yoqubov was buried the day after the riot in Khujand.
Prison guard Ehson Yoqubov was buried the day after the riot in Khujand.

Relatives of prison guards who were wounded in the incident are allowed to visit them at Khujand regional hospital, where at least six officers were admitted on the night of the riot, according to sources at the facility.

Hospital authorities haven't publicly commented on their situation, but the sources said the officers were brought in in "serious, but not life-threatening" conditions.

Among them is the son of Khayrullo Abdulloev, a resident of Sughd Province. After visiting his son in the hospital, Abdulloev said that "most of the guards suffered wounds to their heads."

"It doesn't look like he was beaten by fists," he said of his son's condition. "They said the [inmates] switched off the lights suddenly and hit the guards' heads and faces with bricks and other things. It looks terrible."

"My son has eight or nine broken teeth. He has stitches all over his face. There is not any uninjured part on his face and head," he added.

Abdulloev quoted his son as saying that "some inmates actually tried to help prison guards against the rioters."

The bodies of the two dead prison guards, identified as 27-year-old Ehson Yoqubov and Mirsaid Kodirov, 42, were buried in their hometowns a day after the riot, relatives say.

In Isfara, a family buried the body of their 21-year-old son, Hojiismoilkhon Bahovaddinov, who had been serving a 15-year prison term for theft.

Family members there said they were allowed to lift the shroud and see the body of their son, whom relatives said had suffered a gunshot wound to the head. They don't know anything about the circumstances of his death.

Sources close to law enforcement agencies told RFE/RL that the authorities had set up a special commission to probe the riot in Khujand. They said the commission did not include representatives of civil society, including human rights advocates or international monitors.

The Islamic State extremist group claimed responsibility for the prison riot, but experts have suggested that the militant group's claim should be treated with skepticism.

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