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The Tajik Government's Style Of Justice And Mercy


A defendant awaits trial at a Dushanbe court. Rights groups and international monitors have long maintained that the Tajik justice system is often used by authorities as a means of punishing activists and oppositionists. (file photo)

International rights watchdogs have long charged that the judiciary system in Tajikistan is often used to punish perceived enemies of the government.

There are, indeed, many cases in recent years to support those claims. And even when moved to gestures of mercy, the Tajik courts and state officials seem callous in their actions.

The following are some of the most egregious recent cases.

The Lawyer

Buzurgmehr Yorov is a Tajik attorney who was detained in late September 2015 and shortly thereafter sentenced to 28 years in prison.

In honor of Tajikistan marking 30 years of independence this year, an amnesty has been granted to some prisoners. Yorov had four years removed from his long sentence.

The 50-year-old attorney had a reputation for defending people who had little, if any, chance of proving their innocence in Tajik courts.

He defended members of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), a group that had been in a power-sharing agreement with President Emomali Rahmon’s government and was later seen by Rahmon as an impediment to his exerting greater control over the country.

Buzurgmehr Yorov (file photo)
Buzurgmehr Yorov (file photo)

Yorov also defended fellow lawyer Fakhriddin Zokirov, who was the attorney of businessman Zayd Saidov.

Saidov founded a new political party -- Tajikistan Now -- in April 2013 and was convicted in December that same year on charges of fraud, polygamy, and statutory rape, charges seen as politically motivated.

Zokirov was arrested in March 2014 on forgery charges and was held for eight months before he received an amnesty.

Saidov’s second lawyer, Shuhrat Kudratov, was sentenced to nine years in prison on charges of fraud and bribery. His term was shortened after two rounds of amnesties.

In early September 2015, there was an outbreak of violence near the capital, Dushanbe.

The government said it was an attempted coup led by the deputy defense minister, who many years earlier had tenuous ties with the IRPT.

The IRPT was quickly blamed, declared an extremist group, and banned.

All its top members who were still in Tajikistan were arrested and sentenced to long prison terms.

Yorov intended to defend some of the top IRPT officials and said in an interview on September 28, 2015, that one of his clients was being tortured.

On September 29, Yorov was detained on fraud charges that allegedly dated back to 2010.

Originally sentenced to 23 years, Yorov had five more years tacked on at two later trials.

At one of those trials, Yorov was given two extra years for contempt of court for quoting 11th-century poet and polymath Ibn Sina, also known as Avicenna.

International rights groups condemned the entire process from the lawyer's detention to the court decision.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued an assessment in June 2019 that said “…taking into account all the circumstances of the case, the appropriate remedy would be to release Mr. Yorov immediately, and to accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations.”

Yorov’s sentence was reduced by another 6 1/2 years under an amnesty in 2019, so with the subtraction of another four years, and time already served, he still faces 11 1/2 more years in prison.

That would mean he would be released when he is 61 years old.

The Opposition Figure

Mahmurod Odinaev is the deputy head of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP).

The Social Democrats are now the only genuine opposition party still registered in Tajikistan.

Odinaev is in prison, serving a 14-year term, though the recent amnesty shaved three years off that sentence.

In November 2020, Odinaev posted a message on his Facebook page appealing to Dushanbe Mayor Rustam Emomali, the son of the Tajik president, to allow the SDP to hold a demonstration against increasing food prices.

Mahmurod Odinaev (file photo)
Mahmurod Odinaev (file photo)

Odinaev disappeared on November 20, 2020. On December 5, the prosecutor’s office confirmed that he was under arrest.

In late January 2021, Odinaev was convicted of hooliganism and calling for extremism based on his request to hold a protest rally.

His son, Habibullo Rizoev, was a co-defendant. He was fined 58,000 somonis (about $5,000).

In March 2021, another of Odinaev’s sons, Shaikhmuslihiddin Rizoev, was convicted of hooliganism and attempted rape and sentenced to six years in prison.

The 59-year-old Odinaev refused to sign the amnesty, saying he never did anything illegal and is wrongly imprisoned. Ordinaev added that he will only accept his immediate release and full exoneration.

The Cast-Iron Teapot

In mid-September 2021, four members of the IRPT who were imprisoned after the alleged coup attempt in September 2015 managed to get a letter out of prison in which they again professed their innocence and asked that their cases be reviewed in the presence of international experts.

The four are Zubaydullohi Rozik, who is serving a 25-year sentence; Hikmatullo Sayfullozoda, who has a 16-year sentence; Rahmatulloi Rajab, serving a 28-year sentence; and Muhammadali Fayzmuhammad, who was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

The letter was made public on September 16, the day the Tajik opposition in exile marks as the Day of Political Prisoners.

Tajik officials were unmoved by the appeal. There was no official reaction from Dushanbe.

At the end of September there were reports that the 70-year-old Sayfullozoda had been attacked early one morning while in a prison hospital.

Hikmatullo Sayfullozoda (file photo)
Hikmatullo Sayfullozoda (file photo)

He had undergone heart surgery in June and has been housed in the prison hospital since shortly after the operation.

There were concerns Sayfullozoda was being tortured in prison.

The Justice Ministry released a statement on October 8 denying the reports of torture.

The ministry did confirm that Sayfullozoda was attacked, but they claimed that the assault was by another inmate. And not just by any prison inmate, but a prisoner who was from the United Tajik Opposition, the IRPT-led civil war opponents of the Tajik government.

According to relatives, the inmate came into Sayfullozoda’s room and hit him on the head with a cast-iron teapot.

There were reports that another author of the letter, Rahmatullo Rajab, had been physically attacked.

Relatives of Rajab said at the start of October that they heard someone attacked him with a knife.

Some of his relatives went to Vahdat Prison to try to get more information. They could not see Rajab but were able to speak with him by telephone.

They said Rajab denied he had been attacked but they added that he was very careful about what he said, and the relatives left with the impression that someone else was listening to Rajab when he spoke.

Prison officials denied Rajab was being tortured while incarcerated.

Tajikistan’s ombudsman, Umed Bobozoda, later visited Sayfullozoda, Rajab, and another imprisoned IRPT member, Abdykahhor Davlatov.

Bobozoda said Rajab and Davlatov denied they were being tortured and Sayfullozoda confirmed he had been attacked but not by a prison guard.

But no independent confirmation of any of these charges or reports has been possible, with all the information available coming from prison officials or the ombudsman.

The Rights Defender

Izzat Amon had lived in Russia since 1996 and nearly always dedicated himself to helping Tajik migrant laborers in Russia.

In 2000, Amon helped establish the Center for Tajiks of Moscow and helped Tajik migrants in the Russian capital register with Russian authorities, find places to live and work, and offered advice and services for Tajik citizens facing legal problems.

Izzat Amon (file photo)
Izzat Amon (file photo)

On the eve of the 2020 parliamentary vote in Tajikistan, Amon announced his intention to create a political party and take part in the elections. But he soon abandoned this idea due to the requirement that candidates must have resided in Tajikistan for 10 years prior to an election.

Amon was at times critical of what he believed was the failure of Tajik authorities to stand up to the Russian government and defend the rights of Tajik migrant workers, whose remittances are essential to thousands of families in Tajikistan and whose work is needed in Russia where there is a labor shortage.

Russian authorities detained Amon on March 25, 2021, and forcibly returned him to Tajikistan, where he faced charges of fraud connected to his work in Russia.

On October 19, Amon was convicted of major fraud and sentenced to nine years in prison.

One thing that these cases have in common is that nearly all independent observers, international rights organizations, lawyers’ organizations, and other witnesses of the trial processes and sentencing of these men agree that their rights were violated.

RFE/RL Tajik Service Director Salimjon Aioubov contributed to this report

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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