A Tajik man accused of being a member of a gang that recruited young men to fight in Syria was released on December 10 after being ordered to pay a fine, RFE/RL's Tajik Service, Radio Ozodi, reports.
The man, Davlat Cholov, is the brother of Qurbon Cholov, a former influential field commander in the Popular Front of Tajikistan, a paramilitary group that supported the government during the five-year civil war. Qurbon Cholov died in Dushanbe in November.
Cholov was arrested on February 12 alongside another Tajik citizen, Abdurakhim Shukurov. The two had planned to travel from Dushanbe to Istanbul on February 11 but left the airport an hour before the flight was scheduled to depart.
Three other men were also arrested in connection with the charges. The three, named as Abdurakhmon Kodirov, Savriddin Dzhuraev, and Azamatdzhon Khodzhamkulov, were already in prison and prosecutors said they collaborated with Cholov and Shukurov.
In September, a court in Tajikistan’s Khatlon Region sentenced three of Cholov’s alleged accomplices to an additional two years on top of their existing prison terms. According to Radio Ozodi, Cholov's sentenced was not announced at that time because the judges had requested comment from the Constitutional Court of Tajikistan regarding a legal provision that a defendant can be acquitted if he enters into a criminal group but does not commit a crime. However, Cholov was not acquitted, although the court handed down a fine rather than a prison term.
Cholov was charged under two articles of Tajikistan's penal code: Article 187 (3) (organizing a criminal group) and Article 307 (2) (organizing the activity of an extremist group).
Cholov had pleaded not guilty to the charges, saying that investigators had misunderstood the content of wiretapped telephone calls between him and others. During the telephone calls, Cholov allegedly used the Tajik word for "auntie" allegedly as a codeword to refer to Syria. Cholov said that the word "auntie" did not refer to Syria but was "a reference to our mothers." He also argued that he had not intended to travel on to Syria from Istanbul but that he was traveling to Turkey on business.
According to Radio Ozodi, Cholov's relatives suggested that he "changed dramatically" while serving time in prison for the possession and use of firearms.
It is not known how many Tajik nationals are fighting in Syria. According to Edward Lemon, who tracks Tajik fighters in Syria, there is online evidence of just 22 fighters, though there are likely to be more unreported Tajiks in Syria. Last December, five Tajik citizens were sentenced to two years in prison for fighting in Syria.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk