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U.S. Charge d’Affaires Kevin Covert

The top U.S. diplomat in Tajikistan has met with officials from the Prosecutor General's Office and the Foreign Ministry to discuss deadly unrest at a prison in the northern city of Khujand.

In a statement shared with RFE/RL, the U.S. Embassy said that Charge d'Affaires Kevin Covert held talks on November 20 "to learn about the steps the Tajik government has taken to investigate alleged violations and to insist that the rule of law be upheld."

"The U.S. government appreciates its relationship with the Tajik government, which allows it to have such candid conversations. The embassy will continue to be a voice for human rights in Tajikistan," the statement said.

Tajik law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL earlier this month that at least 52 people, including two prison guards, were killed in violence that erupted at the prison late on November 7.

On November 19, the U.S. Embassy said that the U.S. and European ambassadors met that day with members of the Committee Against Torture to gather facts about the Khujand prison violence and other matters.

In a Facebook post, Covert called that meeting "important and sobering."

"It is important for the [Tajik] government to conduct a thorough investigation, follow the rule of law, and protect the human rights of prisoners and their families," Covert wrote.

Sughd regional court's sources told RFE/RL on November 20 that the warden of the prison in Khujand, Faizullo Safarzod, was sent to pretrial detention for two months.

Tajik law enforcement sources told RFE/RL earlier that Safarzod was detained on November 15 and charged with negligence and abuse of power.

According to the sources, Safarzod was accused of failing to inform the Penitentiary Service about the unrest in a timely manner.

News of the warden's reported arrest has not been officially confirmed by Tajik authorities.

The extremist group Islamic State (IS) claimed the riot broke out after one of its "soldiers" attacked a prison guard.

Government sources, also speaking on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL on November 9 that suspected IS supporters convicted of religious extremism and terrorism were behind the unrest.

Almost two weeks after the violence, the Tajik government has issued no public statements on the incident.

The penitentiary -- high-security prison No. 3/3 -- largely houses inmates convicted on charges related to terrorism, extremism, and other serious crimes.

Galina Starovoitova in 1998

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Twenty years after democratic reformer Galina Starovoitova was assassinated, her sister says she does not believe that an infamous alleged crime kingpin who was implicated in the slaying was, in fact, behind it.

Speaking to RFE/RL on November 20, the anniversary of a slaying that stunned Russia and sent shock waves abroad, Olga Starovoitova said she hoped that those who ordered her sister's murder will be identified and brought to justice someday.

Galina Starovoitova, a prominent reformist politician who was co-chair of the Democratic Russia party, was shot dead in the stairwell of her apartment building in St. Petersburg on November 20, 1998.

In 2005, a St. Petersburg court sentenced a former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer and another man to prison terms of 20 and 23 1/2 years after convicting them of involvement in Starovoitova's killing.

In August 2015, former lawmaker Mikhail Glushchenko was convicted of "taking part in the organization of the murder" and was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

A few months earlier, Glushchenko claimed that Vladimir Barsukov -- an alleged organized-crime boss now in prison for murder and other crimes -- ordered Starovoitova's killing after she blocked him from establishing ties with a number of corrupt city officials.

Olga Starovoitova
Olga Starovoitova

Olga Starovoitova said she believed that Barsukov, who is also known as Kumarin, might have been involved in her sister's killing but that it's unlikely he ordered the hit.

She said there could be several layers of people involved in ordering and organizing the killing, adding that she suspects specific people but will not name them because she believes in the presumption of innocence and does not have proof.

Russia's security services "have always been chauvinists toward women" and particularly dislike "talkative women," Olga Starovoitova said, referring to women who speak their mind or challenge the authorities.

Referring to her sister and Anna Politikovskaya, an investigative journalist who was killed in her Moscow apartment building in 2006, she said that "talkative women" were being "shot down one by one."

She also said she had been told that her sister's killing was still under investigation.

An investigator "told me that investigation of Galina Starovoitova's murder is the second longest in Russia."

"The longest one is the investigation into the murder of [Tsar] Nicholas II" and his family, who were killed by the Bolsheviks in 1918.

Barsukov, the alleged head of the notorious Tambov organized crime group, is serving a 23-year prison term for murder, attempted murder, extortion, and asset-grabbing in cases that are unrelated to Starovoitova's murder.

Barsukov was a powerful figure in St. Petersburg in the 1990s and was vice president of the Petersburg Fuel Company.

Vladimir Putin, now president and at the time a deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, awarded the city’s lucrative gasoline concession to the company in 1994.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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