April 1998                                                                                                         Vol. 10, No. 2 (D)
Order online



Five years of civil war in Tajikistan were formally brought to a close on June 27, 1997, when a peace accord was signed between the government and the United Tajik Opposition (UTO). A major force, however, was left out of the peace negotiations: the political opposition based in Tajikistan's northern region, Leninabad. Beginning in 1996, when the Leninabadi opposition sought a prominent role in the peace process, the Tajikistan government responded with a campaign to discredit that opposition's legitimacy and influence by cracking down on the region's political parties, arresting and harassing activists or suspected activists, and censoring from the media most information about the Leninabad political movement.

A wave of demonstrations in Leninabad in May 1996 demanded, among other things, the removal of officials of southern Tajik origin--currently the dominant political clan in Tajikistan--from their police and government posts in the region. Protest organizers and participants were arrested in the year that followed, particularly in the wake of the April 1997 assassination attempt on President Emomali Rakhmonov. In 1997 Tajik security forces also massacred scores of prisoners in putting down a prison riot. The government has obstructed the investigation of the massacre, and has covered up the true number of inmate deaths.

Freedom of expression is severely limited in Tajikistan generally, and in this context the government arrested and harassed journalists and threatened newspapers in order to limit coverage of the Leninabadi political movement and controversial events in the north, including the prison uprising.

Interregional rivalries dominate politics in Tajikistan and ultimately culminated in the civil war of 1992. Although in pre-civil war Tajikistan a Leninabadi communist nomenklatura directed the nation's politics, since the war this region has been gradually marginalized. In December 1992 the victorious southern clan, from the Kulab region, formed a coalition government with Leninabadi politicians. The coalition had collapsed by 1994, when a prominent Leninabadi politician unsuccessfully ran for president and the government turned to harassment of activists, arrests, and censorship in its struggle to retain power.

The implementation of the peace accord, however, has to date been plagued with difficulties and delays, and political instability and an overall absence of law and order remain. Since the end of June 1997, the country has witnessed fresh waves of fighting between rival government groups, high levels of political and criminal violence, and renewed hostage-takings of Tajik citizens and international personnel by armed factions. In mid-January 1998, following months of laborious negotiations, the UTO withdrew temporarily from the peace process, claiming that the government was reneging on many of its pledges. As recently as March 1998, in clear violation of the peace accord, hostilities between armed groups allegedly loyal to the UTO and government troops erupted into full-fledged fighting near Dushanbe, the capital.

Human Rights Watch welcomes progress in the peace process in Tajikistan, and, while not supporting any particular political party or movement, encourages an inclusive, as opposed to exclusive, peace process.

In April 1994, Human Rights Watch opened an office in Dushanbe in order to monitor and report on human rights violations on a regular basis. This report is based on two missions by Human Rights Watch to Leninabad oblast in August and September 1997, during which we conducted interviews with members of political parties, participants in the May 1996 demonstrations, former law enforcement officials, journalists, academic figures, representatives of international organizations, and family members of those involved in the April 1997 prison riot. We conducted additional interviews with concerned parties throughout Tajikistan from May to November 1997.


To the Government of Tajikistan:

To the United Nations Mission of Observers to Tajikistan (UNMOT): To the United Nations:

As recommended by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Needs-Assessment Mission Report of August 11, 1997, deploy as quickly as possible human rights experts to Tajikistan and establish a human rights monitoring, reporting and analysis unit.

To the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE):

To the International Community:  

Tajikistan, a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), declared its independence from the USSR on September 9, 1991. It became a member of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (renamed the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe, in 1994) in January 1992, and of the United Nations in March of the same year. Tajikistan covers a mostly mountainous land mass of 143,100 square kilometers, bordering China, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Afghanistan, with which it shares a border of more than 1,000 kilometers. According to the 1989 USSR census, the last census to be taken in the country, Tajikistan's population was 5.1 million. New studies estimate the country's current population at about 5.7 million, of which about 62 percent (3.5 million) are identified as Tajik, 23 percent (1.3 million) as Uzbek, 8 percent (456,000) as Russian, 1.4 percent (79,800) as Tatar and 1.3 percent (74,100) as Kyrgyz.(1) Tajik, the state language of Tajikistan since 1989, belongs to the western Iranian language group and is similar to the Persian spoken in Iran. Most Tajiks are Sunni Muslims, with the exception of Pamiris (see below), who are Ismaili Muslims.

The poorest of the post-Soviet Central Asian republics, Tajikistan's economy has collapsed since the civil war. At the end of 1996, Tajikistan's gross domestic product was estimated to be at 40 percent of that of 1991, and the average monthly salary was about U.S. $9.60.(2) The World Bank estimates the country's unemployment rate at 40 percent, the highest in the CIS.(3) According to the United Nations, all social services are in a virtual state of collapse, at least 70 percent of the country's medical supplies are provided by humanitarian organizations, and less than one-third of the population has access to clean drinking water.(4) Inflation also ravages the country's devastated economy: in September 1997, the National Statistical Agency reported that consumer prices had risen by 222 percent since the beginning of the year.(5)

Tajikistan's five regions differ in topography, economic development, culture, and-- in certain cases--in terms of religion, ethnicity and language. These differences play a critical role in internal politics and were crucial in determining loyalty in the civil war. Perhaps the most distinct region ethnically is Gorno Badakhshan, located southeast of Dushanbe. Set in the Pamir mountain range, the Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast(6) is the least developed economically. The majority of its inhabitants are Ismaili Shiites, whereas most other Tajiks are Sunnis. Pamiris speak at least six different dialects of eastern Iranian, which are distinct from Tajik, and are thought to consider themselves as Pamiris, as distinct from Tajiks. The Garm valley, northeast of Dushanbe, is a mainly agricultural, mountainous region whose population is known for being among the most religious in Tajikistan. The Leninabad oblast to the north, and Hissar, to the west of Dushanbe, are the most economically developed regions and have significant Uzbek communities. Khujand, the capital of Leninabad oblast, was traditionally the source of communist party elites.

To the south are the former Kulab and Kurgan Teppe oblasts, now joined together to form the Khatlon oblast. The current government is dominated by people either from Kulab, a region of mixed topography and economy, or of Kulabi origins. Kurgan Teppe, previously desert land, was irrigated for growing cotton and other crops in the 1940s and 1950s. The area was populated mostly through Stalin's policy of forced migration, under which a significant portion of Kurgan Teppe's population was transplanted from Garm and Gorno Badakhshan.

Leninabad Oblast

The northern Leninabad oblast, with Uzbekistan bordering all but its southernmost limit, is separated from the rest of Tajikistan by the formidable Hissar-Alai mountain range. The lone road linking Dushanbe to Khujand is closed for at least six months each year due to hazardous winter road conditions and a dangerous mountain pass at Anzob. Leninabad oblast is the most developed region in the country and is its industrial heartland. Major industries include textile manufacturing, mining, and processing of ores such as gold, silver, and antimony. The oblast's population of two million, 33 percent of which is ethnic Uzbek, makes up over 30 percent of the country's population.(7) Khujand has a population of 200,000 and is the second largest city after Dushanbe.


The civil war in Tajikistan broke out in May 1992 and, while its active phase lasted a mere six months, hostilities continued through December 1996.(8) During the initial six-month period, the civil war claimed as many as 50,000 lives, caused the displacement of more than 800,000 persons, and fundamentally transformed the newly-independent nation. The civil war culminated a power struggle between the Leninabadi, communist-led government and the political opposition, waged during the late 1980s and early 1990s. The opposition consisted of a coalition of democratic, nationalist, cultural revivalist and Islamist parties and movements and drew support primarily from people whose origins were from the mountainous districts of Garm and Gorno Badakhshan, or Pamir. The government was supported by the old-guard communist elite from the Leninabad region in the north and by Kulabis. The November 1991 presidential election pitted the elite against this new coalition, and was ultimately won by Rahman Nabiev, a former communist leader and Leninabadi, amid allegations of election-rigging.(9)

Beginning in March 1992, tensions between opponents and supporters of the Nabiev government erupted into violent clashes in Dushanbe and throughout what were then the Kulab and Kurgan Teppe oblasts. A coalition government was formed on May 7, 1992. Pro-government local armed bands, led by a Kulab-based paramilitary force known as the National Guard (later succeeded by the Popular Front), however, continued to fight against pro-opposition paramilitary forces, and the violence soon escalated into full-scale civil war. During the course of the fighting, which occurred mostly in Khatlon oblast, both sides committed atrocities, including murder, disappearances, hostage-taking, and burning and looting of homes.

On December 2, 1992, the Supreme Soviet (or parliament) of Tajikistan elected a government dominated by Kulabis and the former Leninabadi communist party old guard, headed by Emomali Rakhmonov, a Kulabi. Most remaining leaders and active members of the various opposition movements fled the country at that point, in the face of the government's intense crackdown against the opposition and people associated with it, to Russia, Afghanistan, Iran and elsewhere.(10) From December 1993 to December 1996, armed factions of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) located in Afghanistan fought against government troops and units of the approximately 20,000 Russian border guards who, along with border troop units from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, are assigned to protect the Tajik-Afghan border. (11)

In April 1994, the government and the UTO engaged in United Nations-sponsored peace negotiations, and an agreement on cessation of hostilities was signed on September 17, 1994, in Tehran (the Tehran agreement). On November 6, 1994, Rakhmonov was elected president of the republic in a nationwide election marred by flagrant fraud; he remains in power today.(12) On December 16, 1994, the United Nations Security Council created a United Nations Mission of Observers to Tajikistan (UNMOT), to monitor adherence to the Tehran agreement, which continued to be violated through December 1996. A breakthrough in negotiations at that time led to the signature of the General Agreement on the Establishment of Peace and National Accord in Tajikistan (hereinafter, the General Agreement) on June 27, 1997. The General Agreement provides for, among other things, the incorporation of the UTO into government structures, an amnesty law, the safe and dignified return of all refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), preparation for parliamentary elections, the legalization of banned political parties, and laws to ensure a free media.

Marginalization of the Leninabadis

Prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the majority of Tajikistan's communist leaders came from Leninabad oblast; Leninabadi roots were considered during the Soviet period to be necessary for a successful, high-level political career.(13) Indeed, Leninabadi domination of the central government led to resentment against the "northerners," which fueled inter-regional tensions.(14)

During the civil war and its aftermath, Leninabadi politicians formed a coalition with Kulabis, whose dominance in the country's politics was sealed by Rakhmonov's election in 1992.(15) This coalition gradually crumbled, as Kulabis succeeded in excluding their erstwhile allies from the nation's political affairs. Its breakdown was complete by the time of the November elections, which pitted Rakhmonov against Abdumalik Abdullajonov, a Leninabadi who was prime minister in the 1992 coalition government, and then chairman of the Council of Ministers from late 1992 until 1993. Pre-election conditions were so inauspicious for a fair vote that the United Nations and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) refused invitations to monitor the proceedings. The campaign was marred by a climate of fear and fraud;(16) the government allowed only sparse coverage of Adbullajonov's campaign and some who expressed their intent to vote for Abdullajonov received death threats.(17) Rakhmonov won the election with almost 60 percent of the vote, although this is hotly contested.(18)

Immediately following the elections, the government furthered its campaign against the northern opposition, including those associated with Abdullajonov; many Abdullajonov supporters who held governmental posts at various levels were demoted or released from their duties. For example, Khabibullo Oripov, director of the Khujand Medical Epidemic Station, was demoted to a middle-management post. Oripov, who in August 1997 was deputy chair of the Abdullajonov's Party of National Unity, in the fall of 1994 organized and led Abdullajonov's election campaign. According to Oripov and other members of the opposition Party of National Unity, as well as journalists and academic figures based in the north, dozens of those who held government positions and who had openly shown their support for or actively participated in Abdullajonov's campaign were fired or demoted solely on the basis of their association with Abdullajonov's opposition bloc.(19) Other examples include Tolib Boboev, deputy general procurator of Tajikistan, who was demoted to deputy procurator of Leninabad oblast,(20) and Ikrom Bobojonov, chairman of the Leninabad State Television and Radio, who was fired from that post.(21)

On July 30, 1996, in Moscow, Abdullajonov founded the National Revival Movement (NRM), together with two other former prime ministers and Leninabadi natives, Abdujalil Samadov and Jamshed Karimov.(22) The NRM submitted a request to United Nations General Secretary Boutros Boutros-Ghali asking that they be formally included in the inter-Tajik talks, in order that all regions of Tajikistan be adequately represented-- i.e., the north, in addition to southern Kulab, represented by Rakhmonov's group, and the northeast Karategin Valley, represented by Said Abdullo Nuri's UTO.

Shortly after the formation of the NRM, the Tajikistan government focused its efforts to curb the Leninabadi opposition on Abdullajonov and NRM supporters. On August 8, 1996, Russian and Tajik law enforcement carried out a search for illegal narcotics in Abdujalil Samadov's Moscow apartment. This search tactic is commonly employed by Tajikistan law enforcement bodies to harass or arrest persons against whom other charges would be difficult to substantiate; observers link the search to Samadov's having openly joined the NRM and criticized the current government. On the same day, representatives from the Procuracy General of Tajikistan held a press conference in Moscow to outline Abdullajonov's alleged criminal past. They announced their intention to arrest him at the earliest opportunity, explaining that they had not been able to do so previously because they "didn't know where he was." Also, at the beginning of August, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Akhmajon Saidov, deputy chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Tajikistan from 1991 to 1992, on charges of abuse of authority and embezzlement. A close associate of Abdullajonov's and an NRM supporter, Saidov was living in Moscow at the time. Although the charges related to the period when Saidov was deputy chairman of the Supreme Soviet, there had apparently been no previous attempt to bring charges against him in the almost four years since he resigned that position. Human Rights Watch and international human rights monitors suspected that the charges were fabricated, and that the true motive for bringing them was to punish Saidov for his connection to the NRM. On the basis of the warrant, Akhmajon Saidov was arrested in Moscow on February 7, 1997.(23)

In mid-January 1997, further to significant progress achieved during the December 1996 round of inter-Tajik talks,(24) the NRM held demonstrations in Khujand, Kanibadam and Ura-Teppe, once again calling for the inclusion of the NRM in the peace process. Participants also called for Abdullajonov's criminal case to be brought to a close, and for objective media coverage of the meetings and of political events in Leninabad oblast. Local media, however, failed to report that the meetings had taken place,(25) and the chairman of Leninabad's Regional Executive Committee allegedly declared that Abdullajonov held no support in Leninabad oblast.(26)

A Russian television crew filmed segments of the meetings, but the broadcast was temporarily interrupted during its airing on January 19, 1997.(27) Local government authorities and representatives of the demonstrators nonetheless signed an agreement that urged President Rakhmonov to meet with Abdullajonov to incorporate the interests of all political parties and movements in the following round of peace talks.(28)

Aware that the omission of important regional forces would likely discredit the General Agreement, the UTO at several intervals advocated allocating to the Commission on National Reconciliation (CNR) -- the body responsible for implementing the General Agreement -- 40 percent shares for itself and the government, and the remaining 20 percent for regional and ethnic groups.(29) The UTO also proposed that the NRM be given seats and ministerial portfolios in the CNR, and, in the late fall of 1996, UTO leader Nuri had in principle agreed to the NRM's participation in the December 1996 round of inter-Tajik talks, on condition that the NRM drop their platform proposal that Uzbek become one of the country's official languages.(30) The government and the UTO never resolved the issue of the NRM's inclusion in the peace talks, however, and during the days preceding and following the signing of the peace accord, the UTO continued to point to the importance of representing the Leninabadis' political interests. UTO leader Abdunabi Sattorzoda stated for example, that "the unification of the country and the avoidance of contradictions is impossible without taking into account the interests of Leninabadis, upon whom Abdullajonov and his supporters command influence."(31) Deputy UTO leader Khoji Akbar Turajonzoda asserted that the CNR's work would be hindered without the involvement of real regional leaders.(32)

At the beginning of April 1998, the NRM yet again made a requested to the CNR to be formally included in the peace process, and also called for the CNR to protect political party members, including NRM members, from persecution by the government. The NRM simultaneously voiced its skepticism about the likelihood of lasting peace and national reconciliation without the participation of all regions and political movements. Towards the end of April, as this report was going to press, the CNR reportedly denied the NRM's request to be formally included in the peace process, but expressed concern about ongoing persecution of political party members, presumably including NRM supporters.(33)

The murders of three prominent Leninabadi academic and cultural figures between December 1995 and July 1997 devastated Leninabadi intellectuals and politicians, and reinforced their sentiment of declining political influence.(34) Similarly, when the central government blamed Abdullajonov's bloc for the April 1997 prison massacre and assassination attempt a prominent Leninabadi political opposition figure interpreted this as attempt to get rid of leaders in the north.(35) Whether or not the series of killings constituted a concerted effort to strain relations between the north and the south, both government and nongovernmental sources concur that they were attempts to destabilize the political situation in general and to highlight the inability of the central government to protect even Leninabad's leading intellectual figures.(36)

The Kulabi Factor

After Rakhmonov came to power in 1992, Kulabis, including members of victorious paramilitary groups, were parachuted into all levels of government throughout the country, frequently resulting in a state of lawlessness and stimulating resentment by local populations. In particular, the security forces, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and other law enforcement agencies at all levels were dominated by Kulabis, often former members of the Popular Front.

Hostility towards Kulabis in Leninabad regional government at all levels had been growing steadily since 1992, and was central to the May 1996 demonstrations sparked throughout the oblast.(37) Kulabis in the Ministry of Internal Affairs forces, and also those in the Presidential Guard, had for some time been accused of carrying out criminal activities including car theft, looting, and seizure of goods and money at road checkpoints. According to a local journalist, "These people did all they could to intimidate and wear down the local population -- basically, they behaved in as vulgar way as possible in an attempt to impose their authority. The population soon tired of this and resentment and impatience mounted steadily against them."(38)

The Uzbek Factor

A range of historical, political, and geographical components account for the significance of the Uzbek factor in Leninabad oblast, and to a certain extent contribute to ongoing uneasy relations between the south and north. In addition to Leninabad oblast's geographical proximity to Uzbekistan, the large concentration of ethnic Uzbeks on its territory and the Khujand elites' historical ties to Tashkent-- developed mainly amongst nomenklatura members during the Soviet period--help explain why Tajiks from regions outside of Leninabad frequently refer to the region as "entirely Uzbekified" or "almost a part of Uzbekistan."(39) What is more, Uzbekistan supported the Kulabi-Leninabadi coalition during the civil war, thus perpetuating a tradition of ethnic links with Leninabadis and of alliance with the political elite from Leninabad, and reviving rivalry between ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks. Despite the support lent by Uzbekistan to Dushanbe during the war, the Rakhmonov government has frequently accused Uzbekistan of sponsoring political unrest and separatist interests in Leninabad oblast, likely due to the perception that political and economic links between Tashkent and Leninabad oblast and Uzbekistan's ambition to assume the lead regional role in Central Asia pose a threat to Tajikistan's territorial and economic sovereignty.(40) Hence, Leninabad's relations with Uzbekistan have contributed to the deterioration in relations between Leninabad and Dushanbe. The Tajikistan government accused Uzbekistan of supporting the May 1996 demonstrations; in the wake of the April 1997 assassination attempt Uzbekistan immediately denied its participation in the event, and warned Dushanbe that it still had not forgiven the latter for repeatedly accusing it of having been behind the May 1996 demonstrations.(41) In addition, the Tajikistan government attributed the October 1997 armed attacks on the Tajikistan Presidential Guard and on the areas west of Tursun-Zade (on the Uzbek border) to supporters of Mahmud Khudoiberdiev, an ethnic Uzbek former government commander, who had led a failed uprising against the central government in August 1997.(42) Ethnic Uzbeks suffered killings and reprisals in the wake of the uprising, and many left Dushanbe and Khatlon oblast for Leninabad or for Uzbekistan, while Khudoiberdiev and many of his supporters also allegedly found refuge in Uzbekistan.

A troubled situation on the border and the desperate state of Tajikistan's economy has also strained relations between the two countries in past years. Citizens on both sides of the Tajik-Uzbek border are subject to severe and lengthy customs checks; at several border crossings cars with Uzbek license plates intermittently are not permitted to enter Tajikistan and vice-versa, while passenger buses from Uzbekistan have frequently been denied permission to cross into Tajikistan, creating enormous logistical problems for ordinary citizens. Uzbekistan has also during past years cut off gas and electricity supplies when Tajikistan has fallen behind in its payments, and Uzbekistan does not maintain an embassy in Tajikistan, although Tajikistan does in Tashkent.(43)

Attempts at Autonomy

Currency dealings in Leninabad oblast also show that Leninabadis consider themselves to be independent from the rest of the country, as they prefer to conduct business transactions in Russian as opposed to Tajik rubles, or even in Uzbek sum, claiming that the Tajik ruble is too unstable. During the summer of 1992, Leninabad oblast took serious steps towards separation when the Khujand soviet single-handedly took control of all enterprises in the oblast, signed economic, socio-political, and cultural accords with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and formed a national guard in Khujand consisting of two thousand men. Further, one of the demands of the May 1996 meetings in Leninabad oblast included recognition of the Leninabad region as a free economic zone.(44)

OSCE Involvement

The OSCE, in operation in Tajikistan since February 1994, has a broad mandate including the facilitation of dialogue and confidence-building between regional and political forces in the country, the active promotion of respect for human rights, and the development of legal and democratic political institutions and processes. The General Agreement named the OSCE an international guarantor of peace and granted it a mandate to "facilitate the implementation of the General Agreement in the areas related to the observance of human rights and the establishment of political and legal institutions and processes in the Republic of Tajikistan."

In addition to its head office in Dushanbe, the OSCE maintains field offices in Kurgan Teppe, Shaartuz and Dusti, where its field officer activities include monitoring human rights violations and refugee repatriation, and liaison between local populations, particularly returnees, and municipal authorities. The OSCE received assurances from the government in early 1997 that it could open field offices in Khujand and Garm, however, permission to open the Khujand office was obtained only at the end of 1997,(45) with permission for the office in Garm outstanding. In an effort to raise political awareness and involvement throughout Tajikistan's several regions, the OSCE has since 1994 regularly sent representatives to Leninabad oblast to meet with local government representatives, opposition party members, and to participate in events such as youth seminars. The OCSE has continued to conduct these trips since the 1996 and 1997 events in Leninabad oblast. OSCE interventions and follow-up on human rights abuses resulting from the May 1996 meetings, the prison riot, and the assassination attempt have been limited given the irregularity of their trips to the region and the lack of a permanent office presence.

The OSCE has organized conferences on the socio-economic aspects of the peace process and the rule of law, as well as police and prison officer training programs, although these were either postponed or pending in early 1998. It provides advice to constitutional, electoral, and other law reform efforts, helps to coordinate humanitarian and relief activities, and hosts weekly inter-agency meetings on human rights. Also, the OSCE initiated and provided financial support for a national human rights commission and ombudsman position in 1995, although the government later decided to establish and finance these institutions itself. As of this writing, however, neither the commission nor the ombudsman position had been created.

United Nations Involvement

On December 16, 1994, the United Nations Security Council created a United Nations Mission of Observers to Tajikistan (UNMOT).(46) While its mandate prior to November 1997 did not specifically include human rights issues, UNMOT was up until that time responsible for the investigation of violations of the Tehran cease-fire agreements and was to "provide political liaison and coordination services, which could facilitate expeditious humanitarian assistance by the international community." Security concerns in 1997, however, including a hostage crisis in February, necessitated the closure of most of UNMOT's field offices for several months, while some U.N. programs were suspended for six months. These constraints greatly limited UNMOT's ability to obtain first-hand information on country conditions and to have a positive impact on the country's human rights and security situation.

In mid-February 1997, in an effort to carry on activities while most U.N. staff were relocated to Uzbekistan, UNMOT opened a civilian liaison office in Khujand, with a mandate to keep the region informed of developments in the peace process.(47) A May 30, 1997 report issued by the secretary-general covering the events of March 5 through May 30, 1997, however, failed not only to even mention the prison riot in Khujand, but also the wave of arrests that followed. However, included under the reference "a number of violent incidents [which] took place in the country during the reporting period," the report briefly reported the assassination attempt, stating that two persons had been arrested in connection with the attempt.(48)

A June 1997 human rights needs-assessment mission led by the United Nations High Commissioner/Centre for Human Rights concluded that lasting peace was threatened by factors including summary executions, unlawful detention, political persecution, and violence against women. The mission recommended posting one or two senior human rights experts to work in Dushanbe in the office of the special representative of the secretary-general for the duration of the transition period, and human rights training for government, military, law enforcement, and academic personnel. Also recommended were constitutional and legislative advisory services and the provision of technical assistance to NGO and other personnel active in the protection and promotion of human rights. As of February 1998, constitution and legislative advisory services had been provided or targeted, but the human rights experts had not yet arrived in the country eight months into the transition period.


In mid-May 1996, thousands of people demonstrated throughout Leninabad oblast, in the cities of Khujand, Ura-Teppe, Kanibadam, Isfara, and Shakristan. The demonstrations were set off by the murder of a prominent Khujandi businessman, Akhmajon Ashurov, and grew increasingly political in scope. Ashurov, whose businesses included several cafés and tea houses in Khujand, had enjoyed a reputation as a local charitable figure, as he provided free meals to schools and to needy senior citizens and veterans. In the wake of the demonstrations, police arrested Ashurov's brother, Ikrom, on what Human Rights Watch believes are trumped-up, politically motivated "banditry" charges. Police snipers killed Ikrom Ashurov during the 1997 prison massacre (see below).

The widespread belief that Akhmajon Ashurov's murder had been carried out by Kulabi elements was a driving force behind the demonstrations.(49) Original demands submitted by the protesters to the regional authorities included the capture of Ashurov's killer, the publication of regular and objective information concerning the investigation into Ashurov's killing, and the replacement of many Kulabi officials in the regional government. Subsequent demands included objective press coverage of the demonstrations and their full broadcast on regional television,(50) better control of the distribution of humanitarian aid and recognition of the Leninabad region as a free economic zone.

The protests lasted for about ten days, and gathered at least 20,000 people in Khujand, and several hundred to one thousand each in Ura-Teppe, Kanibadam, Isfara, and Shakhristan.(51) The government had set up checkpoints and some roadblocks on all roads leading in and out of downtown Khujand and police subjected cars to strict identification checks, but residents from suburbs surrounding Khujand, such as Chkalovsk and Kairakum made their way to the demonstration site.(52) Participants carried signs with slogans including "Down with Emomali Rakhmonov!" and "Uninvited guests go away!" and, in Khujand, some camped out in tents during the night.(53)

In Khujand, the ten-day demonstrations were conducted without violent incident, albeit in an atmosphere filled with constant tension. A home videotape of the Khujand meetings shows one participant telling the camera person "to only record the general background noise of the meeting and not particular conversations or the speeches of the presenters themselves." Several rows of police guarded the exterior of the city government building, where meeting organizers and representatives of local and national government were negotiating. Inside, there were many armed policemen and armed members of the Ministry of the Interior and the Presidential Guard. According to another participant, "The tension was enormous. I felt often as though things could explode at any moment, because there was a lot of disorganization, it was obvious the regional authorities didn't know how to respond to the crowd, and because there were so many policemen around."(54) When negotiations momentarily reached an impasse, one participant related the following:

We were standing beside those with the guns. When things were going badly--when the negotiations weren't going anywhere--the "number one" command was given, i.e., be ready to shoot at any moment. It was extremely tense. Thankfully, the negotiations then went ahead, otherwise, there would have been a bloodbath.(55)
These comments suggest that Tajikistan law enforcement may have been either unaware or unwilling to comply with international standards on the use of force for the purpose of crowd control at mass demonstrations. The 1979 United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officers,(56) in combination with the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles of the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials would require Tajikistan police to have available and make use of alternative means of crowd control.(57) The use of firearms, by these standards, "may only be made when strictly unavoidable to protect life."(58) Human Rights Watch does not have information as to whether police first used alternatives to stop demonstrations in Ura-Teppe on May 14, when Ministry of the Interior troops reportedly fired directly into an unruly crowd, killing at least one person and wounding up to five others. Demonstrators there had called for the resignation of Kulabis from power structures and vandalized several government buildings during the protests.(59)

At the end of the ten-day meetings in Khujand, regional authorities and the demonstation leaders signed an agreement guaranteeing the demonstration leaders' and participants' safety and immunity from prosecution, and the signing ceremony was broadcast on regional television, although the rest of the events were given next to no coverage in the rest of Tajikistan's media.(60) In response to the protesters' demands, the government removed more than seventy officials from their posts, many of Kulabi origin, including the procurators of Khujand, Ura-Teppe and Shakhristan, and the head of the regional militia.

In the months following the meetings, however, many of the organizers' houses were searched, and some fled the country temporarily, fearing government retribution. The searches followed President Rakhmonov's visit to Khujand in June.(61) President Rakhmonov met with the head of the Leninabad Oblast Department of Internal Affairs and allegedly demanded an explanation for why the demonstration organizers were at large. According to Jumaboi Niazov, chair of the Democratic Party of Tajikistan (an opposition party with a significant base in Leninabad) the head of the oblast Department of Internal Affairs

gathered the aktiv [prominent political party members], representatives of all those [parties] that were at the demonstrations and demanded that the [demonstrators] be punished. He promised to do it within a week. Then, after a week, the home searches started.(62)
On August 3, 1996, Ikrom Ashurov (the brother of the assassinated Akhmajon Ashurov), who had spoken during the Khujand demonstrations, was arrested, allegedly for "banditry." He was later charged with extortion. In the very early morning of August 3, fourteen armed Ministry of Internal Affairs and Ministry of National Security representatives, some of them wearing masks, searched Ashurov's home for illegal drugs or arms, while he was absent. The following day, Ashurov's mother's house was also searched, while Ashurov himself went to the local police station to make enquiries about the exact reasons for the searches. At the police station, however, police severely beat him, breaking several of his ribs, and arrested him for "banditry." While in detention in Ura-Teppe, where he had reportedly been transferred in order not to provoke new protests, Ashurov was, according to family members, constantly beaten. Members of the Joint Commission proposed that Ashurov be included on the list of those illegally detained.(63) Human Rights Watch received reports of house searches of many of the meeting organizers in the wake of President Rakhmonov's June 1996 visit to Khujand; also, several were alleged to have fled Tajikistan or have gone into temporary hiding, fearing arrest.(64)


All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person. Article 10(1) of the ICCPR.(65)

Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life. Article 6(1) of the ICCPR.

Every person has the right to life. No one can be deprived of life except by order of the court for the gravest crime. The state guarantees the inviolability of a person. No one will be subjected to torture, punishment, and inhuman treatment. It is prohibited to subject a person to forced medical or scientific experiments. Article 18 of the Constitution of Tajikistan.

From April 14-17, 1997, a prisoner riot occurred at Khujand Men's Correctional Labor Colony 3/19 that was quelled when security forces surrounded and stormed the facility. Although official reports indicate that twenty-four prisoners were killed and thirty-five wounded, information gathered by Human Rights Watch points to substantially higher numbers, revealing a grossly disproportionate use of force used by security forces when confronting the prisoners. Among those killed by security forces were Ikrom Ashurov (see above) and other prisoners. Their deaths, combined with the excessive force employed to put down the riot, added fuel to Leninabad's anti-Dushanbe sentiment.

The riot and ensuing massacre were shrouded in an atmosphere of fear and secrecy, and the government issued preliminary news only several days after the events had begun. According to a local journalist, information was blocked as "it was evident that authorities really didn't want information about the riot to get out."(66) More than four months after the massacre, indeed, witnesses and observers--from local and international organizations-- interviewed by Human Rights Watch expressed ongoing fear at giving testimony, agreeing to share information on condition of absolute anonymity. Human Rights Watch was unable to obtain testimony from first-hand witnesses of the riot and the storming of the prison by security forces.

The prisoners' protests had both political and non-political agendas. They began with demands for trials for those not yet sentenced, hospitalization for the seriously ill, an overall improvement in prison conditions, and complaints about disproportionate sentences for many of those imprisoned. As throughout most of the CIS, prison conditions in Tajikistan are drastically poor and in many cases life-threatening. Indeed, in June 1996, responding to reports indicating that a large number of prisoners had died due to starvation, malnutrition, and lack of medical care, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) instituted an emergency food program. Death rates dropped as a result, but overall the conditions did not change. As recently as October 1997 a senior member of an international organization in Dushanbe involved with prisons remarked that "it has become the norm to accept that if one is sent to prison in Tajikistan, one is sent to die."(67) Conditions in the Khujand prison, however, were no worse than elsewhere in the country, according to the ICRC and the government. In April 1997 the Khujand prison had between 800 and 1,000 prisoners, more than twice the recommended maximum.(68)

Several law enforcement officials acknowledged that courts hand down wholly disproportionate sentences. According to the Chairman of the Leninabad Regional Executive, abuses or incompetence by the regional judiciary were abundant: "For example, [for the theft of] two bags of flour a person was sentenced to eight years, whereas drug trafficking got only two years. This outraged not only the people, but also the leadership of the oblast."(69) A former senior member of a Leninabad law enforcement agency told Human Rights Watch about a seventeen-year-old inmate of the Khujand prison who received a sentence of seven years for stealing a book from the Isfara city library, in eastern Leninabad oblast. The youth was among those killed during the uprising.(70)

Two political issues served as the catalyst for the uprising: the rumored transfer of Ikrom Ashurov and several other detainees to the southern prison of Yavan, where conditions are reportedly the worst in the country,(71) and the commutation of the death sentence to fifteen years imprisonment for those accused of killing Ashurov's brother, Khujandi businessman Akhmajon, whose murder in the spring of 1996 had led to the Leninabad uprisings in May of the same year.(72)

Ikrom Ashurov, who had spoken at the May 1996 Khujandi demonstrations and who was seen to be one of its principal organizers (see above), was at the time being detained in Khujand prison after a conviction on charges of extortion.(73) Ashurov was himself to be transferred to Yavan prison, along with several other participants in the May 1996 demonstrations who were also reportedly being detained in Khujand prison. It should be noted that Ikrom Ashurov, together with Jamshed Abdushukurov, the brother of the leader of the local criminal band "Tyson," occupied the top level of the internal prisoner hierarchy, enjoying the corresponding privileges of regular food, amenities, and lodgings a rank above the rest of the prisoners. Local observers saw the move to transfer Ashurov to the south, where he would instantly lose the advantages listed above and his status in the internal prisoner hierarchy, as ongoing punishment for his role in the May 1996 meetings.(74)

The protesting prisoners were reportedly armed with knives, crudely fashioned two-meter-long wooden bayonets, metal posts, and stones.(75) At the outset of the negotiations, inmates took several prison personnel hostage in exchange for the fulfillment of their demands. When negotiations reached an impasse, police and security forces -- including the spetsnaz (special anti-terrorist units), summoned from Dushanbe -- surrounded the prison. According to a local journalist who was able to obtain access to streets surrounding the prison on April 15, "I saw four snipers sitting on rooftops 200-250 meters from the prison; later I was told that there were sixteen. As a journalist, of course, I often experience tense situations, but for one of the first times in my career I was really scared."(76) Police, snipers and the spetsnaz are, according to sketchy reports, said to have fired directly into the crowds of prisoners. Ikrom Ashurov and Jamshed Abdushukurov were allegedly the very first to be targeted by the snipers, although since Human Rights Watch could not interview eyewitnesses it is not in a position to confirm this allegation.(77)

Due to the dearth of information and the unwillingness of eyewitnesses to be interviewed, Human Rights Watch cannot present here a comprehensive account of the uprising. However, information gained from interviews with a range of sources make it abundantly clear that security forces indeed massacred inmates in putting down the uprising. First, a reliable unofficial report estimates that between one hundred and 150 inmates were killed and more than 200 were wounded. A former member of a Leninabad law enforcement agency stated,

On April 16, 158 people were killed, but eventually, only forty-two corpses were released. I'm sure of it, because I saw the initial report prepared by the forensic medical expert, and these were the numbers named. Also, he stated that the deaths had been caused by bullet wounds. But you won't see this report, because soon afterwards this guy was taken off the case and replaced by experts from Dushanbe, who arranged the report to show that the deaths had been the result of knife wounds.(78)
The medical expert, however, declined to speak with Human Rights Watch for fear of retaliation.

In stark contrast to these figures, initial official reports put the numbers of those killed at several to eighteen, and several seriously injured.(79) As time went on, the official figures rose to twenty-four killed and thirty-five seriously injured.(80) A list of the dead and wounded--among prisoners and security forces alike--was never published, however, making exact numbers very difficult to ascertain. In the days following the massacre, relatives approached the offices of international organizations in Khujand, seeking news of or help in locating their family members who had been detained at the prison, however international organization representatives could not offer concrete assistance because government officials refused to divulge any information.(81) The Tajikistan government did not respond to Human Rights Watch's request for a list of the wounded. Human Rights Watch attempted several times to meet with representatives of the Khujand city administration during the week of August 25-29 to discuss the events, but officials were unavailable or "too busy."

A highly respected member of the international community in Tajikistan told Human Rights Watch that a spetsnaz member told him that the storming of the prison had been a "butchery, and the entire responsibility of the local hukumat [local government];"(82) he declined to give further details. Other officials close to events were also reluctant to give out information.(83) A local journalist who attempted to interview doctors following the events, for example, told Human Rights Watch that all those approached refused to deliver any verbal or written testimony. A policeman interviewed by the Russian NTV team, speaking with his back to the camera, stated that the massacre "was the internal ministry's and city council's fault."(84)

Diverse sources interviewed by Human Rights Watch throughout Leninabad oblast, including journalists, academic figures, members of international organizations and those with links to the procuracy, all estimated the number of those killed at around one hundred, relating that over half of those killed did not die immediately, but later on, as the result of serious bullet wounds. Nezavisimaya gazeta carried an article on May 5, 1997, claiming around 150 were killed and over 200 wounded during the massacre.

A staff member of Leninabad Regional Hospital told Human Rights Watch:

On April 16, I was called at home and told to report to work early. I arrived at the hospital at 5:20 p.m., and was told that a riot was going on in the prison. By 6:00 p.m., we were ready "should our services be necessary." At 7:00 p.m., the first wounded arrived. When I went to the prison in an ambulance, I saw two to three large trucks filled with bodies, as well as a great many suffering from bullet wounds.(85)
According to the hospital staff member, the extent of bullet wounds was such that three prisoners died upon arrival at the hospital, another slightly later during his night shift from 7:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. on April 16-17. He was then transferred to the Khujand City Hospital, where he "worked straight through until the morning, barely able to keep up with the load." Two eyewitnesses reported that on April 16 they saw three transport lorries filled with bodies leaving the prison.(86) A doctor who had spoken with one of these eyewitnesses (but who declined to meet with Human Rights Watch) confirmed that he and his colleagues had worked at Khujand City Hospital for twenty-four hours without pause, and that they were overwhelmed by the numbers of wounded prisoners. In addition, an employee of the Khujand prison, who elected to remain anonymous, reported to a Human Rights Watch interviewee that twenty-six people were killed instantly and that 252 were wounded overall, eighty of them seriously wounded.(87)

As of May 5, a full three weeks after the uprising, reports indicated that bodies were being released to families two at a time in order to reduce the impact of the killings and potential protests by the families of the prisoners and the Khujandi population.(88) According to an international staff member who maintains close contact with opposition sources in Khujand, the latter stated that bodies were being released even as late as the beginning of the month of July.(89)

Human Rights Watch is unable to conlcude whether the situation at the Khujand prison was such that there was no alternative to the use of force and has no position on when and whether authorities should resort to force rather than peaceful negotiations in order to end a rebellion or a hostage-taking situation inside a prison. When security forces elect to use force, however, their actions must conform to accepted norms governing the use of force by law enforcement agents, such as the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials or the Basic Principles on the Use of the Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. Further, the government of Tajikistan has until now failed to demonstrate that the killings of inmates in Khujand prison were justifiable in terms of self-defense, protecting others or preventing escapes. Article 16 of the latter document states,

Law enforcement officials, in their relations with persons in custody or detention, shall not use firearms, except in self-defense or in the defense of others against the immediate threat of death or serious injury, or when strictly necessary to prevent the escape of a person in custody or detention presenting the danger referred to in principle 9.(90)
If Tajikistan authorities can show that one of more of the killings were justified as necessary and proportionate responses to circumstances endangering life or physical integrity, the authorities are no less obliged to provide an accounting for each of the remaining fatalities.


No one shall be subjected to arbitraty arrest, detention or exile. Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatement or punishment. In particular, no one shall be subjected without his free consent to medical or scientific experimentation. Article 7 of the ICCPR.

Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law. Article 9(1) of the ICCPR


On April 30, 1997, less than two weeks after the prison massacre, an assassination attempt was made on the president in Khujand. The fallout included a backlash against political opponents in the region, including arbitrary arrests, multiple incidents of press censorship, and accusations that the NRM had orchestrated the attempt.

President Rakhmonov had travelled to Khujand to deliver an address in celebration of the 65th anniversary of Khujand State University. As he approached Kamol Khujandi Theater, in the center of the city, a hand grenade was thrown at his entourage. The president was lightly wounded in the leg, and several of the regional and national governmental officials accompanying him were also wounded. Security forces fired directly into the surrounding crowd, killing a thirty-year-old female teacher and a seventeen-year-old student, and wounding up to eighty-six.(91) According to a Khujandi resident who attended the ceremony, and who was only a few meters behind the president, "for some reason Rakhmonov's guards, at the time the grenade was thrown, were standing about three meters from the president, so it wasn't difficult to gain access to him. I saw how the president's guards responded immediately by firing straight into the crowd."(92) Several sources alleged that local authorities had been warned on April 29, 1997, about the planned assassination attempt, although these accusations were vigorously denied.(93)

The assassination attempt and the prison massacre were immediately claimed to be linked. Government authorities claimed, and UTO representatives immediately acknowledged, that relatives of those killed in the prison massacre had been involved in the assassination attempt, acting out of revenge.(94) Along with the UTO, Abdullajonov immediately denied participation in the assassination attempt, supported the hypothesis that it was linked to the prison massacre, and reiterated that 150 persons had been killed when security forces quelled the riot.(95)

Immediately following the assassination attempt, police arrested some individuals who were known to be involved in organized crime. Weeks after, the government widened the circle of arrests, apparently taking advantage of the opportunity to pursue political opponents. Police arrested twenty-year-old Firdaws Dustboboiev and Jumaboi Juraiev,(96) both members of the "Tyson" criminal band, on April 30, the day of the assassination attempt. "Tyson," also known as Khurshed Abdushukurov, was the brother of Jamshed Abdushukurov, who had reportedly been shot down by snipers during the mid-April prison massacre.(97) During the early morning of May 3-4, police stormed the home of Khurshed Abdushukurov in the village of Kistakhoz, about twenty kilometers southeast of Khujand. Khurshed himself and several members of his band were in the house at the time. Police began shooting after the group was offered the chance to surrender, which they refused. In the clash that followed, five members of the group, including Khurshed, were killed and three policeman seriously wounded.(98) Khurshed allegedly shot himself, while another member blew himself up with a grenade.

In October 1997, the Prosecutor General's investigation into the criminal case against Firdaws Dustboboiev, Jumaboi Juraiev, Abdukhafiz Abdullaiev and fifteen others concluded that during the period June 1996 to May 1997 the "Tyson" criminal band, led by Khurshed Abdushukurov, were responsible for "criminal acts against the Leninabadi population at large." On April 30, 1997, the investigation claimed, one of the "Tyson" band members, Firdaws Dustboboiev, conducted the assassination attempt against the president.

Arrests : Abuse of Detainees and Arbitrary Arrests

During the weeks following the assassination attempt, Ministry of the Interior officials conducted widespread arrests in Khujand and its environs. Human Rights Watch received reports of between 200 and 280 arrestees, many of whom were allegedly Abdullajonov supporters.(99) Many of those arrested were sent to Dushanbe for interrogation, often without the knowledge of their families; some Russian news reports claimed that citizens were being taken from their homes at night, their heads covered with a cloth sack, and sent to the capital. Human Rights Watch is concerned that the police physically abused suspects in making arrests. An international aid worker travelling by plane from Khujand to Dushanbe on May 11, 1997, stated that she had travelled "with six convicts, handcuffed, wearing cloth hoods without holes for breathing, some were sobbing, it was pretty obvious that they had been badly treated."(100) She added that the men were breathing hard and trembling. Although the aidworker did not see blood or bruises, Human Rights Watch is concerned that the handling of these detainees was in itself a form of ill-treatment and that serious physical or psychological abuse may have preceded their transfer to Dushanbe.

The extent of the arrests--one source claimed that 280 persons were arrested in Khujand in the wake of the assassination attempt, and that the great majority had been sent to Dushanbe for further questioning(101)--was such that on May 13, 1997, the Democratic Party of Tajikistan issued an appeal to international organizations to put pressure on the government to stop the arrests, many of which they claimed involved participants of the May 1996 demonstrations. Human Rights Watch is aware of at least four arrestees who may have been detained exclusively due to their involvement in the May 1996 demonstrations or the relationship to Abdullajonov: Muminjon Kodirov, Yusuf Polvon, Aiub Abrorov, and Abdukhafiz Abdullaiev.

Muminjon Kodirov, chairman of the Leninabad-based political movement Tozadaston ("Clean Hands"), was arrested on June 6, 1997, following the assassination attempt, ostensibly for having distributed a May 25, 1997 statement by UTO leader Said Abdullo Nuri. The statement asserted that the assassination attempt was directly linked to the Khujand prison massacre and called on the government to among other things, "stop the repression and arrests of participants in Leninabad protest meetings, supporters and members of the NRM, close relatives of its leaders."(102) The authorities claimed the statement to be false, i.e., not one authored by the UTO. Yet it was published in Charogi Ruz, a leading opposition newspaper, in the summer of 1997. The publication contained Nuri's statement as well as a statement from the political executive of the NRM. The NRM notice described various acts of persecution of its supporters and of those who had expressed their dissatisfaction with the current regime.(103) Kodirov had been among the lead organizers of and speakers at the May 1996 protest meetings in Khujand, and his Tozadaston movement maintained close ties with Abdullajonov's NRM.(104) He was later charged with "extortion." Kodirov's brother Nasimjon and two of Nasimjon's friends were reportedly beaten without reason by police a day earlier, and Nasimjon was later temporarily detained.(105) At the end of September, family members reported that Kodirov had been subject to frequent beatings in the Dushanbe prison, where he had been detained since mid-May, awaiting trial, and that one of his fingers had been severely injured.(106) Given that Nuri's statement was soon afterwards published in Charogi Ruz, the Democratic Party of Tajikistan asserted that the charges cited above were simply a pretext for what they considered to be a clearly politically-motivated arrest.(107) Muminjon Kodirov was freed in January 1998 under the amnesty law, which entered into force when the peace accord was signed in June 1997.(108)

Yusuf Polvon, a native of the Kistakhoz village, where members of the "Tyson" criminal band had been attacked, was also arrested soon after the assassination attempt. Like Kodirov, Yusuf Polvon had been among the lead organizers of the May 1996 demonstrations. Aiub Abrorov, another active participant and speaker in the May 1996 meetings,(109) was arrested and sent to the same Dushanbe prison where Kodirov and Polvon had been sent. Relatives of the above, who as of September 1997 had relatively regular access to the prisoners, at that time stated that all there were in very poor health, and that the prisoners had related that there were other Khujandi citizens arrested on charges of having participated in the assassination attempt detained in the prison, still awaiting trial.(110) Human Rights Watch is not at this time aware that the trials of Yusuf Polvon or Aiub Abrorov have begun.

On May 23, 1997, Abdulkhafiz Abdullaiev, Abdullajonov's forty-six-year-old brother, was arrested in Khujand on charges of possession of narcotics. According to family members, on the afternoon of May 23 around fifty armed men, both uniformed Ministry of the Interior personnel and others dressed in civilian clothes,(111) arrived at Abdullaiev's seventy-five-year-old mother's house in Khujand, stating that they were to conduct a search. Surrounding the house, the men made as though to do so. Abdullaiev's relatives reported that, upon discovering some old chocolate in a cupboard, the men accused the family of possessing narcotics, which the family denied, explaining that the substance in question was chocolate.

Firdaws Dustboboiev was arrested on the very day of the assassination attempt and, having been found guilty of participation in the attempt was sentenced to death in March 1998. According to his mother, Zulaikho Umarova,

Four of our family members were taken in for questioning a few days after Firdaws' arrest, and all beaten, even one of the wives. Firdaws' brother was very ill afterwards, and we took him to the hospital, however, soon afterwards a policeman arrived at the hospital and told us that he would kill us if we didn't get him out of there. We took him home and nursed him for two months in secret. We went to several doctors to get a medical evaluation, but everybody refused.(112)
 According to Avezov Furqat, a cousin of Firdaws Dustboboiev,
On April 30, 1997, myself, my brother, my uncle, and my aunt were taken at home at night by policemen in civilian clothes, they were unarmed, without documents. I asked them, "you won't beat us, right?," however, they held us all night and beat us with their hands, the butt of a pistol, and with a club. We were in the Ministry of Security [detention room], they asked us, "where are the arms, the rifles, and so on"--then they let us go in the morning. Three hours later I was arrested again, held for three days, that time I wasn't beaten, they accused me of disrespect of authority [nepodchinenie vlasti].(113)
Ilkhom Dodojonov was also sentenced to death on March 12, 1998 for participating in the assassination attempt. His mother, Onaoi Dodojonova, told Human Rights Watch:
On May 3, 1997, uniformed and armed policemen came to our house and took ten of our relatives in for questioning, even one of the wives with her five-year-old son. They were held for between three and five days and several of them beaten. Ilkhom's father, Inkhom Dodojonov, well, they spread him against the wall like the Christ figure, then hit him with the butt of a rifle. When he asked them not to beat him on the kidneys because they were already hurting him, they did exactly that; he was all black, and for a month afterwards his whole body was bloated.(114)
Buriboi Akbarov was arrested by uniformed police on unknown charges at the central Khujand bazar on May 7, 1997, detained for two days at the Ministry of Security detention center in Khujand, and then flown to Dushanbe Detention Center No. 1. Buriboi's brother Abdushukur Akbarov, who had served three years of a four-year criminal sentence in Khujand prison for attempted murder, was killed during the mid-April riots. According to their mother, Mukhabbat Akbarova, soon after the riots Buriboi began to search for those who had killed his brother, and made attempts to gather together other relatives of prisoners killed to go along with him to protest to local authorities. "I am sure he was arrested only because someone, probably a policeman, told someone high up that he was looking for the killers of the prisoners and was going to make trouble. Otherwise, how it is possible that between April 15 and May 7, 1997, he accomplished enough to be charged with banditry, terrorism, treason, etc."

On March 12, 1998, following a closed trial which had been ongoing since November 1997, Abdulkhafiz Abdullaiev and five other men, including Firdaws Dustboboiev, Ilkhom Dodojonov, and Buriboi Akbarov, were sentenced to death by the Supreme Court of Tajikistan after having been found guilty of participating in the assassination attempt. Alarmingly, there were reports that co-defendants, including Firdaws Dustboboiev, Ilkhom Dodojonov, and Buriboi Akbarov, were beaten and otherwise subjected to duress until they incriminated Mr. Abdullaiev. The mothers of three of those sentenced to death were able to secure a visit with their sons on March 14, 1998. One of them, Zulaikho Umarova, told Human Rights Watch:

Our sons told us on March 14 that at first, when they were asked during the trial whether Abdullaiev had provided the material assistance for the assassination attempt, they denied it, however, then they were severely beaten so that they would confess that Abdullaiev had done so. They were taken to the shestoi otdel' [the organized crime unit] at the Ministry of Security and there tortured by electric shocks, and beaten with sticks. Firdaws was beaten most of all, so much so that two of his ribs were broken; now, one of his hands is severely injured, he's not using it, also, he can't see out of one eye.(115)
Abdullaiev's lawyer, G. Litvinovskaya, reported that all of the witnesses she questioned at the trial stated that they had not been witnesses to the assassination attempt, and that all, including police officers, asserted they knew nothing about the "Tyson" gang. She also claimed that Dustboboiev's psychological condition as a result of the beatings was extremely serious and that he was in need of immediate treatment.

Although originally arrested on charges of narcotics possession, Abdullaiev was later charged with conspiring to assassinate the president.(116) Various medical affidavits and forensic medical opinions attest that Abdullaiev is currently suffering from cancer of the intestine with metastasis of the liver. A court order of August 22, 1997, accorded Abdullaiev leave to remain under house arrest at his home in Khujand for six to twelve months due to his serious medical condition.(117) However, the court order was repealed several hours after it was issued, on charges that the judge who wrote the order was bribed. An additional affidavit rendered by a forensic medical panel in November 1997 concluded that Abdullaiev was in need of intensive cancer treatment and unfit to stand trial.(118) Abdullaiev nonetheless stood trial, although, according to his lawyer, he was at times carried in and sat the whole while bent over with his head in his hands, never once raising his head. A family member who visited Abdullaiev several days after the sentence was handed down asserted that he was walking only with the supports of aides, that his blood pressure was alarmingly high, that his condition was consistently worsening, and that he was still being denied chemotherapy treatment (the government reportedly claims Abdullaiev is not seriously ill) deemed imperative by the previous medical expertises.(119) As of mid-April 1998, despite another expert medical opinion, rendered early in the month, recommending Abdullaiev's immediate transfer to an oncological unit, he was being held on death row, where conditions are reportedly even worse than the regular detention cells.(120) As of this writing, Abdullaiev, along with the other five sentenced, have pleaded for clemency from President Rakhmonov.

Professional Retaliation

Immediately after the assassination attempt, several government officials, including Dushanbe mayor Makhmasaid Ubaidullaiev, accused Abdullajonov and his supporters of being behind the assassination attempt, and requested that he be arrested, brought to Tajikistan, and tried. According to Interfax on April 30, 1997, "Supporters of Rakhmonov's rival during the 1995 [sic] presidential elections, Abdumalik Abdullajonov, might also have been involved in the crime. Some of the Tajik leaders suspect Abdullajonov of instigating separatist moods in the north of Tajikistan and attempting to complicate relations between the northern and central parts of the country." This attitude was still in evidence in November 1997, when an interview with Abdullajonov was published in Vecherniye vesti. The journalist conducting the interview asked, "Why did you organize the assassination attempt against the President?"(121)

Consequently, several prominent government employees, all opposition or NRM sympathizers, suffered professional retaliation. Bobojon Ikramov, chairman of the Leninabad Regional Television and Radio, was fired. The mayor of Khujand, Kodir Bobojanov, and Tolib Boboev, deputy prosecutor of Leninabad oblast, were also removed from their posts. Boboev, who in August 1997 was a senior member of the political executive of the Party of National Unity, told Human Rights Watch that he was dismissed from his post without explanation or the presentation of formal charges. He contested his dismissal in a city court, winning his case. However, the supreme court later reversed the city court ruling on grounds which Boboev claimed to be "purely political." Boboev claimed that his dismissal was due to his membership in the Party of National Unity and to his close association with Abdullajonov.(122) Khabibullo Oripov, general secretary of the Party of National Unity, fearing reprisals, left the country for two weeks in early May.(123)


Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice." Article 19(2) of the ICCPR.

Every person is guaranteed freedom of speech, publishing, and the right to use means of mass information. State censorship and prosecution for criticism is prohibited. The list of information constituting a state secret is specified by law." Article 30 of the Constitution of Tajikistan.


Although the peace process provides for amendments to the law on media and for the establishment of a free press in Tajikistan, in practice freedom of expression is severely limited, with government restricting the activities of those who express disagreement with official policies and exercising near complete control over the electronic media. Journalists as a rule exercise careful self-censorship. In the absence of comprehensive and objective information on local events, many Tajiks turn to external sources such as Russian television and radio and the U.S.-supported Radio Liberty. The views of opposition political parties are rarely heard, limiting their ability to publicize their platforms and garner support among the population, and keeping dialogue amongst various political actors to a minimum.(124)

Independent television stations, which broadcast very little serious news, saw significant harassment from the government during 1997 when procedures for obtaining registration licenses were greatly delayed. Suspicion surrounding the role of the press continues even between the two parties to the peace agreement, with the government and UTO trading accusations on misuse or insufficient use of the mass media.(125)

In this climate, events in Leninabad received very little coverage, and when media outlets and journalists attempted to report on them, the Tajikistan government responded by harassing and arresting journalists, revoking their accreditations, refusing newspapers permission to print at government-run printing houses, and closing outright one newspaper.

Attempts by foreign journalists to make enquiries about the prison massacre and the assassination attempt were quickly halted. On May 7, 1997, the Russian IMA-Press news agency correspondent Aleksey Vasilivetsky was arrested and briefly detained on charges of possession of narcotics; Vasilivetsky had conducted interviews with members of opposition political parties including Democratic Party leader Jumaboi Niazov, Socialist Party leader Yusuf Akhmedov, and disgruntled government employees. When questioned about the motives behind Vasilivetsky's arrest, an official at the Russian embassy in Dushanbe merely stated that the journalist had not obtained proper accreditation. The official, however, declined to respond when asked whether it was possible that the arrest was linked to Vasilivetsky's research on events in the north.(126)

On May 21-22, 1997, Russian NTV broadcast two reports on the April events in Leninabad oblast, produced by a television team which had come to Leninabad to investigate circumstances surrounding Aleksey Vasilivetsky's arrest. NTV reported that eighty-six persons had been wounded following uncontrolled firing by presidential guards after the grenade was thrown, and that citizens were being seized from their homes at night by security forces and sent to Dushanbe, their heads covered with cloth sacks. Claiming that the television team had not received the appropriate accreditation, the head of the regional division of the Ministry of the Interior stated, "Please leave as soon as possible. I cannot guarantee your security."(127) The journalists left Leninabad oblast soon thereafter, accompanied to the Tajik-Uzbek border by Russian consulate officials in Khujand.(128)

In late May, Irada Gusseynova, a journalist with the Moscow-based newspaper Pravda-V, was denied an extension of her accreditation following the publication of articles said to have offended the dignity and honor of the president. The articles were entitled "Who was Behind the Assassination Attempt on the President?" and "Fortune has Smiled upon, if Only One, Tajik."(129) Another article that reportedly offended Tajikistan authorities, "Prostitution: The Most Widespread Profession in Tajikistan," argued that prostitution was the only way for women to make a living in Tajikistan. Human Rights Watch believe that these articles fall squarely within the realm of free speech guarantees in Article 19 of the UDHR and ICCPR, and that the denial of Gusseynova's accreditation is unjustifiable.

On November 13, 1997, two prominent Russian-language newspapers based in Dushanbe, Vecherniye vesti and Biznes i politika, were suddenly refused permission to print at the Sharki Ozod government printing house, and efforts by the newspapers' editorship to obtain official warrants were unsuccessful. Vecherniye vesti had one week earlier published a front-page interview with NRM leader Abdullajonov, a broad discussion including his prognosis of the peace process and stating NRM's desire to constructively participate in it; his views on the influence of the NRM in the country; Tajikistan's relations with Russia and Uzbekistan; and Abdullajonov's defense regarding the criminal case pending against him. Biznes i politika had planned to, but did not ultimately, publish a letter written by several Russian journalists condemning criticism levelled at them by the Russian embassy in Dushanbe. The latter had protested the "lack of conscience and irresponsibility" of the correspondents, among whom were Aleksey Vasilivetsky of the Ima-Press news agency and Irada Gusseynova of Pravda-V. Vecherniye vesti ultimately published the letter in what turned out to be its last issue. Although Biznes i politika was later given permission to publish, Vecherniye vesti continued to be denied this permission, closed down and re-appeared several weeks later as Vecherniy Dushanbe. The current paper is headed by a new editor-in-chief, and continues to publish serious news, although of an unprovocative nature.


This report is based on research conducted in Tajikistan in 1997 and 1998 by Marie Struthers. It was written by Marie Struthers and edited by Rachel Denber, Michael McClintock, and Dinah PoKemper. Invaluable editorial input was provided by Elizabeth Andersen and Joanna Weschler. Alex Frangos and Emily Shaw contributed important production assistance.

Human Rights Watch gratefully acknowledges the help of all individuals who gave generously of their time in the research and preparation of this report, in particular the help of local journalists, members of political parties and citizens who are not named here to protect their identity.

Human Rights Watch gratefully acknowledges the generous support of the Open Society Institute for our work on Tajikistan.

Human Rights Watch
Europe and Central Asia Division

Human Rights Watch is dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world.

We stand with victims and activists to bring offenders to justice, to prevent discrimination, to uphold political freedom and to protect people from inhumane conduct in wartime.

We investigate and expose human rights violations and hold abusers accountable.

We challenge governments and those holding power to end abusive practices and respect international human rights law.

We enlist the public and the international community to support the cause of human rights for all.

The staff includes Kenneth Roth, executive director; Michele Alexander, development director; Reed Brody, advocacy director; Carroll Bogert, communications director; Cynthia Brown, program director; Barbara Guglielmo, finance and administration director; Jeri Laber, special advisor; Lotte Leicht, Brussels office director; Patrick Minges, publications director; Susan Osnos, associate director; Jemera Rone, counsel; Wilder Tayler, general counsel; and Joanna Weschler, United Nations representative. Jonathan Fanton is the chair of the board. Robert L. Bernstein is the founding chair.

Its Europe and Central Asia division was established in 1978 to monitor and promote domestic and international compliance with the human rights provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. It is affiliated with the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, which is based in Vienna, Austria. Holly Cartner is the executive director; Rachel Denber is the deputy director; Elizabeth Andersen is the advocacy director; Erika Dailey is research director, Caucasus and Central Asia; Fred Abrahams, Julia Hall, Malcolm Hawkes, Andreas Lommen, Maxine Marcus, Christopher Panico, and Diane Paul are research associates; Diederik Lohman is the Moscow office director, Alexander Petrov is the Assistant Moscow office director; Pamela Gomez is the Caucasus office director; Marie Struthers is the Dushanbe office director; Acacia Shields is the Central Asia/Caucasus Coordinator; and Liudmila Belova, Emily Shaw, and Alex Frangos are associates. Peter Osnos is the chair of the advisory committee and Alice Henkin is vice chair.

Web Site Address: http://www.hrw.org

Listserv address: To subscribe to the list, send an e-mail message to majordomo@igc.apc.org with "subscribe hrw-news" in the body of the message (leave the subject line blank).

1. World Bank, Tajikistan: A Country in Transition: An Economic Update (Washington, D.C.: World Bank, Report No. 15421 TJ, September 20, 1996), p. 1.

2. United Nations, "International Support to Peace and Reconciliation in Tajikistan (an appeal to donor bodies)," September 1997, p. 5.

3. Ibid.

4. "International Support to Peace and Reconciliation," p. 5; United Nations, "Updated Consolidated Inter-Agency Donor Alert on Urgent Humanitarian Needs in Tajikistan," October 1997, p. 4.

5. ITAR-TASS, as cited in RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 1, no. 129, Part I, October 1, 1997. In October 1997, one U.S. dollar purchased about 820 Tajik rubles. In the same month, a flat loaf of bread cost about 120 Tajik rubles.

6. An autonomous oblast is a territorial administrative unit inherited from the Soviet era.

7. According to the chairman of the Uzbek Society of Tajikistan. Human Rights Watch interview, Dushanbe, January 26, 1997.

8. See Human Rights Watch/Helsinki Human Rights in Tajikistan: In the Wake of the Civil War, (New York: Human Rights Watch, December 1993).

9. He drew his support from Leninabad, Kulab, and Gissar areas as well as from the Uzbek and Russian minorities.

10. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, Human Rights in Tajikistan: In the Wake of the Civil War.

11. The Russian military presence in Tajikistan predates the civil war. In addition to the border guards, another 6,000 troops in Russia's 201st Motorized Rifle Division, together with a small number of Uzbek troops, made up the majority of a CIS peacekeeping force in Tajikistan in 1997. CIS forces also help to ensure the security of UNMOT, OSCE and other international organization personnel. (As of the spring of 1998, the number of Russian border guards had been reduced to just over 14,000. ITAR-TASS, as cited in RFE/RL Newsline, vol 2, no. 62 Part I, March 31, 1998.) In September 1997, the Council of Commanders of Border Guards of CIS States agreed to request the extension of the term of the peacekeeping force through the end of 1998.

12. See Human Rights Watch/Helsinki press release, "Tajik Elections Conducted in Climate of Fear and Fraud," November 9, 1994.

13. Nezavisimaya gazeta (The Independent Newspaper) (Moscow), January 29, 1997.

14. Since 1946, all of the general secretaries of the communist party were Leninabadis. These were Bobojon Gafurov (1946-1956), Tursunbai Uljabaiev (1956-1961), Jabar Rasulov (1961-1981), Rahman Nabiev (1981-1985), and Khahar Makhamov (1985-1991).

15. Due to a higher degree of urbanization and education, Leninabad was traditionally considered as having the most advanced society of Tajikistan. Kulab, Tajikistan's poorest region, was, by contrast, considered as the most backward society. In order to compete better for resources divvied up among the country's different regions, Kulabis became "clients" of the Leninabadis during the 1970s. One argument holds that this relationship developed because cotton grown in Kulab was processed in Khujand. Communist party elites from Leninabad invested in Kulab, accorded privileges to elites from Kulab, and made promises of autonomy to the Uzbeks of Kulab. See, Guissou Jahangiri, "Anatomie d'une crise : le poids des tensions entre regions au Tadjikistan," Cahiers d'études sur la Mediterranée orientale et le monde turco- iranien, No. 18, July-December 1994.

16. See "Tajik Presidential Election Conducted in Climate of Fear and Fraud."

17. Signs for Abdullajonov's campaign, although prominent in Khujand, were elsewhere in the country removed almost as quickly as they were put up. Further, observers from Abdullajonov's campaign were present at only a few polling sites, although those from Rakhmonov's campaign were present at many. Some refugees who returned to the southern Khatlon oblast just prior to the elections who had stated that they intended to vote for Abdullajonov reportedly received death threats. "Tajik Presidential Election Conducted in Climate of Fear and Fraud," "National Reconciliation: the Imperfect Whim," Central Asian Survey (1996), 15 (3/4), p. 344.

18. An article covering the situation in the north published in May 1997 goes so far as to state "....the November 1994 presidential elections, which Abdullajonov won." Vladimir Chernov, Tsentralnaya Aziya (Central Asia) (Luleå, Sweden), no. 3 (9), May 1997. Abdullajonov was appointed ambassador to Moscow in early 1994. Immediately following the elections he left Tajikistan, and founded the Party of National Unity in 1995.

19. Human Rights Watch interviews with the above sources, Khujand, August 25-29, 1997 and Kanibadam, August 28, 1997.

20. In the wake of the April 30, 1997, assassination attempt against the president, Boboev was fired from his duties. See section "April 1997 Assassination Attempt Against President in Khujand."

21. Human Rights Watch interviews with the above sources, Khujand, August 25-29, 1997 and Kanibadam, August 28, 1997.

22. Abdullajonov himself left Tajikistan soon after the elections. He has been unable to enter the country without facing arrest due to a criminal case launched against him in June 1994, which laid charges of embezzlement during the 1992 period when he was prime minister.

23. Informatsionii Biulletin (Information Bulletin) (Moscow), July-August 1996, no. 7-8 (47-48). Amnesty International Urgent Action Bulletin, AI Index: EUR 04/05/97, March 11,1997. Saidov was extradited to Tajikistan on June 27, 1997, the day the peace agreement was signed. Following an investigation that failed to substantiate the original charges against him, he was released from detention in October 1997.

24. In December 1996, the government and UTO signed documents providing for the completion of the inter-Tajik talks by July 1, 1997, and a protocol on the functions and powers of the Commission on National Reconciliation, a transitional body to oversee implementation of a definitive peace accord.

25. Human Rights Watch interviews with local journalists, Khujand, August 26-27, 1997; Nezavisimaya gazeta, January 21, 1997.

26. Human Rights Watch interview with a public official, Khujand, August 27, 1997, and with a member of the Party of National Unity, Kanibadam, August 28, 1997.

27. Nezavisimaya gazeta, January 21, 1997.

28. Progress Report of the Secretary-General on the Situation in Tajikistan, January 21, 1997, S/1997/56.

29. The Commission on National Reconciliation is made up of twenty-six members, thirteen from the government and thirteen from the UTO.

30. Informatsionii Biulletin, 1996, no. 11-12 (51-52).

31. Vecherniye vesti (Evening News) (Dushanbe), no. 24 (114), June 13, 1997, p. 1.

32. Interfax, June 28, 1997.

33. Radio Free Liberty, April 22, 1998.

34. Prominent among these was the July 29, 1997, shooting of the seventy-six-year-old Mohammed Osimi, former president of Tajikistan's Academy of Science. Osimi was a member of one of the northern Leninabadi clan-like groupings that produced many of the country's political leaders. Other examples are Yusuf Iskhaki, the sixty-five-year-old rector of Dushanbe Medical School, on May 6, 1996, and Muhiddin Olimpur, in December 1995. The latter was a BBC war correspondent and a celebrated cultural figure.

35. Human Rights Watch interview with a member of the executive of the Party of National Unity, Leninabad oblast, August 28, 1997. According to a deputy who was present at the July 1997 session of the Mjalisi Oli (parliament), the major of Dushanbe, Mahmadsaid Ubaidullaev, publicly declared, "You Leninabadis have been directing the country's affairs for the past seventy years, now it's time for you to be quiet." Notably, Ubaidullaev accused Abdullajonov's bloc of being behind the April 30, 1997 assassination attempt against the president.

36. Interview with local journalist, Dushanbe, September 1, 1997. Informatsionii Biulletin, July-August 1996, no. 7-8, 47-48.

37. Hence the term "Kulabization." Kulabis formerly associated with the Popular Front filled not only the posts described above, but also acceded to the management of state enterprises. See Luc Becquer, "Le Tadjikistan: vélléités de réformes économiques," La Lettre d'Asie Centrale (Paris), no. 6, Spring 1997.

38. Human Rights Watch interviews with local journalists, Khujand, August 25-26, 1997.

39. A Khujandi journalist's comment on one of Abdullajonov's appearances during the November 1994 election campaign is telling. According to the journalist, Abdullajonov delivered his speech in Tajik, Russian and Uzbek, offending many by choosing to speak in Uzbek. "What did he mean to show by this? That Uzbek was to become one of Tajikistan's official languages?" Human Rights Watch interview with a local journalist, Khujand, August 26, 1997. Notably, UTO leader Nuri had in principle agreed to the NRM's participation in the December 1996 round of inter-Tajik talks, on condition that the NRM drop their platform proposal that Uzbek become one of the country's official languages. Leninabad oblast enjoys an important degree of bilingualism due to the sizeable ethnic Uzbek population in Leninabad and intermarriage between Tajiks and Uzbeks.

40. It is considered common knowledge that Abdumalik Abdullajonov, the leader of the NRM, has maintained a residence in Tashkent for several years.

41. Voice of Free Tajikistan, May 1, 1997.

42. Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov responded, "Sometimes it is necessary to recall how the present leadership in Dushanbe got there, with whose help and whose vehicles were used. Sometimes it is necessary to recall this for refreshing the memory and realizing what they are doing." Interfax, October 30, 1997.

43. Poor relations between the two countries have recently seen significant improvement, with the early February 1998 signing of accords on bilateral cooperation and an intergovernmental agreement on restructuring Tajikistan's debts to Uzbekistan.

44. The majority of foreign investment has gone to Leninabad oblast, which Leninabadi politicians believe shows its ability to become independent.

45. As of the end of March 1998, the Khujand office was to be opened within the coming weeks.

46. The United Nations Security Council in November 1997 extended UNMOT's mandate until May 15, 1998, and expanded it to include the promotion of peace and national reconciliation and assistance in the implementation of the General Agreement. Resolution 1138 (1997), S/RES/1138 (1997), November 14, 1997. The number of military observers has been expanded from forty-five to 120, and its civilian component from ten to forty-six. "Report of the Secretary-General on Tajikistan," November 5, 1997, S/1997/859.

47. The office was in fact located in Chkalovsk, six kilometers east of downtown Khujand. The location of the office dissuaded many citizens from approaching UNMOT to request services or to report violations, particularly in the wake of the April prison riot and assassination attempt on the president. At the end of August 1997, most citizens with whom Human Rights Watch spoke in Khujand were unaware that UNMOT maintained an office in the area. UNMOT moved to a more central location in Khujand in January 1998.

48. "Report of the Secretary-General on the Situation in Tajikistan," May 30, 1997, U.N. Document S/1997/415.

49. Nezavisimaya gazeta, September 3, 1996; Human Rights Watch interviews with journalists in Khujand, August 25-26, 1997. Ashurov's assailant was eventually identified as nineteen-year-old Mirzorakhmat Ishonkhojaev.

50. According to a home videotape of the Khujand demonstrations, May 1996.

51. By some estimates, more than 30,000 people attended on a daily basis in Khujand. Oleg Panfilov "Novaya volna repressii" [ "A new wave of repression"], Nezavisimaya gazeta, September 3, 1996.

52. Human Rights Watch interviews with meeting participants who requested anonymity, Khujand, August 25, 1997.

53. Home videocassette of Khujand demonstrations, May 1996; Informatsionii Biulletin, no. 5 (45), May 1996.

54. Human Rights Watch interview with meeting participant who requested anonymity, Khujand, August 25, 1997.

55. Human Rights Watch interviews with participants who requested anonymity, Khujand, August 25-26, 1997.

56. Adopted by General Assembly Resolution 34/169, December 17, 1979. Article 3, for example, states, "Law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary to the extent required for the performance of their duty."

57. Adopted by the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Havana, Cuba, August 27-September 7, 1990. Notable here are articles 4 (limiting use of lethal force to only those instances in which "only if other means remain ineffective or without promise of achieving the intended result"); and 5 (a) through (d), which require law enforcement officials using lethal force to exercise "restraint in proportion to the seriousness of...the objective to be achieved," to minimize injury, to ensure that medical assistance is provided as soon as possible, and to ensure that relations of an injured or affected person are notified as soon as possible. While neither the Code of Conduct nor the Basic Principles is binding on the government of Tajikistan, Human Rights Watch maintains that the principles of necessity and proportionality reflected in them have assumed the status of customary international law, which is binding on all nations regardless of formal treaty commitments.

58. See footnote 90.

59. AFP and ITAR-TASS, as cited in OMRI Daily Digest, no. 94, part I, May 15, 1996 and OMRI Daily Digest, no. 95, Part I, May 16, 1996; Vechernii kurier (Evening Courier) (Dushanbe), No. 22 (62), June 13, 1996; Vecherniye vesti, July 25, 1996.

60. Human Rights Watch interviews with local journalists, Khujand, August 25-26, 1997; "Report of Human Rights Needs-Assessment Mission to Tajikistan," United Nations High Commissioner/Centre for Human Rights, August 11, 1997.

61. Informatsionii Biulletin no. 9-10 (49-50), 1996.

62. Human Rights Watch interview, Moscow, September 1996.

63. Informatsionii Biulletin, no. 9-10 (49-50), 1996; Nezavisimaya gazeta, September 3, 1996; Human Rights Watch interviews with local journalists, Khujand, August 26, 1997 and with Jumaboi Niazov, Moscow, September 1996. One source noted that Ashurov had been under the effect of alcohol when he approached the police and had himself struck a policeman, to which the police responded by beating him severely and arresting him for "banditry."

The Joint Commission for the Implementation of the Agreement on a Provisional Cease-Fire and the Cessation of Other Hostilities on the Tajik-Afghan Border and Within the Country for the Duration of the Talks was created in 1994. After June 1997, the Joint Commission was integrated into the Commission on National Reconciliation.

64. Human Rights Watch interviews with journalists and members of opposition parties, Khujand, August 25-29, 1997; Nezavisimaya gazeta, September 3, 1996; U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1996; Informatsionii Biulletin, Moscow no. 9-10 (49-50), 1996.

65. Tajikistan has not acceded to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Under a 1994 decision of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, however, Tajikistan is legally bound to observe the ICCPR, and must submit reports on human rights conditions to the Human Rights Committee.

66. Human Rights Watch interview with local journalist, Khujand, August 26, 1997.

67. International organization meeting, Dushanbe, October 7, 1997.

68. Vecherniye vesti, April 25, 1997, no. 17 (107); Biznes i politika (Business and Politics) (Dushanbe) no. 20 (235), May 16-23, 1997.

69. Biznes i politika, no. 28 (242), July 11-18, 1997.

70. Human Rights Watch interview with former senior member of a Leninabad law enforcement agency (name withheld), Leninabad oblast, August 28, 1997.

71. A member of an international NGO that delivers food and other supplies to the Yavan prison related that during one of his first visits there in early 1996 the infirmary "looked like something out of Auschwitz, I had to step over a corpse on the floor. Several other patients lying on beds were close to death." Human Rights Watch interview, Dushanbe, May 1997, the interviewee requested anonymity. Also, due to devastatingly poor economic conditions in Tajikistan, prisoners' families care for their nutritional needs. If a prisoner is interned in a facility outside of his home district, his chances of being fed regularly are decreased. Khujandi inmates imprisoned in Yavan, thus, would be at a significant disadvantage.

72. Biznes i politika, no. 17 (232), April 25-May 2, 1997.

73. Tsentralnaya Aziya, no. 3 (9), May 1997.

74. Human Rights Watch interview with local journalists in Khujand, August 25-28, 1997; and with a member of the Party of National Unity, Isfara, August 28, 1997.

75. Biznes i politika, no. 17 (232), April 25-May 2, 1997, and no. 20 (235), May 16-23, 1997.

76. Human Rights Watch interview with a local journalist, Khujand, August 26, 1997.

77. Human Rights Watch interviews with journalists, members of opposition parties and academic figures, Leninabad oblast, August 25-29 and September 23-25, 1997.

78. Human Rights Watch interview with former member of a Leninabad law enforcement agency, Leninabad oblast, August 28, 1997. Significantly, there were no reports of the wounding of security forces during the operation.

79. Biznes i politika, no. 17 (232), April 25-2 May 1997; Vecherniye vesti, April 25, 1997, no. 17 (107).

80. Biznes i politika, no. 20 (235), May 16-23, 1997; Voice of Free Tajikistan, April 23, 1997. RFE/RL reported on April 17 that an official at the Khujand city morgue said up to forty people had been killed.

81. Human Rights Watch interviews with representatives of international organizations who requested anonymity, Khujand, August 26 and September 23, 1997.

82. Human Rights Watch interview with an anonymous member of an international organization, Khujand, September 23, 1997.

83. Human Rights Watch interview with a local journalist, Khujand, August 26, 1997.

84. NTV, May 23, 1997.

85. Human Rights Watch interview with a staff member of Leninabad Regional Hospital, Khujand, August 27, 1997.

86. Human Rights Watch interviews with local residents (names withheld), Khujand, September 24, 1997.

87. Human Rights Watch interview with Zulaikho Umarova, Dushanbe, April 14, 1998.

88. Nezavisimaya gazeta, May 5, 1997, as reported in RFE/RL Newsline vol. 1, no. 26, part I, May 7, 1997.

89. Human Rights Watch interview with a member of an international organization, Khujand, September 23, 1997.

90. Principle 9 of the Basic Principles requires law enforcement officials to refrain from using "firearms against persons except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life, to arrest a person presenting such a danger and resisting their authority, or to prevent his or her escape, and only when less extreme means are insufficient to achieve these objectives. In any event, intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life."

91. Official sources reported that the grenade blast caused injuries over a 200-meter radius, accounting for the large number of wounded. Kurier Tajikistana (Tajikstan Courier) (Dushanbe), May 8, 1997. Unofficial sources, however, dispute this claim, suggesting that the majority of wounds inflicted were not the result of the grenade explosion, but that of bullets fired by security forces. Human Rights Watch interviews with local journalists and eyewitnesses who requested anonymity, Khujand, August 25-29, 1997; NTV, May 23, 1997; Biznes i Politika, no. 19 (234), May 1997.

92. The witness also related that for many Khujandis, the shooting of innocent bystanders by security forces was reminiscent of the massacre that had taken place in the Khujand prison two weeks earlier, when many prisoners who allegedly had not yet been sentenced were killed. Human Rights Watch interview with a local resident (name withheld), Khujand, August 25, 1997.

93. Nezavisimaya gazeta, May 5, 1997; BBC, May 14, 1997.

94. Interfax, April 30, 1997. A Khujandi journalist noted, "Information on the assassination attempt was transmitted through the mass media on the very day of the attempt, whereas it took four days for the information about the prison riot to get out." Human Rights Watch interview with a local journalist, Khujand, August 26, 1997.

95. Voice of Free Tajikistan, May 1, 1997.

96. Both had previously been sentenced for serious crimes. Biznes i politika, no. 19 (234), May 1997.

97. According to Kurier Tajikistana, Dustboboiev had claimed "active participation in the unauthorized May 1996 Khujand meetings." Kurier Tadjikistana, no. 29 (269), May 8, 1997; ITAR-TASS, April 30, 1997.

98. Biznes i politika, May 1997, no. 19 (234); Dushanbe Radio Tajikistan Network, May 5, 1997.

99. Voice of Free Tajikistan, May 6, 1997.

100. Human Rights Watch interview, Dushanbe, May 12, 1997.

101. Human Rights Watch interview with former member of a Leninabad law enforcement agency, Leninabad oblast, August 28, 1997.

102. "Statement of the Leadership of the United Tajik Opposition," Charogi Ruz (The Light of Day) (Moscow), no. 1 (95), 1997. The statement also called on the government to "continue maximum efforts towards the fulfillment of the protocols and accords signed during the inter-Tajik peace talks."

103. "Statement of the Political Executive of the National Revival Movement," Charogi Ruz, no. 1 (95), 1997.

104. Home videocassette of Khujand demonstrations, May 1996; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with a member of the Democratic Party of Tajikistan, Dushanbe, February 18, 1998.

105. Voice of Free Tajikistan, June 13, 1997.

106. Human Rights Watch interview with executive member of the Democratic Party of Tajikistan, Khujand, September 24, 1997.

107. Ibid.

108. The amnesty law does not apply to those found guilty of acts of terrorism, banditry, illegal drug dealings, major theft of state property, premeditated murder, or rape.

109. Home videocassette of the Khujand demonstrations, May 1996.

110. Human Rights Watch interviews with family members and members of opposition parties, Khujand, September 24, 1997. U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1997.

111. According to the NRM's statement which later appeared in Charogi Ruz, some of the soldiers were masked.

112. Human Rights Watch interview with Zulaikho Umarova, April 2, 1998, Dushanbe.

113. Human Rights Watch interview with Avezov Furqat, April 14, 1998, Dushanbe.

114. Human Rights Watch interview with Onaoi Dodojonova, April 2, 1998, Dushanbe.

115. Human Rights Watch interview with Mukhabbat Akbarova, Onaoi Dodojonova, Zulaikho Umarova, Dushanbe, April 2, 1998.

116. A Khujand resident, who requested anonymity, explained that the basis for the accusation of Abdullaiev as having been behind the assassination attempt came about in the following way. When a dispute arose between Khurshed Abdushukurov (a.k.a. "Tyson") and Abdullaiev's neighbor, Abdullaiev agreed to speak with Khurshed to help settle the conflict. On this basis, reportedly, Abdullaiev was accused of concocting the assassination attempt. Human Rights Watch interview with Khujand resident, Khujand, August 27, 1997. Human Rights Watch was, however, unable to obtain further corroboration.

117. "Decision of the Judge of the Oktyabrskii Raion Court of Dushanbe, M.R. Makhmudov," August 22, 1997.

118. "Decision No. 38, S.M. Mustafokulov, Chairman of the Supreme Court," November 9, 1997.

119. Human Rights Watch telephone interview with family member, Tashkent, March 23, 1998.

120. Human Rights Watch interview, with G. Litvinovskaya, Dushanbe, April 15, 1998.

121. Vecherniye vesti, No. 45 (135), November 6, 1997. Abdullajonov emphatically denied that he and his movement were involved in the assasination attempt.

122. Human Rights Watch interview with Tolib Boboev, Isfara, August 28, 1997.

123. Human Rights Watch interview with Khabibullo Oripov, Khujand, August 27, 1997. In contrast to Oripov, Boboev stated that he had deliberately not exited Leninabad oblast in May 1997 in order that his absence not be construed as participation in the assassination attempt. Human Rights Watch interview with Boboev, Isfara, August 28, 1997.

124. U.S. Department of State, Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997; United Nations High Commisioner/Centre for Human Rights, Report of Human Rights Needs-Assesment Mission to Tajikistan, August 11, 1997. As an example of the sort of general censorship employed by the Tajikistan government, at the end of August, the Tajik-language weekly Istiklol was briefly denied permission to print at its regular government printing house following the publication of articles underscoring Islam as a factor for national unity and criticizing the government for not having all political forces in the peace agreement.

125. Members of the Commission on National Reconciliation have at various intervals asserted that the lack of objective and daily information about the peace process and the fluid political-military situation only reinforces the overall climate of instability and insecurity in the country. In mid-February 1998, the UTO accused the government of violating the General Agreement when it broadcast information in the national media on allegedly unconfirmed UTO killings of policemen and other criminal acts.

126. Human Rights Watch interview with Russian embassy official, Dushanbe, June, 1997.

127. Radio Free Liberty, May 23, 1997.

128. Human Rights Watch interview with NTV journalist, July 1997.

129. Human Rights Watch interview with an official of the Russian embassy, Dushanbe, June, 1997. Radio Liberty, May 23, 1997.