(Washington, DC) – The Tajik government is arresting, imprisoning, and torturing members of the country’s peaceful political opposition, Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee said today. The government is also targeting perceived critics abroad, seeking their detention and extradition back to Tajikistan, and has forcibly disappeared critics abroad only to have them reappear in Tajik custody.
Tajikistan’s deteriorating human rights situation worsened dramatically in the last year with the forced closure of Tajikistan’s leading opposition party, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) in September 2015. In March, an opposition figure, Umarali Kuvvatov, was shot dead in Istanbul in circumstances that point to involvement or acquiescence by the Tajik government.
“Tajikistan is in the midst of the worst political and religious crackdown since the end of the country’s civil war, with hundreds of people landing behind bars for no other reason than their peaceful political work,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Tajikistan’s human rights crisis is expanding by the day, but the response of Washington, Brussels, and other international partners has fallen seriously short.”
Recent research by Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee uncovered a wide-ranging campaign by Tajik authorities to detain, imprison, and silence peaceful opposition activists and perceived critics at home and abroad. Dushanbe has sought the detention and forcible return to Tajikistan of peaceful political activists in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia, Turkey, and elsewhere.
Since a wave of arrests that began on September 16, Tajik and other observers, including the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, estimate that Tajik police and security services have arrested hundreds of members of the Islamic Renaissance Party on politically motivated charges. A major trial of 16 senior party leaders began on February 9, 2016.
In December 2015, Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee interviewed 30 political activists and their relatives in Moldova and Turkey. Earlier, the organizations conducted research in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and phone interviews with activists in Germany. The groups found a range of egregious violations during the crackdown.
In addition to Kuvvatov’s killing, another activist, Maksud Ibragimov, was stabbed, forcibly disappeared in Russia, returned to Tajikistan, and sentenced to 17 years in prison. Two others have been forcibly disappeared – in Russia and Tajikistan – and 10 others detained abroad on extradition requests by Tajik authorities in Russia, Belarus, Moldova, and elsewhere. At least 20 peaceful activists have already been imprisoned, with sentences ranging from three to 29 years. Some 200 members of the IRPT have been arrested, while others and their relatives are under house arrest. Five lawyers have been detained, and others harassed.
Tajikistan should immediately and unconditionally release everyone imprisoned on politically motivated charges, Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee said. It should also allow the Renaissance Party, Group 24, and other peaceful opposition groups to operate freely and exercise the freedoms of assembly, association, expression, and religion, in accordance with international human rights norms and Tajikistan’s constitution.
Tajik authorities should ensure all detainees and prisoners their due process rights, including access to counsel of their choosing and visits with relatives. Tajik authorities should also meaningfully investigate all allegations of torture and enforced disappearances, including disclosing the whereabouts of those forcibly disappeared. Tajik authorities should also immediately stop persecuting lawyers who seek to represent opposition members.
While the US, European Union, and other international actors have expressed concern about some aspects of the crackdown, the international response has been largely muted. These actors should publicly and privately press the Tajik government to end its crackdown on political opposition parties and enact targeted measures, including visa bans against Tajik officials if there is no improvement. They should further use Tajikistan’s upcoming review by the UN Human Rights Council on May 6, to raise strong concerns on the crackdown, putting authorities on notice that further measures could be taken in case the situation continues to worsen.
The US government should also designate Tajikistan a “country of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), for its systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious and political freedoms without further delay, the organizations said. Such a designation by the Obama administration would send a strong message to the Tajik government that its crackdown should end immediately, and would afford the executive branch with the authority to enact a broad range of targeted measures, including curtailing all aid not related to humanitarian programs, such as military assistance, and banning visits to the US by Tajik officials deemed to be participating in severe human rights abuses.
“Tajikistan’s opposition and the lawyers who represent it are under attack. The time for mere statements of concern has long passed,” said Marius Fossum, Norwegian Helsinki Committee regional representative in Central Asia. “Now is when Tajikistan’s international partners, including the US and EU, should send President Emomali Rahmon a clear message: repression will no longer be cost-free.”
For further background and reporting on Tajikistan’s political crackdown, please see below.
Activists Targeted Abroad
The Tajik government has aggressively targeted numerous peaceful political activists living abroad, seeking their extradition, with Tajik authorities implicated in enforced disappearances, torture, and at least one extrajudicial killing. When returned, activists received lengthy prison sentences on politically motivated charges. Those targeted are largely members of now outlawed peaceful opposition parties but also include ordinary citizens who have criticized the government or President Rahmon on social media. Tajik security services, operating alongside local authorities abroad and sometimes using private citizens, have targeted activists and perceived critics in Russia, Turkey, Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.
Kuvvatov, a former businessman with ties to President Rahmon’s family, founded the opposition movement “Group 24” in spring 2011, to seek democratic reforms. The group also accused the Rahmon government and ruling elite of systematic corruption. Largely made up of activists and migrants living outside the country, it gained popularity with a younger generation of supporters by using social media, television appearances, Internet radio discussions, and YouTube videos to disseminate its calls for reform, democratic protest, and criticism of the government. Beginning as a clandestine group of 24 activists, Group 24 became widely known in mid-2012 after a news conference and a series of TV appearances on the opposition TV channel K+ in Moscow, organized by Kuvvatov.
In October 2014, Group 24 earned authorities’ wrath by calling over social media for mass, peaceful demonstrations in Dushanbe, the capital, on October 10. In response, authorities blocked up to 300 various websites, according to media reports; shut down all SMS/texting services over several days; and placed large numbers of police in central Dushanbe. Tajikistan’s prosecutor general issued a statement accusing Group 24 of plotting a coup, causing mass disorder, and spreading extremist materials. On the day before the planned protest, Tajikistan’s Supreme Court ruled Group 24 was a terrorist organization, making membership or association with the party a criminal offense.
Internal Affairs Minister Ramazon Rakhimzoda confirmed authorities’ attempts to track down Group 24 members abroad in January 2015, saying that several party members had been detained in Russia and were facing extradition. In interviews with Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee between September and December 2015, Group 24 activists described a sustained campaign by Tajik authorities in various countries to have them detained and extradited to Tajikistan, to face prosecution and imprisonment. They said that police and security services in Tajikistan were systematically summoning their relatives in the country for questioning, and sometimes threatening them with prosecution. Some Group 24 activists said Tajik security services had attempted to kidnap or kill them.
Killing of Umarali Kuvvatov in Turkey
In 2012, Kuvvatov left Tajikistan for Russia. In Moscow, he frequently criticized President Rahmon on television. Fearing Tajik security services would attempt to forcibly return him to Tajikistan, he relocated to Dubai later that year. In December 2012, he was arrested there on a Tajik extradition request.
After he spent 10 months in detention, United Arab Emirates authorities pardoned Kuvvatov and he relocated to Kazakhstan and then Kyrgyzstan seeking refuge. But in 2013, Kuvvatov told Human Rights Watch that Tajik security services, with the cooperation of local informants, had made several attempts to kidnap him in both countries, and he subsequently fled to Istanbul, where he sought asylum with the United Nations refugee agency.
In December 2014, Turkish police detained Kuvvatov for alleged visa violations. Tajikistan submitted a formal extradition request in January 2015, charging him with extremism, fraud, and hostage-taking. Kuvvatov maintained that the charges were retaliation for his peaceful opposition activities. He was released on February 3.
On March 5, Sulaimon Kayumov, a Tajik citizen living in Istanbul, invited Kuvvatov, his wife, Qumrinisso, and their two sons to dinner. Qumrinisso Kuvvatova told Human Rights Watch that shortly after the meal, Kuvvatov and the whole family started feeling ill. Suspecting they had been poisoned, the family quickly got up to leave. When they reached the street, an unknown assailant shot Kuvvatov in the back of the head, killing him instantly.
Kuvvatov’s wife and two sons were hospitalized and diagnosed with food poisoning. The Istanbul-based Council of Forensic Medicine later confirmed that clozapine – a drug ordinarily used to treat schizophrenia – was found in Kuvvatov’s blood and stated that the findings supported a theory that Kuvvatov and his family had been poisoned. Turkish and Tajik media reported that Kayumov had arrived in Turkey only two weeks before the murder and after the murder immediately fled to Almaty, Kazakhstan, where he was denied entry and was immediately returned by Kazakh authorities to Istanbul, where he is currently on trial for the murder. While the prosecutor is seeking a life sentence, observers close to the trial told Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee that they fear the prosecution has stalled the case due to political pressure from Dushanbe. Six other Tajik citizens were indicted for Kuvvatov’s murder, but Kayumov is the only one currently on trial.
Activists told Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee that Kuvvatov feared attempts on his life and that he told Turkish police that President Rahmon was planning to have him killed because of Kuvvatov’s knowledge of the president’s “secret dealings.” Kuvvatov had told Human Rights Watch that he had unsuccessfully requested protection and the services of a bodyguard from Turkish authorities.
These and other circumstances of the shooting, combined with sustained efforts by Tajik authorities over three years to detain him in various countries, support the claim of many observers that Kuvvatov’s killers were acting on orders from or with the approval of Dushanbe.
Following Kuvvatov’s death, Group 24 members elected Sharofiddin Gadoev, Kuvvatov’s cousin, as the group’s new leader, and Sobir Valiev, a former businessman, as Gadoev’s deputy. Tajik authorities have sought the extradition of both men, from Spain and Moldova, respectively.
Detention of Sobir Valiev in Moldova
Sobir Valiev, who was also deputy head of the newly formed Congress of Constructive Forces of Tajikistan, another peaceful opposition group, was detained on August 11, 2015, at the request of the Tajik government, by Moldovan migration police in Chisinau. Tajik authorities are pursuing Valiev’s extradition on extremism charges that appear politically motivated. Valiev, 28, told Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee that Tajik police and security services began pursuing him and harassing his family members in Dushanbe in 2014, after he began publicly criticizing the Tajik government and calling for democratic reforms via YouTube videos and other Internet platforms such as Internet-based radio service Zello, a direct-messaging service popular among many Tajiks.
On March 14, after Valiev became deputy head of Group 24, representatives of Tajikistan’s Internal Affairs Ministry tried to summon him for an interrogation in Dushanbe, although he was already living outside the country. Within the next few days, unidentified people sprayed the word “traitor” on the walls of Valiev’s family home. Fearing further persecution, Valiev’s family fled to Turkey.
Valiev’s father and wife told Human Rights Watch that in late 2014 and early 2015, Tajikistan’s security services interrogated them on several occasions in Dushanbe, threatening “serious consequences” if Valiev did not return to Tajikistan. At the time, Valiev, who had acquired Kyrgyz citizenship, was living in Kyrgyzstan and frequently traveling to Turkey for business.
Tajik authorities have charged Valiev with “public calls for carrying out extremist activity” (article 307(1)(2)) and “organizing an extremist community” (article 307(2)(1)) of Tajikistan’s criminal code – charges they have used in a number of cases that appear politically motivated.
After appeals from Human Rights Watch, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and Moldova-based organizations, Moldovan authorities released Valiev from detention, but the extradition request is still pending. Valiev’s wife’s relatives, who live in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, told Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee that Kyrgyz authorities summoned them for interrogation in January 2016, and told them they will have “serious problems” unless Valiev and his wife return to either Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan and “surrender.”
Seeking the Extradition of Shabnam Khudoydodova in Belarus
On July 15, 2015, Belarusian authorities detained Shabnam Khudoydodova, a peaceful Tajik activist and Group 24 member, in the city of Brest, Belarus. Khudoydodova, who lived in St. Petersburg, had called for democratic reforms in Tajikistan in a series of online posts. After learning on July 12 that Tajik authorities might be preparing to forcibly return her to Tajikistan, she fled to Belarus, planning to go to Poland to apply for asylum. She was detained after Polish border guards refused her entry. Tajik authorities have charged her with extremism and are seeking her extradition. She remains detained in Belarus.
Disappearance of Ehson Odinaev in Russia
On May 19, 2015, Ehson Odinaev, 24, an outspoken critic of the Tajik government, left his apartment in Russia and has not been seen since. He was also a member of Group 24 and Youth of Tajikistan for Revival (YRT) and very active in social media, under the nickname “Sarfarozi Olamafruz.” Several months earlier, Tajik authorities had declared him wanted on charges of unspecified “cybercrimes,” registering his case with Interpol. For several months before his disappearance, he told friends and family that he was under surveillance and noticed that he was sometimes followed.
After his disappearance, Odinaev’s brother discovered that his brother’s apartment in Novosibirsk contained bugging devices. Odinaev’s relatives have repeatedly reported his disappearance to Russian and Tajik authorities but have been unable to get any information regarding his whereabouts. They fear he was forcibly disappeared by Tajik authorities, returned to Tajikistan, and is being held incommunicado there or has been killed. Fearing persecution themselves, Odinaev’s mother and brother fled Russia in January to Moldova, where they plan to seek asylum status with the UN refugee agency.
Imprisonment of Umedjon Salikhov
On March 4, 2015, a Dushanbe court sentenced Umedjon Salikhov to 17 years and six months in prison on various extremism charges. He had agreed to return to Tajikistan from Russia after Tajik security services threatened to prosecute his relatives in Tajikistan and was detained immediately on his arrival to the Dushanbe airport in October 2014. During the trial, prosecutor Abdulfattokhi Khabib alleged Salikhov had distributed extremist materials via social media, including on Odnoklassniki, a Russian social networking site, Facebook, and YouTube, in which he called on young people in Tajikistan to join Group 24. The prosecution also accused him of the crime of insulting the president, by stating that President Rahmon had sold Tajik land to China and should resign.
Salikhov has denied membership in Group 24 and maintains his innocence. He was represented by a human rights lawyer, Buzurgmehr Yorov, who was himself recently imprisoned in connection with the political crackdown. Judge Khotam Rajabzoda found Salikhov guilty of anti-constitutional activity (article 307.1), organizing an “extremist organization” (article 307.2a), organizing a “criminal community” (article 187.1), and public insult of the president (article 137.2).
Imprisonment of Firdavs Mukhiddinov and Farhod Karimov
Ten days after Salikhov’s conviction, judge Rajabzoda, presiding over the same Dushanbe court, sentenced Firdavs Mukhiddinov, 25, and Farhod Karimov, 20, to 16 years and six months each in prison on various extremism charges. Activists told Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee that Karimov, who denied membership in Group 24, had confessed only to possessing an “insulting” photograph of President Rahmon on his computer, which he said he had received from a former classmate. Mukhiddinov’s parents said that he had been working in Russia and participated on one occasion in a Group 24-organized demonstration in Novosibirsk. Authorities arrested him upon his return to Tajikistan. The court found the defendants guilty of anti-constitutional activity (articles 307.1 and 307.3), organizing an “extremist organization” (article 307.2a), and of organizing a “criminal community” (article 187.1).
Imprisonment of Mukhammadrizoi Shamszoda and Makhmadali Jobirov
On April 8, 2015, a Dushanbe court sentenced Mukhammadrizoi Shamszoda and Makhmadali Jobirov to three years and six months each on charges of membership in Group 24 and possession of Group 24 materials. Judge Safarbek Nuralizoda, who presided over the court, highlighted in his ruling Jobirov’s alleged active role in disseminating Group 24 materials online, allegedly encouraging young people to join the party, and his close association with Group 24 leader Umarali Kuvvatov in Moscow. The prosecution also accused Shamszoda of possessing Group 24 materials. The two were sentenced for anti-constitutional activity (article 307.3).
Imprisonment of Shamshullo Rakhimov
Group 24 activists told Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee that a Dushanbe court sentenced 23-year-old Shamshullo Rakhimov to eight years and six months on October 13, 2015, immediately after he agreed to return voluntarily to Tajikistan from Moscow. Like other activists, Rakhimov had joined Group 24 while living in Russia. The court sentenced him on charges of participating in illegal demonstrations, calling for “mass disorder” in Tajikistan, and distribution of photographic and video material allegedly calling for a violent overthrow of the government. He was also convicted of insulting the president.
Imprisonment of Ilhomiddin Aliev
In a similar case, on October 29, 2015, a Dushanbe court sentenced Ilhomiddin Aliev to three years on charges of anti-constitutional activity (article 307.3) for expressing support for Group 24 on social media, including exchanging audio, video, and photographic material online. Aliev was arrested after returning from St. Petersburg, where he had worked as a migrant laborer.
Imprisonment of Ilhomiddin Allanazarov
Also in October 2015, a court in southern Khatlon province sentenced Ilhomiddin Allanazarov to three years for cooperating with Group 24 on the basis of statements he had made during live meetings on the Internet-based radio service Zello. At his trial, Allanazarov confessed to participating in the online meetings.
Persecution of “Youth for the Revival of Tajikistan”
Tajik authorities have also pursued charges against activists from a group known as the Youth for the Revival of Tajikistan (YRT), which is mainly based in Russia. The group is separate from Group 24, but Tajik authorities have often considered them the same organization. Tajikistan’s Supreme Court declared the group an extremist organization in October 2014.
Stabbing, Abduction, and Imprisonment of Maksud Ibragimov
On July 24, 2015, a Dushanbe court sentenced Maksud Ibragimov, a peaceful youth activist and the YRT leader, to 17 years on charges of extremism following a deeply flawed trial. He is a Russian citizen and had lived in Moscow for more than 10 years. He was detained in Russia in October 2014, on a Tajik extradition request, but then released. In November 2014, unidentified assailants stabbed him six times on a Moscow street.
Colleagues of Nematullo (aka Hakikatparvar) Kurbonov, a YRT activist, told Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee that he disappeared after returning to Tajikistan from Russia on or around October 10, 2014. He had been charged with anti-constitutional activity (article 307). Activists believe that he was forcibly disappeared by Tajik authorities and may be in a detention facility, although his whereabouts remain unknown.
Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee have learned that Russian migration officials also detained Sokhibnazar Abdunazarov and Mekhrubon Sattarov, both YRT activists, in Moscow in December 2014 under Tajik extradition requests detailing charges of anti-constitutional activity (art. 307.3) solely for their membership of YRT. They were held for a year by Russian migration authorities, released on January 21, 2016, and then re-arrested within days, ostensibly for violating migration regulations. Both are in detention in Moscow.
On November 12, 2014, police in Moscow arrested Abdurakhim Vosiev, a YRT activist on a Tajik extradition request. Tajik authorities charged him with founding an “extremist community” (article 307) and making calls to “mass disorder and the violent seizure of power” (article 307.1). Fellow activists told Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee that the accusations are retaliation for participating in peaceful demonstrations in Russia that were critical of the Tajik government. While he has been released following 12 months of detention, he still faces the possibility of extradition.
In December 2014, Russian migration officials in Novosibirsk arrested Oyatullo Gilyaev and Roziya Abdurakhmonova, YRT activists, on Tajik extradition requests. The two had participated in peaceful protests organized by Group 24 in Novosibirsk. Both remain in detention in Russia.
Criminalizing Domestic Opposition
Following a long and harsh government-orchestrated campaign over many years, the government sought decisively to suppress the activities of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), the country’s leading opposition party, in the period leading up to Tajikistan’s parliamentary elections in March 2015. The party is the second largest in Tajikistan, with an estimated 43,000 supporters, and had been the only Islamic political party ever legally registered in Central Asia. Under the 1997 peace deal that ended Tajikistan’s civil war, the IRPT, the political heir to the United Tajik Opposition, was guaranteed 30 percent of government posts. But over the past two decades, President Rahmon has effectively marginalized the party and the wider political opposition through a series of laws curtailing political and religious freedoms and a campaign of outright harassment of party members.
In one case, Umedjon Tojiev, an IRPT member, threw himself out a third-floor window of a police station in the northern city of Isfara on November 2, 2013, after being tortured to incriminate himself in crimes of extremism, various human rights organizations and media reported. He died from his injuries on January 20, 2014.
In the March 2015 elections, for the first time since the 1997 peace deal, authorities prevented the IRPT from winning any seats in parliament. Monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said the vote was marred by ballot-stuffing and government intimidation.
In August, the Justice Ministry revoked the IRPT’s status as a national party, effectively making its activities illegal. Following clashes on September 4 between government forces and militants loyal to Tajikistan’s deputy defense minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda that left at least 17 fighters and nine police officers dead, authorities arrested dozens of senior IRPT leaders, accusing them of involvement in the violence, despite a clear lack of evidence. Nazarzoda was killed in a special operation on September 16.
Beginning on September 16, Tajik authorities detained dozens of IRPT members, allegedly to “prevent new terrorist acts and…crimes of an extremist nature.” They also accused the party of involvement in a violent attack on a police station and weapons depot that began on September 4. In late September, Tajikistan’s Supreme Court declared the IRPT a terrorist organization – as it had done nearly a year earlier to the exiled opposition parties Group 24 and Youth for the Revival of Tajikistan. A closed trial of 17 senior IRPT leaders on extremism charges, including Umarali Husaynov, Zarafo Rahmoni, Mahmadali Hayit, and Rahmatullo Rajab, began on February 9, 2016.
Detention and Torture of Umarali Husaynov
Umarali Husaynov (also known as Saidumar Khusaini), the party chairman, who had served two terms in parliament, was among those arrested on September 16, 2015. On September 28, a lawyer for Husaynov, Buzurgmehr Yorov, who was arrested shortly thereafter, stated in an interview that officers from the Police Unit for Combating Organized Crime had tortured his client in detention. Zaynab Husaynova, Umarali’s daughter, told Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee:
Police from the department responsible for fighting terrorism placed a bag on my father’s head when they arrested him and then beat him. His interrogators offered him the post of a government minister or to be Dushanbe’s deputy mayor if he would agree to publicly renounce the IRPT, but he refused.
Husaynova said that authorities tried to arrest several of Husaynov’s relatives, including herself. “I hid for ten days after my father’s arrest before fleeing the country,” she said. “Now, each time I call home to speak with my family [from abroad], authorities come by the house afterward and interrogate my mother.” Other relatives, she reported, have been fired from their jobs and given large fines on the pretext of trumped up administrative violations.
Detention of Zarafo Rahmoni
Zarafo Rahmoni, 44, the party’s legal advisor, was also arrested on September 16. The only woman known to be among the IRPT members arrested since mid-September, Rahmoni is a well-known lawyer and political figure who frequently represented the IRPT at domestic and international conferences.
Rahmoni's sister, Guldasta Khojaeva, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik Service that Rahmoni has been suffering from a heart condition and kidney ailment since her arrest. Her family has sent letters to the heads of the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) and the prosecutor general’s office urging them to transfer her to a hospital. The prosecutor general’s office has insisted it did not receive the letter and is unaware of any health problems affecting Rahmoni.
Rahmoni has been charged with affiliation with a criminal organization and inciting religious, racial, and interethnic hatred (article 189). She denies the charges. Rahmoni is in a GKNB detention facility in Dushanbe.
Detention and Torture of Mahmadali Hayit and Rahmatullo Rajab
Others arrested on September 16 include Mahmadali Hayit, the IRPT deputy chairman, and Rahmatullo Rajab, a senior IRPT party member. IRPT activists told Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee that both have been tortured at the GKNB’s detention facility in Dushanbe. One lawyer reported that when he visited, he saw Hayit in torn clothes. In April 2013, Hayit was savagely beaten by two unidentified assailants outside his home.
Imprisonment, Torture, and Harassment of Muhiddin Kabiri’s Relatives
In its September 17, 2015 statement, Tajikistan’s prosecutor general accused Muhiddin Kabiri, chairman of the IRPT now living abroad, of direct involvement in the violent clashes in September between government forces and men loyal to Deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda. The statement alleges that Kabiri ordered Nazarzoda to instigate armed attacks on government structures and that, acting on orders from Kabiri, Nazarzoda had organized more than “20 illegal groups” in recent years. Kabiri and other party officials have repeatedly publicly rejected accusations that the party was involved with or supported the alleged mutiny by the deputy defense minister and say that Nazarzoda has never been a party member and has had nothing to do with the party.
Fearing prosecution on bogus charges, Kabiri went into self-imposed exile in Turkey in June 2015. Following the September events and informed by Turkish authorities they could not guarantee his safety, Kabiri fled to Western Europe, where he has had to frequently change locations and hide his whereabouts. In Kabiri’s absence, Tajik authorities have systematically targeted his relatives still in Tajikistan, repeatedly arbitrarily detaining and interrogating them about Kabiri and the party. The government has confiscated much of Kabiri’s and his relatives’ property and prevented his relatives from leaving the country.
On December 15, the day Kabiri was scheduled to give an online public presentation about the situation of his party at a Washington, DC, event organized by Freedom House, authorities came to the home of Kabiri’s 95-year-old father and detained him with seven other family members. They were forced to record videos denouncing Kabiri that were later placed on YouTube. At least four of Kabiri’s male relatives – Rustam Imomov, Hikmatullo Saifov, Mahmad Rahmatulloev, and Jamshed Narziloev – have been detained since September on various politically motivated pretexts. Some have been subjected to torture or ill-treatment.
Kabiri told Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee that he learned in early February 2016 that one of his relatives, Rustam Imomov, arrested on September 16, 2015, and held in a GKNB detention facility, had been sentenced to 17 years in prison on various extremism charges. Kabiri said that Imomov was brutally beaten in detention, but agreed to sign a false confession on extremism charges after interrogators detained his wife and threatened to rape her in front of him.
On October 21, GKNB officers detained Hikmatullo Saifov, Kabiri’s driver and distant relative, and tortured him for several hours to get him to allege that Kabiri had been involved in the alleged mutiny by Nazarzoda. IRPT activists reported that interrogators applied pressure with their hands to the spot on Saifov’s torso where his appendix been removed two months earlier, causing excruciating pain. An IRPT activist who witnessed the incident and was later released said that the repeated pressure led to a rupture in his wound and resulted in Saifov’s hospitalization at a military facility. He is now in a GKNB detention facility.
Kabiri and his relatives in Istanbul have also received threats and have been subject to surveillance outside their home and the school attended by Kabiri’s grandchildren. Russian authorities have detained Kabiri’s nephew’s family and other relatives living in Russia at the request of Tajik authorities.
Imprisonment of other IRPT activists
On February 8, 2016, Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee learned from various sources that at least eight IRPT activists, including Imomov, have been convicted on various extremism charges. They include Zayniddin Yusupov (sentenced to 10 years in prison), Asomiddin Abdurakhmanov (10 years), Tavakkal Boboev (18 years), Umarsho Davlatov (15 years), Mahmadali Islomov (five years), and Zavkibek Rahmonov (four years).