UPR Working Group, 39th session, 4 November 2021
This briefing is an update to HRW’s March 2021 submission to the Universal Periodic Review of Tajikistan.
Updates and Key Recommendations
In late April 2021, a border conflict between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan killed at least 41 people, injured hundreds, and displaced thousands. Following the August 2021 Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, Tajikistan has received thousands of refugees, with many more at the border. In September journalist and activist of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, Hikmatullo Sayfullzoda, sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2015, was attacked in the prison hospital. In October the Tajik parliament started consideration of amendments to the Criminal Code that would make penalties for illegal religious education, including online education, harsher with imprisonment of up to 3 years.
Harassment of Critics and Dissidents
Tajikistan’s authorities continue to harass and imprison government critics, opposition, foreign-based dissidents and their family members within the country.
In June the Khujand city court sentenced former member of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, Mirzo Hojimuhammad, also known as Mirzoqul Hojimatov, to 5 years in prison for “membership in a banned extremist organization.” Hojimuhammad had moved to Russia in 2019, having quit IRPT in 2015, and upon his return to Tajikistan in February 2021 was ordered not to leave the country. In May he was arrested. In March, migrant rights defender, Izzat Amon, was forcibly disappeared in Moscow during which time he was unlawfully transferred to Tajikistan. The human rights defender’s whereabouts were unknown for two days before the Ministry of Interior reported that he was being held in pre-trial detention in Tajikistan and facing charges of fraud, in connection to his human rights work in Russia. In a September court hearing the state prosecutor requested Amon be sentenced to 9 years in prison. Amon had previously criticized the Tajik authorities’ lack of support to Tajik migrants living in Russia.
- Implement the opinions of the Human Rights Committee and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on cases of Mahmadali Hayit, Buzurgmehr Yorov, Saidumar Husaini, Muhammadali Faiz-Muhammad, Rahmatulloi Rajab, Zubaidulloi Roziq, Vohidkhon Kosidinov, Kiyomiddin Avazov, Abduqahar Davlatov, Hikmatulloh Sayfullozoda, Sadidin Rustamov, Sharif Nabiev, and Abdusamat Ghayratov; release Hizbullo Shovalizoda, Rajabali Komilov, Mirzo Hojimuhammad and all other persons arbitrarily imprisoned on politically motivated charges.
- Stop harassing the family members of Tajik citizens living abroad and end the misuse of extradition mechanisms to return Tajik citizens to Tajkistan to face politically motivated harassment and persecution;
Freedom of Expression
In July 2017, the Tajik parliament passed amendments allowing security services to monitor individuals’ online activities, including by keeping records of mobile messages and social media comments. The government also continues to withhold accreditation from journalists working for foreign-funded mass media, such as Radio Ozodi, even though they qualify for accreditation under Tajik law. The government also continues to withhold accreditation of journalists working for foreign-funded mass media, such as Radio Ozodi, that would be appropriate under Tajik law
In June lawyer Abdulmajid Rizoev was sentenced to 5 and half years imprisonment for allegedly making “public calls for extremist activities using mass media or Internet” under Article 307 of the Criminal Code. Rizoev was detained in November 2020 and the first hearing on his case was in February 2021, where the prosecution argued his posts and reposts on Facebook were “extremist” nature. The publications questioned participation rates in the 2020 parliamentary elections and quoted classics from Tajik literature about wise and unwise governments.
As of October, Radio Ozodi reported that eight longstanding accreditation requests for its journalists were still awaiting a decision by the Foreign Ministry, and several staff members received accreditation only for a matter of months, contrary to the terms of Tajik legislation on media accreditation. Tajik security officers continue to intimidate Ozodi journalists at their workplaces and in their homes with threats of severe consequences should they continue working at the service.
- Rescind restrictions on the media, including the amendments that allow security services to monitor individuals’ online activities, and the July 2015 rule barring media from reporting news about government actions and policies without citing reports by the official state news agency Khovar;
- Revise the Penal Code to remove criminal sanctions for “insulting the president” or any government officials;
- Respect freedom of information, including on the internet, and tolerate all forms of legitimate speech, including criticism of the government and its policies;
- Release all journalists who have been arbitrarily imprisoned on politically motivated charges;
- Allow registration and accreditation to journalists associated with Radio Ozodi;
Freedom of Religion and Belief
Salafism, a fundamentalist strand of Islam, has been officially banned in Tajikistan since 2011 and authorities regularly arrest individuals for alleged membership in Salafi groups.
In June a closed-door trial of 18 suspected members of the Salafiya began, with scant information made public about the defendants or the charges they face. The defendants deny having links with the Salafi movement or any other religious extremist group, their relatives said. They accused police of torturing the detainees to obtain confessions. In July, 14 of the 18 defendants were sentenced to 5 and 5 and a half years in prison, the remaining four were convicted of not reporting a crime and sentenced to 1 year in prison.
In October the Tajik parliament started consideration of amendments to the Criminal Code on making penalties for illegal religious education, including online education, harsher, with imprisonment of up to 3 years. Previously this was punishable with an administrative fine of up to 72,000 somoni (around 6,000 USD) or prison term of up to 3 years for a repeat offence.
- Rescind laws curtailing the right of citizens to freedom of religion and belief, as well as the law prescribing acceptable dress codes.
- Rescind the Law on Countering Extremism and end restrictions of freedom of expression arising from the law.
- Ensure all detainees arrested under any laws enjoy and can enforce their right of access to a lawyer.
Violence at Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan Border
A two-day border conflict between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in late April – the worst in Central Asia in many years - killed over 40 people, most of them civilians, and injured hundreds. About 58,000 people in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan fled their homes or were evacuated. Dozens of houses and at least 3 schools were damaged or partially destroyed.
- Conduct a thorough and impartial investigation to ensure that those responsible for abuses are held responsible and brought to justice. Both countries have an obligation to investigate whether their own military forces violated the laws of war, including violations that resulted in civilian deaths and property destruction.
Prison Conditions and Torture in Custody
Physical and sexual violence against women by police officers in detention centers is reported to be widespread. In 2019 officers of the Vakhsh district police detained N.B., a 24-year-old woman, for two days on suspicion of theft. While in detention they physically and verbally abused her, injected her with a substance that temporarily paralyzed her, and raped her. To date N.B.’s official complaint remains under consideration, and two years later not a single police officer has been held to account.
In November 2018 and May 2019, prison riots in the cities of Khujand and Vahdat, respectively, resulted in the deaths of dozens of prisoners and some prison guards in circumstances that remain unclear.
- Publicly acknowledge the scope and gravity of torture in custody.
- Promptly, effectively and impartially investigate the riots and related context and circumstances that resulted in the death of dozens of prison inmates in November 2018 and May 2019, holding officials accountable for all violations of human rights such as the disproportionate or excessive use of lethal force.
- Ensure that thorough and impartial investigations are carried out into all deaths in custody as well as all allegations of torture and ill-treatment, and implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on Torture based on his 2012 and 2014 country visits.