A statement released by Human Rights Watch, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia on June 7 notes that sentenced passed on leading members and activists of the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) followed an unfair trial initiated in retaliation for their peaceful political opposition and reflect the government’s pervasive manipulation of the justice system and egregious violations of the right to freedom of expression.
The human rights watchdogs called on the US, EU member states, and other international partners of Tajikistan to respond to the sentences with targeted punitive measures against Tajik officials unless concrete human rights improvements are made, including setting aside the opposition leaders’ convictions.
“If allowed to stand, these draconian sentences will not only strike a blow to Tajikistan’s peaceful opposition but to every Tajik citizen,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “These sentences show that anyone in Tajikistan any time can be labeled a criminal and punished simply for disagreeing with the government.”
The statement says that the trial, which began on February 24, was closed to observers and marked by serious violations of due process. Sources close to several of the defendants told Human Rights Watch that several defendants were subjected to torture or ill-treatment in pre-trial detention. Several lawyers who attempted to represent the IRPT leaders on trial, such as Buzurgmehr Yorov, were detained on trumped up charges. A lawyer who represented one of the defendants and was present in court throughout the trial told the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA) that the government presented no evidence of the defendants’ guilt, citing the allegations made in the indictments as established facts.
“The only purpose of this trial was to dress up political repression in the trappings of legal proceedings,” said Nadejda Atayeva, president of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia. “The defendants’ crimes appear to be fabricated, yet their fate was pre-determined. This is a travesty of justice.”
The United States, the European Union, and other key international actors should make unequivocal calls for the defendants’ release, Human Rights Watch, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia said. The international actors should press the Tajik government to uphold its international obligations to respect freedom of association, assembly, expression, and religion and impose targeted punitive measures, such as asset freezes and visa bans, on Tajik government officials responsible for imprisoning peaceful activists, torture, and other grave human rights violations.
“Tajikistan’s international partners should publicly and unanimously condemn this mockery of justice,” said Marius Fossum, Central Asia representative of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “Tajikistan’s human rights situation has been spiraling downward at a rapid pace and the time has come for Washington, Brussels, and all actors to examine the possibility of enacting targeted punitive measures unless immediate human rights improvements are made.”
We will recall that Tajik authorities began to arrest IRPT leading members and activists on September 16, 2015, accusing them of involvement in an alleged attempted coup earlier that month, purportedly by deputy defense minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda.
Days before the arrests, Tajik authorities formally banned the party, forcing its closure and later declared it a terrorist organization amid a long-running campaign to stamp out opposition political activity in the country and among activists abroad.