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Tajikistan

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

While the law prohibits extrajudicial killings by government security forces, there were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

On May 19, security officers from the State Committee on National Security in Sughd Region detained a 37-year-old resident of Tursunzoda District, Uktamjon Igamov, on extremism charges. On May 28, he was transferred from the detention center of the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) of Sughd region to Khujand prison. On June 2, Igamov died while in detention in the city prison, allegedly as a result of ill-treatment by law enforcement officials. The cause of death, according to medical examiners, was esophageal and liver failure. Uktamjon Igamov was ill with hepatitis B and was in need of access to medication and medical attention. According to his lawyer, authorities did not provide Igamov proper care, instead mistreating him while he was in custody. His lawyer filed two applications with the regional prosecutor’s office to investigate the cause of Igamov’s death, but at year’s end there was no official response.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances during the year.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution prohibits the use of torture. Although the government amended the criminal code in 2012 to add a separate article that defines torture in accordance with international law, there were reports of beatings, torture, and other forms of coercion to extract confessions during interrogations. Officials did not grant sufficient access to information to allow human rights organizations to investigate claims of torture.

On August 4, according to his relatives, Ramazon Zabirov, an 18-year-old recruit with the Border Troops military unit in northern Zafarabad district in Sughd Region, died as a result of beatings by older recruits. Muhammadjon Ulughojaev, a spokesman for the Tajik Border Guards, told Radio Ozodi on August 10 that his office would provide detailed information on the incident after receiving the results of a forensic examination. According to a Radio Ozodi interview given by Zabirov’s mother, Mavluda Tagoeva, there were signs of torture on her son’s body, including bruises on his chin and head. Tagoeva said that she would ask the Prosecutor General’s Office to bring charges against those responsible for her son’s death. The Office for Civil Liberties, an NGO that protects the rights of conscripts, provided a lawyer for the Zabirov family.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Physical Conditions: The government operated 10 prisons, including one for women, and 12 pretrial detention facilities. Exact conditions in the prisons remained unknown, but detainees and inmates described harsh and life-threatening conditions, including extreme overcrowding and unsanitary conditions. Penal Reform International, an organization conducting prison reform work with regional representation out of Kazakhstan, described the conditions in the women’s prison as frigid in the winter with only intermittent electricity and heat, and a lack of food provisions for inmates and staff alike. Disease and hunger were serious problems. UN agencies reported that infection rates of tuberculosis and HIV in prisons were significant and the quality of medical treatment was poor. Authorities often held juvenile boys with adult men.

Administration: A government Office of the Ombudsman exists, and its ombudsman visited prisons but resolved fewer than 2 percent of filed complaints. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported mistrust of the ombudsman due to the office’s loyalty to the president and frequent dismissal of public human rights concerns. A special monitoring group with ombudsmen and NGO representatives conducted announced monitoring visits of prison conditions. No known complaints were filed regarding specific prison conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The Ministry of Justice continued to restrict access to prisons or detention facilities for representatives of the international community. Throughout the year the Coalition against Torture–an association of local NGOs–and the human rights ombudsman conducted planned visits of closed institutions, although officials denied Coalition against Torture monitors access when they attempted unannounced monitoring visits, private interviews with detainees, or access to internal correctional institution documents. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) continued to lack access due to the absence of a prison access agreement with the government.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law does not explicitly prohibit arbitrary arrests, which were common. The law states that police must inform the Prosecutor’s Office of an arrest within 12 hours and file charges within 10 days. Few citizens were aware of their right to appeal an arrest, and there were few checks on the power of police and military officers to detain individuals.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Internal Affairs, Drug Control Agency (DCA), Agency on State Financial Control and the Fight against Corruption (Anticorruption Agency), State Committee for National Security (GKNB), State Tax Committee, and Customs Service share civilian law enforcement responsibilities. The Ministry of Internal Affairs is primarily responsible for public order and manages the police. The DCA, Anticorruption Agency, and State Tax Committee have mandates to investigate specific crimes and report to the president. The GKNB is responsible for intelligence gathering, controls the Border Service, and investigates cases linked to alleged extremist political or religious activity, trafficking in persons, and politically sensitive cases. The Customs Service reports directly to the president. The Prosecutor General’s Office oversees the criminal investigations that these agencies conduct.

Agency responsibilities overlap significantly, and law enforcement organizations defer to the GKNB. Law enforcement agencies were not effective in investigating organized criminal gangs, because the gangs maintained high-level connections with government officials and security agencies. A tacit understanding among law enforcement that certain individuals were untouchable prevented investigations.

Official impunity continued to be a serious problem. While authorities took some limited steps to hold perpetrators accountable, reports of torture and mistreatment of prisoners continued, and the culture of impunity and corruption weakened investigations and prosecutions. In some cases, during pretrial detention hearings or trials judges dismissed defendants’ allegations of abuse and torture during detention. Victims of police abuse may submit a formal complaint in writing to the officer’s superior or the Office of the Ombudsman. Most victims reportedly chose to remain silent rather than risk official retaliation. The Office of the Ombudsman made few efforts to respond to complaints about human rights violations and rarely intervened, claiming that the office did not have the power to make statements or recommendations regarding criminal cases.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

According to the law, police may detain an individual up to 12 hours before authorities must file criminal charges. If authorities do not file charges after 12 hours, the individual must be released, but police often did not inform detainees of the arrest charges. If police file criminal charges, they may detain an individual 72 hours before they must present their charges to a judge for an indictment hearing. The judge is empowered to order detention, house arrest, or bail pending trial.

According to the law, family members are allowed access to prisoners after indictment, but officials often denied access to attorneys and family members. The law states that a lawyer is entitled to be present at interrogations at the request of the detainee or lawyer, but in many cases, authorities did not permit lawyers timely access to their clients, and initial interrogations occurred without them. Detainees suspected of crimes related to national security or extremism were held for extended periods without being formally charged.

Arbitrary Arrest: The government generally provided a rationale for arrests, but detainees and civil society groups frequently reported that authorities falsified charges or inflated minor incidents to make politically motivated arrests.

On August 22, the General Prosecutor’s office detained Jamshed Yorov, the brother of jailed human rights lawyer, Buzurgmehr Yorov. Authorities accused Yorov of leaking the Supreme Court’s decision in the secret trial of 13 members of the Islamic Revival Party (IRPT) to an opposition website. Yorov’s relatives told RFE/RL on August 29 that the Dushanbe city court ordered that he be detained for two months while he awaited trial for disclosing the documents. Civil society activists reportedly believed the charges were false and were intended to prevent Yorov from leaving the country or defending his brother, who was arrested on fraud, “conspiracy to extremism,” and “revolution” charges after he agreed to represent Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) Deputy Chairman, Mahmadali Hayit. As a part of a general amnesty in September, authorities released Jamshed Yorov.

Some police and judicial officials regularly accepted bribes in exchange for lenient sentencing or release. Law enforcement officials must request an extension from a judge to detain an individual in pretrial detention after two, six, and 12 months.

Pretrial Detention: Defense advocates alleged that prosecutors often held suspects for lengthy periods and registered the initial arrest only when the suspect was ready to confess. In most cases pretrial detention lasted from one to three months, but it could extend as long as 15 months.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of charge, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. Despite such rights to challenge detention, however, the decrease in the number of lawyers licensed to take on criminal cases and the general apprehension with which lawyers take on sensitive cases limit the use of this entitlement for those arrested on cases suspected to be politically motivated.

Amnesty: On September 10, Zarafo Rahmoni, IRPT member convicted in connection to the September 2015 attacks on a police station and the Dushanbe airport was granted amnesty by presidential decree on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the country’s independence.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the executive branch exerted pressure on prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges. Corruption and inefficiency were significant problems.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Defendants legally are afforded a presumption of innocence, but the presumption did not exist in practice. The courts found nearly all defendants guilty. During the first six months of the year, there were eight acquittals in 6,406 cases. Authorities imposed 10 life sentences during the first half of the year.

Defendants were not always promptly informed of the criminal charges against them or granted a trial without undue delay. Courts generally allowed defendants to be present at their trial and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner during trials but often denied defendants the right to an attorney during the pretrial and investigatory periods, particularly in politically sensitive cases. Authorities leveled politically motivated criminal charges against some defense lawyers to obstruct detained political opposition figures’ access to legal counsel and dissuade other lawyers from taking the cases.

On September 29, 2015, authorities arrested Buzurgmehr Yorov, a defense lawyer representing several IRPT members. Authorities accused Yorov of committing large-scale fraud and forgery in business dealings from 2010. Human rights activists and international observers claimed the authorities fabricated the charges to block his defense of the IRPT members and discourage other lawyers from taking the case. On October 15, the General Prosecutor’s Office announced it was reclassifying Yorov’s case as secret. From May 5 to July 15, Yorov was on trial in the Firdavsi Dushanbe City Court. Although authorities claimed the trial would be open to the public, and allowed international observers to witness the initial hearing, the court subsequently closed the trial to all outside observers except Yorov’s immediate family members. Yorov was also charged with inciting regional and religious enmity, public calls for forcible overthrow of the constitutional order of the country, and public calls for carrying out extremist activity. During the year authorities leveled new charges against him in order to extend his sentence. A final decision was not made in the case before the end of the year.

The government provided attorneys at public expense when requested, but defendants and civil society complained that the government sometimes appointed attorneys as a means to deny defendants’ access to the legal counsel of their choice. Defendants and private attorneys said government-appointed attorneys often provided a poor and counterproductive defense. In addition, due to changes in the law on advocates and the establishment of a legal bar, all lawyers were required to retake the bar exam by June 26 in order to renew their licenses. Many lawyers were unable to take the exam in time, in part because there were a limited number of locations offering the exam. Moreover, the government abolished a grandfather clause that would have allowed experienced lawyers to continue to practice. As a result, the number of lawyers accepting criminal defense cases in the country shrunk from approximately 2,000 to only 532. International observers of court cases stated that there were criminal cases in which defendants did not have legal representation.

Defendants may present witnesses and evidence at trial with the consent of the judge. Defendants and attorneys have the right to review all government evidence, confront and question witnesses, and present evidence and testimony, although some defense lawyers claimed the government denied them access to evidential materials collected against their clients. No groups are barred from testifying, and in principle, all testimony receives equal consideration. Courts, however, generally gave prosecutorial testimony far greater consideration than defense testimony. The law extends the rights of defendants in trial procedures to all citizens, and it provides for the right to appeal.

Low wages for judges and prosecutors left them vulnerable to bribery, a common practice. Government officials subjected judges to political influence.

Although most trials are public, the law also provides for secret trials when there is a national security concern. Civil society members faced difficulties in gaining access to high-profile public cases, which the government often declared secret. During the year, the government conducted politically motivated court cases behind closed doors. On February 9, the supreme court began hearing the cases of 13 leading members of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT). The trial was held behind closed doors, as it was classified “secret.” The charges against the arrested IRPT members were based on confessions believed by civil society and human rights activists as well as family members of the detained IRPT members to have been obtained under duress. Major international human rights organizations and foreign governments raised concerns over the court hearings, which they alleged failed to ensure due process protections.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

While authorities claimed there were no political prisoners or politically motivated arrests, opposition parties and local and international observers reported the government selectively arrested and prosecuted political opponents. There was no reliable estimate of the number of political prisoners.

On June 2, the Supreme Court sentenced 13 members of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) to long-term prison sentences for their alleged role in supporting a series of armed attacks led by former Deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda in Dushanbe and surrounding regions in September 2015, despite lack of credible evidence. The court delivered life sentences to deputy party heads Saidumar Husaini and Mahmadali Hayit. Eleven other high-ranking IRPT activists were sentenced to jail terms ranging from 14 to 28 years. Zarafo Rahmoni, the only woman among those convicted, was sentenced to two years in prison. She was subsequently amnestied and released on September 10, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the country’s independence. The relatives of the defendants said the defendants pleaded not guilty and asked for lenient sentences. While the government maintained that the convictions are not politically motivated, human rights activists and international human rights groups alleged that the government’s intent was to eliminate the IRPT by connecting them to the violent uprising in September 2015.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Civil cases are heard in general civil courts, economic courts, and military courts. Judges may order monetary compensation for victims in criminal cases. No separate juvenile justice system exists, although there were some courts that provide a separate room for children linked to the courtroom by video camera.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution states that the home is inviolable. With certain exceptions, it is illegal to enter the home by force or deprive a person of a home. The law states that police may not enter and search a private home without the approval of a judge. Authorities may carry out searches without a prosecutor’s authorization in exceptional cases, “where there is an actual risk that the object searched for and subject to seizure may cause a possible delay in discovering it, be lost, damaged, or used for criminal purposes, or a fugitive may escape.” The law states that courts must be notified of such searches within 24 hours. Police frequently ignored these laws and infringed on citizens’ right to privacy, including personal searches without a warrant.

On November 8, the lower house and upper house of parliament passed amendments to the law on National Security Agencies that increases the power of the State Committee on National Security. Experts state that the President will sign the amendments into law. Under the amendments, security service agents are able to enter homes of private citizens without a warrant or permission in “exceptional cases” involving extremism. According to legal experts, the definition of exceptional cases is taken very broadly, and might allow for a “catch all” that could allow security forces to enter a home for any reason.

According to the law, “when sufficient grounds exist to believe that information, documents, or objects that are relevant to the criminal case may be contained in letters, telegrams, radiograms, packages, parcels, or other mail and telegraph correspondence, they may be intercepted” with a warrant issued by a judge. The law states that only a judge may authorize monitoring of telephone or other communication. Security offices often monitored communications, such as social media and phone calls, without judicial authorization.

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