Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The law provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government restricted these rights.
Freedom of Expression: The authorities continued to curb freedom of speech through detentions, prosecutions, the threat of heavy fines, the passage of strict and overreaching slander legislation, and the forced closure of media outlets. By law a person may be imprisoned for as long as five years for insulting the president.
In 2016 the Parliament amended Article 137 of the Criminal Code providing for criminal responsibility for public insult or slander against the leader of the nation, including on the internet, for which an individual can go to jail for up to five years. In August the Khatlon Region court sentenced labor migrant Umar Murodov from Muminobod to five and a half years of imprisonment for “insulting and humiliating the president.” According to court documents, Murodov “liked” videos critical of the president on the Russian-language social media site Odnoklasniki, widely used among Tajik labor migrants in Russia. Law enforcement officers arrested Murodov on June 12 when he returned to the country from Moscow. On July 18, law enforcement officials told the media that while in Moscow, Murodov “liked” videos with calls for the violent overthrow of the government and insulted the head of state in the comments section of his Odnoklasniki page. In a conversation with Radio Ozodi in May, Murodov claimed that Muminobod authorities promised they would not arrest him should he return voluntarily.
Press and Media Freedom: Independent media faced significant and repeated government threats on media outlets. Although some print media published political commentary and investigatory material critical of the government, journalists observed that authorities considered certain topics off limits, including, among other matters, questions regarding financial improprieties of those close to the president, or content regarding the banned IRPT.
Several independent television and radio stations were available in a small portion of the country, but the government controlled most broadcasting transmission facilities. A decree issued by the government, “Guidelines for the Preparation of Television and Radio Programs,” stipulates that the government through a state broadcast committee has the right to “regulate and control the content of all television and radio networks regardless of their type of ownership.”
The government allowed some international media to operate and permitted rebroadcasts of Russian television and radio programs.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to face harassment and intimidation by government officials. Although the government decriminalized libel in 2012, state officials regularly filed defamation complaints against news outlets in retaliation for publishing stories critical of the government.
After eight months in detention, the government on August 22 released and reduced the charges against independent journalist Khairullo Mirsaidov. Mirsaidov was sentenced on June 11 to 12 years in a high-security penal colony, after the Khujand city court found him guilty of “embezzlement of public funds,” “forgery of documents,” and “dissemination of false information.” Criminal charges were filed against Mirsaidov in December 2017, soon after he publicly accused government officials from the local Department of Youth and Sports of soliciting a bribe. The original charges included “inciting ethnic and religious hatred,” a charge that was later dropped. The severe nature of the charges and their timing created concern that authorities were punishing Mirsaidov for his whistleblower activities.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists regularly practiced self-censorship to avoid retribution from officials. Opposition politicians had limited or no access to state-run television. The government gave opposition parties minimal broadcast time to express their political views, while the president’s party had numerous opportunities to broadcast its messages.
Newspaper publishers reported the government exercised restrictions on the distribution of materials, requiring all newspapers and magazines with circulations exceeding 99 recipients to register with the Ministry of Culture. The government continued to control all major printing presses and the supply of newsprint. Independent community radio stations continued to experience registration and licensing delays that prevented them from broadcasting. The government restricted issuance of licenses to new stations, in part through an excessively complex application process. The National Committee on Television and Radio, a government organization that directly manages television and radio stations in the country, must approve and then provide licenses to new stations. The government continued to deny the BBC a renewal of its license to broadcast on FM radio.
Libel/Slander Laws: In 2012 the government repealed the law criminalizing libel and defamation and downgraded the offenses to civil violations, although the law retains controversial provisions that make publicly insulting the president an offense punishable by a fine or up to five years in jail. Nevertheless, libel judgments were common, particularly against newspapers critical of the government.
Individuals and groups faced extensive government surveillance of internet activity, including emails, and often self-censored their views while posting on the internet. Authorities blocked some critical websites and news portals, and used temporary full blackouts of internet services and messaging to suppress criticism.
According to a World Bank report issued in June 2017, 17 percent of the population used the internet regularly.
There were new and continuing government restrictions on access to internet websites, such as Facebook, YouTube, Google, Google services, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, although some of the restrictions were lifted during the year. Independent and opposition news agencies and websites located outside of the country have been blocked by the government for several years. The State Communications Service, the official communications regulator, routinely denied involvement in blocking these sites, but the government admitted to periodically implementing a law that allows interruption of internet content and telecommunications “in the interest of national security.” The government continued to implement a 2015 law enabling the GKNB to shut off internet and telecommunications during security operations.
In 2017 the Majlisi Milli, the upper house of parliament, passed a law giving law enforcement bodies the right to track citizens using the internet. According to the new bill, the security agencies can monitor internet traffic and have access to information regarding which internet sites citizens visit and the type of information they seek. On June 13, the lower house of the parliament adopted amendments to the Criminal Code, making those who use the “like” or “share” function on social media regarding “terrorism” and “extremism-related” topics subject to up to 15 years in jail. Members of Parliament amended article 179 that said, “Public calls for the commission of terrorist crimes and (or) publicly justifying terrorist activities,” adding “via the internet” to the second part of this article.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The Ministry of Education maintained a dress code that bans wearing the hijab in schools and government institutions. Authorities allowed women to wear a traditional version of the head covering–a scarf that covers hair but not the neck–to schools and universities. Some female students wore the hijab to and from school but removed it upon entering the school building. Parents and school officials appeared to accept this arrangement. The ministry also maintained its ban on beards for all teachers. Students with beards reported being removed from class, questioned, and asked to shave. A Ministry of Education decree obliges all female teachers, university students, and schoolchildren to wear traditional dress, during the academic year.
Government authorities increased the urgency of their effort to dissuade citizens from wearing “foreign clothing,” primarily focused on the hijab, which covers the hair, ears, and neck. According to media reports, the government’s Committee on Women and Family Affairs, in cooperation with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, conducted informational campaigns, or “raids,” in public areas against women wearing the hijab, threatening those who refused to remove their hijab with a 1,000 somoni ($115) fine and six months imprisonment. In addressing these media reports, the ministry denied that such measures existed and claimed the government was conducting a public campaign to promote national culture and clothing.
A Ministry of Education directive requires school administrators to inform students of the Law on Parental Responsibility, which bans all persons under age 18 from participating in public religious activities, with the exception of funerals. The law provides that, with written parental consent, minors between the ages of seven and 18 may obtain a religious education during their free time from school and outside the state education curriculum and may worship as part of educational activities at religious institutions.
The government requires all persons studying religion abroad to register with the Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA), Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The law provides criminal penalties for violating restrictions on sending citizens abroad for religious education, preaching and teaching religious doctrines, and establishing ties with religious groups abroad without CRA consent.
The Ministry of Education banned students from attending events sponsored by or conducted for foreign organizations during school hours. On February 28, the Ministry of Education reportedly issued a new regulation that requires the ministry’s approval for all students to study abroad and for ministry employees who wish to travel internationally for any educational purpose.
On April 22, the Communications Service, without explanation, reportedly blocked internet access and sealed the office of the Tajik Academic Research and Educational Network Users Association’s, which consists of more than 20 research institutes and more than 30 universities.
There were several reports throughout the year that academics writing on sensitive subjects regarding politics, religion, and history feared publishing or even submitting their articles for review because to possible government retribution.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association through requirements to obtain permission from local governments and through frequent inspections by various government agencies.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The constitution provides the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government required that individuals obtain permission from the government to stage public demonstrations. Individuals considering the staging of peaceful protests reportedly chose not to do so for fear of government reprisal.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution protects freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. As in the previous year, civil society organizations reported a noticeable increase in the number and intensity of registration and tax inspections by authorities. The government continued to enforce the ban on activities held under the banner of the IRPT. As a result of a 2016 constitutional referendum, nonsecular political parties became illegal.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at http://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of foreign travel, emigration, repatriation, but the government imposed some restrictions. According to Article 14 of the constitution, restrictions on the rights and freedoms of a person and a citizen are allowed only for ensuring the rights and freedoms of others, public order, protecting the foundations of the constitutional order, state security, national defense, public morality, public health, and the territorial integrity of the republic.
The government rarely cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, or other persons.
In-country Movement: The government prohibits foreigners, except diplomats and international aid workers, from traveling within a 15-mile zone along the borders with Afghanistan and China in the Khatlon Region and the Gorno-Badakhsan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) unless they obtain permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Officials did not always enforce the restrictions along the western border with Afghanistan, although the government continued to require travelers (including international workers and diplomats) to obtain special permits to visit the GBAO. The government also continued to enforce a policy barring Afghan refugees from residing in urban areas.
Foreign Travel: Individuals in some cases do not have the right to leave the country without arbitrary restrictions. Authorities reportedly confiscated the passports of Ibrohim Tillozoda, the critically ill four-year-old grandson of exiled IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri, and his mother, prohibiting Tillozoda, who has life-threatening stage-3 testicular cancer and whose treatment is beyond the scope of local doctors, to seek medical treatment abroad. The deputy head of the border control office in Dushanbe told media on July 26 that there were no restrictions on the family members’ departure and claimed that none of them applied for passports or permission to leave. Following criticism of this statement, Tillozoda received his passport and flew to Turkey August 2. On August 4, Fatima Davlyatova, the 10-year-old daughter of human rights activist Shabnam Khudoydodova, was forced off a flight headed to Europe with her grandmother and uncle, and informed she was banned from travelling abroad. Khudoydodova, a member of the banned human rights organization Group 24, has been in exile since 2015. On August 11, after facing international criticism, the GKNB contacted Davlyatova, her grandmother and her uncle stating there was a misunderstanding with their documents, gave them new flight tickets and allowed to travel to Almaty to reunite with her Khudoydodova.
The government abused international law enforcement mechanisms, such as Interpol Red Notices, in an attempt to locate and repatriate into its prison system local dissidents living abroad. Such dissidents are detained on the basis of politically motivated extremism charges. In June IRPT spokesman Bobojon Qayumzod was reportedly detained by Czech police at the Czech-German border because his name was on a list of persons banned from entering the Czech Republic. Police kept him in custody for a day before releasing him. On August 4, Polish authorities detained IRPT member Mahmadi Teshaev based on an Interpol Red Notice. A Polish court released him on August 10 due to the political background of his case. Media reported that Numonjon Sharipov, a senior IRPT representative, was flown from Istanbul by Tajik diplomatic staff and forcibly handed over to the Tajik government by Turkish authorities. According to the IRPT’s official website, Payom, Sharipov was detained on February 4 by Turkish law enforcement officers on suspicion of violating migration laws. His lawyers said that Turkish migration officials told them on February 16 that their client would be allowed to leave for a third country some days later. On February 19, however, the lawyers were informed that Sharipov had already left the country, with an unnamed witness saying that Sharipov was taken to the airport in a car belonging to the Tajik consulate.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Refoulement: The government in some cases forced asylum seekers or refugees to return to countries where they may face persecution or torture. There were 13 refugee families who continued to be at risk of penalty and deportation. The UNHCR office in Dushanbe has not been notified of any new deportation cases since the beginning of the year. The deportees included refugees whose status was revoked based on violation of the law prohibiting such persons from residing in urban areas as well as cumbersome preconditions that preclude a claimant from registering as a refugee. The cases of revoked status were under appeal in court with the support of UNHCR. The deportations took place despite the incomplete appeal processes. In some cases there was risk of refoulement.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Nevertheless, the process for making asylum status determinations remained uncertain and lacked transparency, and administrative and judicial procedures did not comply with international standards. Although not required by law, government officials required refugees and asylum seekers to obtain a visa and a valid travel document before entering the country. Government officials detained and deported individuals not in possession of a visa without due process.
The government processed asylum applications through the National Refugee Status Determination Commission and granted applicants documents to regularize their stay and prevent deportation. Formal notifications of administrative and legal decisions provided little insight into the rationale for adjudications. In some instances, when denying claimants refugee status, officials cited, in broad terms, a lack of evidence of persecution in the refugee’s home country or “malpractice” on the part of refugees applying to renew their status, such as violation of the prohibition of living in big cities, including in Dushanbe. Unofficially, some refugees claimed authorities could deny cases if sufficiently high bribes were not paid.
The government continued to place significant restrictions on claimants, and officials continued to enforce a law decreed in 2000 prohibiting asylum seekers and refugees from residing in the capital and all major cities in the country. Security officials regularly monitored refugee populations. Asylum seekers and refugees regularly reported to UNHCR that security officials harassed them, often for allegedly lacking personal identification, and attempted to extort money. Police subjected them to raids if they were believed to be residing in prohibited areas.
During the year increased government scrutiny of persons living in areas annexed to Dushanbe, coupled with the retroactive application of Government Resolution 325, a law that prohibits refugees from living in major urban areas including Dushanbe, led to a significant increase in administrative cases brought against refugees.
The law stipulates that refugee status be granted for as long as three years. Since 2009 the Department of Citizenship and Works with Refugees, under the Passport Registration Services within the Ministry of Internal Affairs, has had responsibility for refugee issues. Refugees must reregister yearly to receive an extension of refugee status. According to government statistics, the country had 2,647 registered refugees, 99 percent of whom were Afghan. An additional 167 asylum seekers, mostly Afghan, still have their refugee status determination process pending.
Freedom of Movement: Refugees are not permitted to live in major urban areas, including Dushanbe, according to Government Resolution 325, restricting their ability to find work and go to school.
Access to Basic Services: Refugees and asylum seekers are legally entitled to education and health services alongside local citizens. The Ministry of Education allowed Afghan parents to send their children to local schools without paying fees. UNHCR partners provided books, school uniforms, and some language classes to these children. The law provides registered refugees with equal access to law enforcement, health care, and the judicial system, although in practice refugees did not always have equal access. Vulnerable refugee families received assistance with medical expenses. Refugees were subjected to harassment and extortion. In such situations UNHCR’s legal assistance partner assisted clients in obtaining judicial redress while providing training and awareness-raising sessions to local authorities to strengthen their understanding of refugee rights.
Durable Solutions: Following the amended Constitutional Law on Nationality adopted in 2015, the government removed provisions for expedited naturalization, leaving refugees on equal standing with nonrefugee foreigners when applying for citizenship.
In April 2017 the government adopted by-laws to the 2015 Constitutional Law on Nationality that provide practical guidance on its implementation. Since the nationality law outlines only a general framework on citizenship issues, there was a need to clarify procedures for applicants and government officials. The by-laws’ implementing regulations set clear guidance on required documents to be submitted, mandate responsibilities for each government agency accepting and processing those documents, create a decision-making mechanism and authority on nationality-related issues, outline responsibilities of government agencies to provide within a specific time frame information on decisions made, and describe the rights of applicants to appeal to courts decisions and actions of government agencies. The adopted by-laws are designed to provide a more transparent and effective process of nationality-related cases as well as an overall greater effectiveness in reduction of statelessness in the country.
The government, UNHCR, and NGO partners continued to implement a project to identify and find solutions for stateless persons and persons with undetermined nationality in three pilot provinces of the country (Khatlon, Soghd, and Districts of Republican Subordination). From the project’s inception in November 2017 until June 30, 31,107 persons falling under UNHCR’s statelessness mandate, including former USSR citizens with undetermined nationality, were registered in the three target regions. Solutions were found for 23,524 persons, both adults and children, who had their nationalities confirmed with local authorities. Some registered individuals, however, struggled to achieve a durable solution because they lived in remote areas and lacked the financial means to pay for transportation and fees associated with confirming their citizenship. As a result, a total of 4,226 individuals residing in remote districts in the three separate pilot areas were assisted in covering their legal fees and the administrative costs associated with nationality confirmation.