a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year.
On April 10, Muhriddin Gadozoda died in the police department in Vahdat District. In its official statement the Ministry of Internal Affairs announced that Gadozoda jumped from a third-floor window and was promptly taken to a local hospital where he died from his injuries. Gadozoda’s relatives dispute this account. They said that Gadozoda was summoned to the police department and his body was handed over to this family later that day. They alleged his body did not show any signs of broken bones but showed clear signs of torture. The Ministry of Internal Affairs has not responded to the family’s claims.
There were several reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. The government took no action this year in response to the preliminary findings of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, which visited the country in 2019 for a general inspection. Following its visit, the Working Group noted “little interest” on the part of the government in addressing violations, including enforced disappearances that occurred during the 1992-97 civil war, and noted reports of some political opponents whose whereabouts were still unknown after being forcibly returned to the country.
In January, 16 Tajik citizens were detained after returning from Moldova. On January 11, representatives from Moldova’s Ministry of Internal Affairs said the citizens were accused of violating Moldova’s immigration laws and decided to return voluntarily to Tajikistan. The 16 individuals have not been seen since their return.
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 to define torture in accordance with international law. According to the 2019 UN Human Rights Committee (OHCHR) concluding observations, there were reports of beatings, torture, and other forms of coercion to extract confessions during interrogations. While authorities took some limited steps to hold perpetrators accountable, reports of torture and mistreatment of prisoners continued, and a culture of impunity and corruption weakened investigations and prosecutions. In some cases judges dismissed defendants’ allegations of abuse during their pretrial detention hearings or trials. Officials did not grant sufficient access to information to allow human rights organizations to investigate claims of torture.
During the first six months of the year, the Coalition against Torture and Impunity (CAT), a group of local nongovernmental organizations (NGO), documented 14 new cases of mistreatment with some victims alleging severe physical abuse. Of these complaints, 11 were against the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
On March 16, the Military Court of Dushanbe ordered the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Committee for National Security to pay the family of Komil Khojanazarov, who committed suicide after being tortured by officers of security agencies in 2017, compensation in the amount of 5,000 somoni ($444). Khojanazarov, arrested in 2017 for his involvement with the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), recorded a video message in August of that year, saying that he was tortured by police and national security officers during his arrest and subsequent detention. Gulmira Khotamova, Khojanazarov’s wife, filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Committee for National Security in December 2020 and demanded compensation in the amount of 280,000 somoni ($24,889). The CAT said that the amount of compensation awarded by the military court is negligible and does not correspond to the harm caused to his family.
On April 6, Imomali Idibegov, a labor migrant who allegedly pledged alliance to ISIS via social media while living in Russia from 2015-17, was arrested and subsequently confessed his affiliation with ISIS on national television. In an interview with RFE/RL’s Tajik language news outlet Radio Ozodi, Dilbar Ghanieva, Idibegov’s wife, alleged that his confession was given under duress. She said she was summoned to the police department the week after her husband’s arrest and that police used the threat of her detention to coerce her husband into a confession. Dushanbe police said Russian authorities opened a criminal case against Idibegov on charges of terrorism, and his name is on a wanted list.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and life-threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions. In October, 40 inmates in a newly constructed prison just outside of Dushanbe were in critical condition after drinking contaminated water from a cistern that prison officials allegedly knew was not fully functional.
Physical Conditions: As of August, the total official prison population was approximately 8,000 but is almost certainly much larger. As a part of the country’s 30th anniversary of independence celebrations in September, the government announced a “Golden Amnesty” in which 16,000 prisoners reportedly were released.
Gross overcrowding was a problem, with almost all prisons exceeding their maximum population limits. Access and quality of food, potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care are inadequate, with almost all prisoners needing supplemental food brought by relatives and friends for survival. Men and women are held in separate facilities with no known differences in prison conditions. On July 13, the Ministry of Justice reported that in the first half of the year, 41 prisoners died from various diseases. The ministry reported that within the prison population, there were 213 HIV-positive inmates, 85 inmates with tuberculosis, and 244 drug-addicted inmates. On September 8, the penitentiary system health department reported that 7,959 prisoners had received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 2,700 had received both doses.
Penal Reform International, an organization conducting prison reform work with regional representation out of Kazakhstan, in a 2019 report described the conditions in the women’s prison as frigid in the winter, with only intermittent electricity and heat, and insufficient food for inmates and staff. Disease and hunger were serious problems. The 2019 OHCHR concluding observations found concerning levels of tuberculosis and HIV in prisons. Authorities often held juvenile boys with adult men.
Administration: The Office of the Ombudsman conducted prison visits throughout the year but resolved fewer than 2 percent of complaints filed related to torture or other abuse. NGOs reported mistrust of the ombudsman due to the office’s loyalty to the president and frequent dismissal of human rights concerns.
Independent Monitoring: The Ministry of Justice continued to restrict access to prisons or detention facilities for representatives of the international community. Since 2004 the International Committee of the Red Cross has not had access to prisons due to the absence of an agreement with the government. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime visited several prisons during the year as a part of a program to identify best practices for the detention of foreign terrorist fighters.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
Arbitrary arrests were common, and the law does not prohibit the practice. The law states that police must prepare a detention report and inform the prosecutor’s office of an arrest within 12 hours and file charges within 10 days. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court but use of this provision was limited. 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. Human rights activists reported incidents of forced military conscription, including of persons who should have been exempted from service.
The 14-year-old son of Mahmadzarif Saidov, a member of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), continues to be held by court order at a school for children who “engage in misconduct” and has not been allowed to see his family since his original entry to the school in November 2019. Saidov’s son is one of 10 teenagers and young adults who returned to the country from a Bangladeshi madrassa in 2019. The Ministry of Education and Science said the teenagers did not go to high school and must stay in the school so they can adapt to normal life in the country. Saidov, who currently lives in Europe, said his son is essentially being held hostage.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law provides that police may detain a suspect for up to 12 hours before authorities must decide whether to open a criminal case against the individual. 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 even if ones were filed. If police file criminal charges, they may detain an individual for 72 hours before they must present their charges to a judge for an indictment hearing. Judges are empowered to order detention, house arrest, or bail pending trial.
According to law family members are allowed access to prisoners after indictment, but prisoners are often denied access to visitors. 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. According to Human Rights Watch, the country has arbitrarily detained and imprisoned more than 150 individuals on politically motivated charges since 2015.
The Minister of Internal Affairs reported that 143 individuals were arrested in the first six months of the year on charges of membership in banned, terrorist, or extremist organizations. According to the ministry, 23 of those arrested are members of opposition-affiliated organizations such as Group 24, IRPT, and the National Alliance of Tajikistan.
In December 2020 Zulfikor Odinaev, nephew of the imprisoned Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan (SDPT) Deputy Chairman Mahmurod Odinaev, was released from a temporary detention center in Hissor after spending 15 days there on charges of “hooliganism,” media reported. Zulfikor’s relatives told reporters no formal charges were brought against him, he was not provided with a lawyer, and he was banned from speaking to the media while in detention. Odinaev has declined to release any public statements since his release.
On April 21, the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) arrested five residents of Vahdat city and Dushanbe’s Rudaki district on suspicion of association with the Salafi movement, which is banned in the country. Relatives of the detained individuals denied the allegations. One of the detainees was Abdulhaq Obidov, imam and khatib (prayer leader) of the Imomi Azam mosque in Shohmansur district of Dushanbe. The Committee on Religious Affairs denied reports in opposition media based abroad that Obidov’s arrest was connected to his April 21 eulogy in honor of the late Domullo Hikmatullo Tojikobodi. In his eulogy, Obidov reportedly referred to Tojikobodi as one of the “great leaders” of the country, which was interpreted as calling into question President Rahmon’s title of “leader of the nation.”
Abdulmajid Rizoev, a well known lawyer, was sentenced on June 14 to five and a half years in prison on extremism charges stemming from his Facebook posts that had “indirect calls to extremism.” Many experts believe his arrest was related to his work defending Dushanbe residents from forced evictions during the city’s redevelopment.
Pretrial Detention: Defense lawyers 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 could extend as long as 15 months. Law enforcement officials must request an extension from a judge to detain an individual in pretrial detention after two, six, and 12 months. According to the OHCHR concluding observations, authorities tortured defendants in pretrial detention in attempts to extract confessions.
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 of their detention. Despite such rights to challenge detention, a decrease in the number of lawyers licensed to take on criminal cases and the general apprehension with which lawyers take on sensitive cases limited the exercise of this right for those arrested on charges suspected to be politically motivated.
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. According to numerous observers, police and judicial officials regularly accepted bribes in exchange for lenient sentencing or release. During a research mission on the independence of the judiciary in May 2020, the International Commission of Jurists noted that judicial decisions are rarely provided to the public and are typically given only to the proceedings’ participants.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and for the presumption of innocence by defendants, but these guarantees often were not honored in practice. Approximately 99 percent of defendants were eventually found guilty. The International Commission of Jurists noted acquittals were extremely rare. The government labeled most human rights-related cases as sensitive, allowing them to hold trials in a classified setting. Access to courts was a serious issue throughout the year.
Although the law requires that defendants be informed of the criminal charges against them within 10 days, in practice they were not always promptly informed or granted a trial without undue delay. Courts generally allowed defendants to be present at their trial and to consult with an attorney during the trial, but defendants often were denied access to an attorney during the pretrial and investigatory periods, particularly in politically sensitive cases. Authorities continued to file politically motivated criminal charges against some defense lawyers to obstruct detained political opposition figures’ access to legal counsel and to dissuade other lawyers from taking on similar cases.
The government provides attorneys at public expense when requested, but defendants and civil society members complained that the government sometimes appointed attorneys 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. The number of lawyers accepting criminal defense cases in the country was little more than 500. International observers found many criminal cases in which defendants did not have legal representation. Criminal defendants enjoy the legal right to prepare their defense, but this right was often infringed.
Defendants may present witnesses and evidence at trial with the consent of the judge. Defendants and attorneys have the right to confront and question witnesses and to present evidence and testimony. Courts provide interpreters for defendants who do not speak Tajik, the official language used for court hearings. No groups are barred from testifying and, in principle, all testimony receives equal consideration. Local legislation allows criminal defendants not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants also have 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 were public, the law also provides for secret trials when there is a national security concern. Cases including a charge of “extremism” are considered to fall under this category, making most trials of human rights activists closed to the public. Civil society members faced difficulties in gaining access to high-profile public cases, which the government often declared secret.
On April 9, the Supreme Court issued its verdict in the high-profile case of more than 100 alleged Muslim Brotherhood members, a trial that had been continuing behind closed doors since July 2020. Radio Ozodi reported that according to a source close to the trial, the court found the suspects guilty of financing crimes of a terrorist nature and making public calls to carry out extremist activities, and membership in an extremist organization. According to the source, the court identified Egyptian national Muhammad Bayumi, a professor at Tajik National University, as the leader of the group and sentenced him to 23 years in prison. A second Egyptian citizen, a professor of Arabic at the same university, received a seven-year sentence, while Ismoil Qahhorov, from a prominent Tajik religious and political family, received a 15 years’ sentence.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
Opposition parties and local and international observers reported the government selectively arrested and prosecuted political opponents. Although there was no reliable estimate of the number of political prisoners, in 2018, the most recent year from which data is available, the government reported 239 prisoners who were members of banned political parties or movements. The government did not permit access to political prisoners by human rights or humanitarian organizations.
On January 28, a Rudaki District court sentenced deputy chairman of the opposition Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan (SDPT) Mahmurod Odinaev to 14 years in prison on charges of hooliganism and public calls for extremist activity. The judge, Saikabir Jalilzoda, cited Odinaev’s social media postings as evidence that he “incited” the public to extremism. According to Radio Ozodi, Odinaev denied the accusations throughout the trial and said the verdict had convinced him there was no justice in the country. Shortly before the sentencing, Odinaev told a reporter that authorities tried to coerce him into testifying against SDPT Leader Rahmatillo Zoirov. Relatives had previously alleged to Radio Ozodi that authorities tortured Odinaev during pretrial detention and that he suffered damage to his spine. In October authorities reduced Odinaev’s 14-year sentence by three years despite his refusal to submit a formal request, as part of the prisoner amnesty marking 30 years of independence.
Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country
The government pursued the forced return of citizens including through harassment, threats of violence, and the misuse of international law enforcement tools.
Extraterritorial Killing, Kidnapping, Forced Returns, or Other Violence or Threats of Violence: On March 27, police detained Izzat Amon (Izzatullo Kholov), head of the Center for Tajiks in Moscow, at the Dushanbe airport after he was deported from Russia for allegedly violating Russian immigration law. Officially, he was charged with fraud in the amount of more than $9,000. According to the General Prosecutor’s Office, 12 individuals wrote complaints against Amon and claimed that in the period from 2014 to 2020 they paid him for services that were never rendered. After his March arrest, he was held in pretrial detention at the request of the courts. On October 19, Dushanbe City Court sentenced Amon to nine years in prison. Activists and supporters of Amon assert that he is being punished for his criticism of the country’s government, particularly on the issue of labor rights. On March 25, the day of his deportation from Russia, Amon published a prerecorded video on his YouTube channel claiming that he could be imprisoned for criticizing the authorities. He further explained that he had been a Russian citizen since 1996, but his passport had been cancelled, paving the way for his deportation.
Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: Bakhtovar Jumaev, a Moscow-based Tajik lawyer, reportedly was pursued by Tajik authorities in Russia. On June 24, Jumaev told Radio Ozodi that his father had been informed by the Panjakent Organized Crime Department that they had opened criminal proceedings against Jumaev for inciting “extremist activity,” but did not include specifics. Jumaev, who said his family had previously received calls demanding his return, left Russia for a third country after he received credible information that Russian authorities planned to deport him.
Misuse of International Law-enforcement Tools: During the year, there were credible reports of misuse of international law enforcement tools, such as law enforcement systems (for example, INTERPOL red notices), for politically motivated reprisals against specific individuals located outside the country. The government used INTERPOL notices in attempts to locate and forcibly repatriate dissidents targeted by the government. The Central Bank keeps a public list of more than 2,400 names of suspected terrorists as defined by authorities. The list also includes names of opposition journalists and activists. According to an RFE/RL report from October 2019, six journalists and opposition activists living in self-exile in Europe publicly demanded the bank remove their names from the list. Other dissidents were frequently harassed or detained on politically motivated charges of extremism. As of July, the government had placed 72 Muslim Brotherhood members on the international wanted list.
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 provided a separate room for children linked to the courtroom by video camera. Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts or through administrative mechanisms.
Property Seizure and Restitution
In December 2020 Guldasta Salimova, widow of Junaidullo Umarov, a commander in the Union of Opposition Forces of Tajikistan during the civil war who died in an alleged coup attempt in 2015, told Radio Ozodi that the authorities seized her home, an action believed to be politically motivated. In a letter from the State Committee for Investments and State Property Management of Tajikistan sent to the Rudaki district court in March 2020, the committee said that the house is the property of Umarov, meaning Salimova and her children are illegally occupying the house. The authorities say that they confiscated Umarov’s house in the village of Nilkon, in the Rudaki District, by court order. Salimova, however, said that her house was registered in 1961 in her mother’s name, that she inherited the house from her, and the house never belonged to her husband.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
While the constitution and laws generally prohibit many of these actions, there were numerous reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
The constitution states the home is inviolable. With certain exceptions, it is illegal to enter a home by force or deprive a person of a home. The law states 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. The law states courts must be notified of such searches within 24 hours. Police frequently ignored these laws and infringed on citizens’ right to privacy, including conducting personal searches without a warrant.
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 only a judge may authorize monitoring of telephone or other communication. Security offices often monitored communications, such as social media and telephone calls, without judicial authorization.
According to the law, government authorities can punish family members for offenses committed by their relatives, such as if an underage child commits an offense. There were continuing reports that relatives of perceived government critics in exile were harassed or targeted by local authorities inside the country.
On April 2, Fayzabad District Court sentenced in absentia Saymuddin Dustov, the former editorial head of the newspaper Nigoh and founder of the news agency TojNews who currently resides in Poland, to seven years of imprisonment for “public calls to carry out extremist activities and justification of extremism.” Dustov’s 72-year-old father and four neighbours were taken from their homes to the Fayzabad District Court to witness the trial and were forced to hand over their mobile phones. After the hearing Dustov’s father reportedly talked to the judge in private and the judge reportedly said that all the charges against Dustov would be dropped if Dustov returned to the country. Law enforcement officials also reportedly threatened that Dustov’s younger brothers would face criminal charges unless Dustov returned to the country.