Ahead of Tajikistan’s 20th independence anniversary on 9 September, President Emomali Rahmon sent a draft law to the country’s parliament on July 27, which would grant full amnesty or reduced terms for nearly 15,000 individuals serving prison sentences and awaiting legal proceedings in pre-trial detention. Over 8,500 may be released from jail under the proposed amnesty, which will extend to all female inmates, minors, convicts over the age of 55, disabled inmates, foreign nationals, veterans of the Soviet campaign in Afghanistan, military deserters, and those suffering from cancer, tuberculosis or other serious illnesses. Prisoners eligible for release will also include those sentenced for crimes of negligence, other offences punishable by jail terms not exceeding five years, and economic crimes if the convicts have fully repaid the financial losses they caused.
The amnesty will also extend to members of outlawed Islamic groups and political movements who were convicted of extremism and imprisoned for up to five years or have served three quarters of their terms. The amnesty will also pardon an unknown number of dissident Colonel Mahmud Khudoyberdiyev’s followers who did not recognize the conditions of the peace accord that ended the 1992-1997 civil war in the country and launched a rebellion against government forces in 1997, invading what is now the country’s northern region of Sughd from Uzbekistan a year later. Prisoners falling under this category will be freed if they have served most of their prison terms unless they were convicted of terrorism, murder, or other serious crimes.
In addition to those who will be freed from prison or pre-trial detention, all inmates in the country are expected to have their prison terms cut – except for those serving life sentences. The presidential press service has described the proposed “golden” amnesty as a “humane act which aims to facilitate the return of convicts to peaceful work, life and family environment, and contribute to their correction”.
The planned amnesty has been welcomed across Tajikistan’s political spectrum. Prominent Tajik cleric and Senator Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda, who served as a spiritual leader of the Tajik Islamic opposition during the civil war, said the amnesty announced in the run-up to the holy month of Ramadan (starting on August 1 in Tajikistan) is a “great act pleasing God.”
At the same time, some experts and opposition leaders have described the planned amnesty as incomplete because it does not apply to some individuals and major groups of prisoners. Prominent Tajik human rights activist Oynihol Bobonazarova said the draft amnesty law should also have provided for the release of prominent convicts, such as former Tajik interior minister Yaqub Salimov (sentenced to 15 years in 2004), former head of the opposition Democratic Party (DPT) Mahmadruzi Iskandarov (sentenced to 23 years in 2005), and former commander of the Tajik Presidential Guard Ghaffor Mirzoyev (serving a life sentence since 2006), as they had all “served the country in the past”. The three inmates were convicted by Tajik courts on a range of charges, including state treason and attempts to overthrow the government.
Turajonzoda also believes that the proposed amnesty should extend to Iskandarov, Mirzoyev and Salimov. In addition, the cleric argues that amnesty should be granted to “hundreds of supporters of the former United Tajik Opposition” who have been jailed or are wanted by the authorities despite the general amnesty declared as part of the 1997 peace accord. According to Saidumar Husayni, who serves as Deputy Chairman of the opposition Islamic Revival Party (IRPT) and represents the party in the lower chamber of Tajikistan’s parliament, up to 300 former opposition fighters are currently in prison. Husayni says the proposed amnesty is not likely to lead to their release.
Payam Foroughi, a Fellow at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Academy in Bishkek, suggests that it would be appropriate to include two former Guantanamo detainees, Rukhniddin Sharopov and Abdumuqit Vohidov, as part of the proposed amnesty. He considers it very likely that the two Tajik detainees were deceived into thinking that they were joining the national army in 2001, later flown by helicopter to Afghanistan without their consent, and then sold by Afghan militants to U.S. security agents for bounties of US$ 10,000-20,000 each. From 2002 to 2007, Sharopov and Vohidov were kept at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they had no access to an attorney, were interrogated by both U.S. and Tajik security agents and subsequently repatriated to Tajikistan, tortured into signing confessions and sentenced to lengthy prison terms by a court trial that was marred by serious due process violations.
Foroughi, along with Human Rights Watch and several American lawyers, claims that there is no evidence that either Sharopov or Vohidov engaged in any form of violence or fired a single bullet while in Afghanistan, and their only faults consisted of being young, naïve and “in the wrong place at the wrong time. After nine years of imprisonment in Afghanistan, Cuba and Tajikistan, it would be appropriate for them to be amnestied”, Foroughi says. That said, the chances of the two falling into the impending amnesty appear dim.
The amnesty bill must now be approved by both houses of parliament and signed by the president to become law, but given the rubberstamp nature of Tajikistan’s parliament, this is seen as a mere formality. The authorities have already set up a commission to implement the amnesty during the next three months. It is not expected that the commission’s work will be open to public oversight. Transparency could help prevent corruption which has been a major feature of Tajikistan’s judiciary and penitentiary systems. According to Fattoh Saidov, head of Tajikistan’s State Financial Control and Anticorruption Agency, almost all of the prisoners released under the amnesty in November 2009 had to pay bribes.
While the authorities do not publicize the number of inmates in Tajik prisons, unofficial estimates of the country’s prison population range from 11,000 to 13,000. Tajikistan has had 13 large-scale prison amnesties over the past 20 years. The most recent amnesty pardoned about 10,000 individuals in November 2009.
(By Alexander Sodiqov, August 3, 2011 issue of the CACI Analyst).