On May 8, the chairman of the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) Muhiddin Kabiri sent an open letter [taj] to President Emomali Rahmon, urging him to pardon all inmates who remain in jail for crimes committed during the country’s civil war. This year, Tajikistan celebrates the 15th anniversary of the peace deal that put an end to the violent conflict which claimed an estimated 50,000 lives from 1992-1997. In his letter, Kabiri asked the Tajik leader to show mercy and to mark the anniversary by granting a full amnesty to all opposition and pro-government militants who are still in jail.
It has been a tradition in the country to pardon thousands of inmates on major anniversaries. Since 1991, Tajik authorities have carried out 13 amnesties, releasing from jail more than 110,000 individuals. Last year, when the country celebrated the 20th anniversary of its independence, about 15,000 individuals serving prison sentences or being placed in pre-trial detention were either freed or had their terms reduced. The 1997 peace accords granted an amnesty to all individuals who had taken part in the civil war and agreed to put down their weapons. However, that amnesty as well as all subsequent ones did not extend to hundreds of detainees who had been convicted of “grave crimes” such as murder and terrorism committed during the civil war.
According to Kabiri, most such inmates have already served more than half their terms, becoming old and suffering from deteriorated health conditions in overcrowded and decrepit correction facilities. “Today, these are mostly old and sick individuals who pose no real threat to society,” he wrote.
The difficulty with the proposal is that there is no accurate data on the number of inmates remaining in jail for crimes committed in 1992-1997. Kabiri’s letter included a list of 161 individuals [taj] to whom the proposed amnesty should extend. The IRPT has suggested that the list was compiled with support from former militants who are now in prison. However, Sadriddin Toshev, a former opposition fighter who is serving a lengthy sentence in jail, claims that Kabiri’s list is inaccurate and incomplete. According to Toshev, some individuals are mentioned on the list several times, while many former opposition combatants, including mid-level UTO commanders, are notoriously missing from it.
Kabiri’s list also differs from earlier estimates by the IRPT and other former United Tajik Opposition (UTO) members. In 2011, prominent Tajik cleric Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda, who served as one of IRPT’s leaders during the civil war, suggested that “hundreds” of former UTO members were in jail or wanted by the authorities. Saidumar Husayni, who serves as Deputy Chairman of the IRPT and represents the party in parliament, claimed there were up to 300 former opposition fighters in prison in 2011.
Disagreements about the number of inmates currently in jail for crimes dating back to the civil war period have to do with the fact that many former militants have been convicted for offences and felonies they allegedly committed after 1997. For example, one of key figures in the IRPT, Shamsuddin Shamsuddinov, was imprisoned in 2004 on charges of organizing a criminal group, illegally crossing the border, and polygamy. The authorities claimed that all the charges brought against Shamsuddinov were post-1997. IRPT maintained, however, that he was convicted on flimsy evidence, and that the conviction was actually a punishment for Shamsuddinov’s involvement with the UTO during the civil war. He died in prison in 2008, allegedly of cancer and tuberculosis.
It seems unlikely that President Rahmon will support the amnesty proposal coming from the IRPT. The opposition party’s growing potency is watched carefully by the government. Over the last decade, the party has gained in popularity, becoming probably the most effective and well-established political group in the country. The party’s young and charismatic leader, Kabiri, has managed to consolidate the IRPT and draw support from many groups and independent media in the country. He is also always given warm reception in western embassies and capitals. Therefore, the amnesty proposal is not likely to find much support in the Tajik government because the initiative might increase the popularity of IRPT, a potent political force with a potential to challenge Rahmon’s grip on power.
(By Alexander Sodiqov, published originally in the CACI Analyst on May 16, 2012)