An outspoken regime critic and leader of a minority ethnic community has gone missing in Tajikistan. The country’s internet users have largely missed his disappearance. The reactions from those who have paid attention to this case show that xenophobic attitudes run deep within Tajik society.
Category Archives: Justice
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.
Authorities in Tajikistan have recently announced a number of high-profile arrests on corruption and narcotics-trafficking charges. Most arrests were triggered by President Emomali Rahmon’s harsh criticism of the “corrupt” and “nepotistic” practices in the country’s military and law-enforcement sectors. During a televised government meeting on January 18, the Tajik leader lashed out at “commanders of military units and top officials from the Ministry of Internal Affairs [MIA] and State Committee for National Security [GKNB],” for granting privileges to their children and relatives (TV Shabakai Yakum, January 19).
Rahmon specifically warned officials against exempting their offspring from possible prosecution, including through the use of “special” car number plates. Such plates have long been used by the Tajik elites as markers of power and wealth, effectively making their owners immune from police checks (www.eurasianet.org, June 13, 2011). The “golden” numbers, such as “7777” and “8888,” have been reserved for the members of Rahmon’s family until, in early January, Tajik security agencies arrested two traffickers who attempted to smuggle almost 110 kilograms of drugs from the Afghan border to Dushanbe in a car with a “golden” number plate. Although the names of the arrested individuals have not been released, authorities announced that one of them is a son of a “retired general” and another one is a child of a “Tajik diplomat” (www.news.tj, January 27).
This incident has led Rahmon to claim that children of senior government officials are frequently involved in criminal dealings, while ordinary people see the “special” number plates and attribute these crimes to “the president’s relatives.” Following the incident, authorities detained a person who had allegedly produced and sold “fake golden numbers” in Dushanbe. Besides, police were ordered to replace all “golden” number plates with the regular ones (www.news.tj, January 14, 16, 19).
One year ago, authorities in Tajikistan announced the death of the militant Alovuddin Davlatov, aka Ali Bedaki. Despite evidence suggesting that Bedaki was captured alive in January 2011, interrogated and then executed extrajudicially, local media and human rights groups as well as the international community have mostly been silent and reluctant to address this case.
Bedaki was a mid-level opposition field commander during the 1992-1997 Tajik civil war. He later joined the police force, presumably as part of the 1997 peace accord where some former United Tajik Opposition (UTO) fighters were incorporated into Tajikistan’s security forces. He soon left the police and supposedly became a farmer. Following the September 19, 2010, attack on a government military convoy in the Rasht valley in eastern Tajikistan where 28 conscripts were killed, security agencies placed the blame on Bedaki and another former UTO commander, Abdullo Rahimov, aka ‘Mullo Abdullo’, killed in April 2011. Immediately after the attack, Bedaki’s brother, Husniddin Davlatov, was detained and alleged in a televised ‘confession’ that the convoy assault was led by his brother. Consequently, Bedaki became a key target of a security operation in the Rasht valley. His brother and father were convicted and sent to prison.
On January 4, 2011, the authorities announced that Bedaki had been killed in a shootout with government troops in the village of Runob, one kilometer south of the Rasht district center. The official narrative claimed that he and a number of his men were spotted by police and were subsequently killed in a four-hour gun battle. In February, however, the official narrative was challenged by a YouTube video. The footage showed an exhausted and humiliated bearded man, stripped to his underpants but with no apparent wounds, which relatives and former UTO fighters recognized as Bedaki. He was being questioned in the back seat of a parked car by what appeared to be members of the Tajik security agencies. Soon after, the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) said they saw the footage but refused to comment, while the police denounced the video as “an ordinary fake.” A modified account of Bedaki’s death was offered in April when Amirqul Azimov, then head of Tajikistan’s National Security Council, announced that Bedaki had been captured alive, but died due to gunshot wounds on the way to hospital.
A number of events in 2011 reinforce allegations of systemic abuse and torture and even the occurrence of possible extrajudicial killings in detention by law enforcement agencies in Tajikistan. On October 20, police in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, took a badly injured Bahromiddin Shodiyev, 28, to a local hospital. Shodiyev, who had been arrested on the previous day in connection with a theft investigation, died ten days later of head wounds. The police attributed Shodiyev’s injuries while in custody to an attempted escape or suicide, claiming that he jumped from a first-floor window, but also alleged that he died not necessarily as a result of his injuries, but due to “multiple diseases of internal organs” (www.news.tj, November 1).
Shodiyev’s relatives insist on a different explanation of his death. According to his mother, he told her in the hospital that he was beaten and given electric shocks at the hands of the police, until he confessed to a crime he had not committed. Following the incident, the Tajik human rights ombudsman and an anti-torture group called on the authorities to investigate Shodiyev’s death. The growing publicity about the case led the authorities to launch an investigation as a result of which several police officers were dismissed; one facing criminal charges (www.news.tj, November 9, 15).
Analysts and human rights groups claim that what happened to Shodiyev is not an isolated incident, but part of a larger pattern of abuse in detention by police and security forces. In March, another detainee, Safarali Sangov, died in a Dushanbe hospital in almost identical circumstances. He was hospitalized several hours after being detained on drug-related charges. While police claimed that Sangov tried to commit suicide by hitting his head against a wall and jumping from a police station window, his relatives insisted that he died of police brutality (Asia-Plus, March 7). Also, in June, Ismoil Bachajonov, who was accused of drug smuggling, died in mysterious circumstances in a pre-trial facility in Dushanbe (Asia-Plus, June 9), while two minors were allegedly heavily beaten by police in the southern town of Kulob. In addition, a BBC reporter, Urunboi Usmonov, held for a month by the police in Khujand, was allegedly tortured to extract a confession (www.rsf.org, August 13).