UN experts* today urged Tajikistan to show genuine commitment to improving the situation of human rights defenders in the country and expressed concern about convictions.
“We would like to remind the Government that criminalising the legitimate peaceful work of human rights defenders is incompatible with Tajikistan’s international human rights obligations. Conflating human rights defenders with extremists and terrorists is a very dangerous practice,” the experts said.
The human rights defenders whose cases UN experts raised with the Government, including Daler Imomali, Abdulloh Ghurbati, Zavqibek Saidamini, Abdusattor Pirmukhammadzoda, Ulfathonim Mamadshoeva, Manuchekhr Kholiknazarov, Faromuz Irgashov, and Khushom Guliam, were allegedly sentenced to prison terms ranging from seven to 29 years between October and December 2022.
“While the charges against human rights defenders varied, eight out of nine were allegedly accused of extremism and terrorism-related offences. We express grave concern about the apparent use of anti-terrorism legislation to silence critical voices,” the experts said.
Daler Imomali, Abdulloh Ghurbati, Zavqibek Saidamini, and Abdusattor Pirmukhammadzoda are journalists and bloggers who were arrested in June and July 2022. Their arrests appear to be linked to their coverage of social issues and alleged human rights abuses. Ulfathonim Mamadshoeva, a civil society representative of the Pamiri minority and journalist, Pamiri lawyers Manuchekhr Kholiknazarov and Faromuz Irgashov, as well as Khushom Guliam, a journalist and blogger who popularised Pamiri culture, were all involved in defending human rights in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast. They were arrested in May 2022 during a crackdown on protesters in the GBAO and human rights defenders working on the region.
“Fair and public hearings by competent, independent, and impartial courts are a crucial guarantee for everyone under international human rights law,” the experts said. “However, the information received suggests fair trial standards have been grossly violated.”
They noted that access to lawyers was allegedly restricted for at least five human rights defenders. At least three criminal cases were allegedly classified as secret. At least eight trials of human rights defenders were allegedly closed to the public, and at least four of them were marred by other due process violations.
The UN experts were appalled by reports that Zavqibek Saidamini, Abdusattor Pirmukhammadzoda, and Khushom Guliam were subjected to enforced disappearance and that Daler Imomali, Abdusattor Pirmukhammadzoda, and Ulfathonim Mamadshoeva were ill-treated and tortured, including to extract false confessions. “All these allegations must be promptly, impartially, and effectively investigated, and those responsible brought to justice,” they said. “We have asked the Government for information about these investigations and inquired about the investigation into the attack on Abdulloh Ghurbati in May 2020.”
“We are concerned about the conditions of detention of all these human rights defenders and their health,” the experts said. “We urge the Government to ensure that they have access to adequate health care, including medical treatment and medication.”
As the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders said following her visit to the country, these criminal cases are just the tip of the iceberg, the experts recalled. “It is time for Tajikistan to demonstrate its willingness to create an enabling and safe environment for all human rights defenders, in line with its international obligations and commitments,” they said.
The experts have contacted the Government of Tajikistan regarding these issues.