Tajikistan hands out tough prison sentences

DUSHANBE/DEC. 9/10 2022 (The Bulletin) —  Tajikistan handed harsh prison sentences to civic activists, drawing criticism from human rights groups and analysts who said that the crackdown was linked to the Tajik leader’s legacy building.

In closed-door trials, a court in Dushanbe found one journalist and five activists guilty of stirring insurrection in Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO), southern Tajikistan, and imposed prison sentences of up to 30 years.

After a trip to Tajikistan Mary Lawlor, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights defenders, said that the crackdown on free speech had started in 2016 and reached its nadir earlier this year.

“I am deeply troubled by the apparent clampdown on dissenting voices, including those seen as not respectful, nor in accordance with the country,” she said. “According to those I have met, working during the civil war was easier than now.”

Her statement was carefully worded and was clearly designed not to irritate her hosts.

Even hardened human rights activists with years of experience in Tajikistan have been shocked by the severity of the prison sentences and the crackdown on anti-government activists. 

Among those imprisoned is Ulfathonim Mamadshoeva, 65, who has worked with several Western media groups previously and was generally regarded as a “grand dame” of journalism in Tajikistan.

Tajik police arrested her earlier this year after she met with officials from the US embassy at a cafe in Dushanbe. She was given a 21-year prison sentence after confessing on TV that she had conspired to overthrow the government. Analysts said that it looked like she had been forced into the confession.

The other five people sent to prison were members of a group called Commission 44 which was set up to investigate the death of a civil leader in Khorog, the capital of GBAO, in November 2021.

“Tajikistan’s international partners should make the release of the Pamiri civil rights activists their priority in their cooperation with the country,” said Syinat Sultanalieva, a researcher at the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Analysts said that the crackdown in the independent-minded GBAO region showed that Pres. Emomali Rakhmon is preparing to hand over power to his son, Rustam Emomali, and wants to undermine any potential opposition.

Edward Lemon, a professor at Texas A&M University, said that state control in GBAO was considered weak.

“As Rakhmon looks to transition power to his son, he wants to hand over a state fully under his regime’s control,” he said.


— This story was published in issue 531 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on Dec. 19 2022

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2022

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