Escalating tensions & crackdown on human rights defenders & journalists

Escalating tensions & crackdown on human rights defenders & journalists
(Photo by Gyori antoine/Corbis via Getty Images).

Introduction

This report, which covers developments affecting the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly in Tajikistan for the period from July 2021 to July 2022, was prepared by International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) for the CIVICUS Monitor.

The reporting period saw a serious deterioration in the protection of fundamental freedoms due to a violent crackdown, mainly on protesters, by security forces in the Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) (an autonomous region in eastern Tajikistan) in November 2021 and, again, in May 2022. As part of this crackdown, dozens of protesters were detained, with widespread reports of torture and ill-treatment, as well as extrajudicial killings of detained protesters. The crackdown was also accompanied by repressive measures targeting the wider population in the region, including months-long shutdowns of the internet and mobile phone networks throughout the region. In addition, in a development of serious concern, human rights defenders working in the region were arrested on trumped-up charges (including Manuchehr Kholiknazarov,Director of the Pamir Lawyers’ Association and Ulfatkhonim Mamadshonova, human rights activist and independent journalist). Several bloggers were prosecuted for expressing their opinions about the situation in the GBAO on social media and four independent Dushanbe-based journalists were physically attacked by unknown persons after conducting an interview with human rights activist Ulfatkhonim Mamadshonova from the region.

During the reporting period, the authorities continued to restrict citizens’ right to freedom of expression both on- and offline, including outside the GBAO region, by intimidating, harassing and criminally prosecuting journalists, civil society activists and other outspoken citizens. The authorities continued to misusevaguely worded criminal legislation on ‘’extremism’’ and other offencesto suppressfreedom of expression. In ongoing trends of concern, independent media websites and social media networks have been temporarily or permanently blocked without any right of appeal; journalists, bloggers and activists have been prosecuted for posting public comments on online articles; readers have been interrogated or arrested for 'liking' or 'reposting' information on social media; journalists, bloggers, activists and public figureshave been targeted by trolling and cyberbullying, resulting in self-censorship.

The environment for freedom of association remained restricted with public organisations experiencing difficulties with registration. Moreover, authorities used trumped-up or unwarranted charges to prosecute human rights defenders, independent lawyers and members or supporters of opposition parties.

These developments are covered in more detail below.

Peaceful Assembly

Protests remain rare in Tajikistan due to risks faced by protesters, including criminal prosecution. The implementation of restrictive laws and excessive use of force by the authorities against protesters makes it virtually impossible for citizens to gather to peacefully express their dissatisfaction.

In recent years, large-scale protests have only taken place in the GBAO region and have often been met with excessive use of force by security forces and with repressive measures aimed at preventing new protests. This has resulted in an environment of fear inhibiting the right to peaceful assembly.

During the reporting period, authorities cracked down on protesters in the GBAO region on two occasions, as described below.

Violent suppression of protests in the GBAO region

The November 2021 events

On 25th November 2021, protests primarily broke out in Khorog, the capital city of the GBAO region, after security forces fatally wounded Gulbidin Ziyobekov, a young man from the Roshtkala District, while detaining him on suspicion of kidnapping. As Ziyobekov was detained, two other men reportedly sustained injuries after being shot at.

On the same day, relatives and protesters carried Ziyobekov’s body to the main square in Khorog, demanding an investigation into the incident. Crowds of protesters grew quickly, calling for the withdrawal of the military stationed in Khorog, the dismantling of military checkpoints in the city and the removal of the newly appointed Governor, Alisher Mirzonabot.

While most protests were peaceful, there were also violent protests. There are allegations that the authorities used excessive force to repress protests and that security forces fired indiscriminately into the crowd killing two protesters, Tutisho Amirshoyev and Gulnazar Murobbekov, and injuring seventeen others. Several security force officials were reportedly injured by violent protesters who were armed with sticks and stones. The violent mass protests continued for several days, and the central government authorities immediately blocked the internet connection in the GBAO region for four months until 21st March 2022 – depriving the population of their right to access information.

Local authorities and representatives of the protesters agreed to establish a group of 44 representatives of civil society and government bodies, called Commission 44, to investigate the events that took place between the 25th and 28th November 2021 in Khorog and the Roshtkala District. Several members of this group also joined the Investigation Team set up by the Prosecutor General’s Office to conduct a joint investigation into Ziyobekov’s death and the lethal use of firearms against demonstrators. Commission 44 representatives repeatedly criticised the authorities for obstructing a thorough and transparent joint investigation.

Mass arrests, trials and repression against local residents continued. Criminal cases were initiated against dozens of protesters, who were handed prison sentences during unfair trials for alleged attacks on state officials, hooliganism, illegal possession of arms and cutting trees during the protests.These trials were reportedly in violation of procedural requirements as in many cases the verdicts were prepared before court hearings took place, and the hearings lasted no longer than two to four hours before the judge announced the verdict. According to human rights defenders, none of those arrested had access to a lawyer, some were held incommunicado, and some were severely beaten in custody.

There are also concerns around the forcible return of people originating from the GBAO region to Tajikistan, whom the authorities regard as leading supporters of the protests. Among those returned, arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison terms are popular blogger and Mixed Martial Arts fighter Chorshanbe Chorshanbiev, and Amriddin Alovatshoyev (see below).

Authorities conducted concerted media smear campaigns against local residents. Starting in November 2021, the local TV Station Badakhshon was instrumentalised by local authorities to discredit local unofficial leaders and residents who they claim were involved in the protests.

Local citizens (often low-ranking public officials, teachers, doctors and students) were coerced by security forces to make statements in support of the authoritiesand denouncing the protests and local activists. Badakhshon daily news regularly covered the detention of local residents and showed detainees making televised confessions. The TV anchor referred to them as “criminals” even though they were only under preliminary investigation, mentioning their names and even their places of residence.

Civil society representatives subsequently accused the authorities of failing to conduct a thorough, impartial and effective investigation, and tensions remained high.At the beginning of February 2022, the Head of the Prosecutor Office in GBAO, Parviz Orifzoda, announced that the criminal case concerning the use of firearms by law enforcement agencies against protesters in Khorog on 25th and 26th November 2021 had been closed due to the lack of criminal elements in the actions of law enforcement agencies.

The May 2022 events

Tensions in Khorog once again ran high from 14th May 2022, when around 1,000 people gathered to peacefully demand the resignation of the regional leader Alisher Mirzonabot, and an effective investigation into the death of Gulbidin Ziyobekov. In response, the authorities delivered an ultimatum: if the demonstrators did not disperse by 4 p.m. on 16th May 2022, they would be removed by force.

Credible reports indicate that at this hour military and special forces forcefully dispersed several hundred people protesting in Khorog city centre.

The violent dispersal in Khorog left at least one person dead and several wounded. On 16th May 2022, the authorities also cut off the internet in the entire region. Attacks by security forces on civilians continued on 17th and 18th May 2022, with the reported use of tear gas grenades and live ammunition.

The violence spread to other areas of the GBAO region, in particular Rushan District, where local residents attempted to block the road to Khorog with their cars in order to prevent a military convoy from passing. On 18th May 2022 the Ministry of the Interior announced that it would carry out an “anti-terrorist operation” in Rushan, where mobile, landline and internet communication was subsequently cut, and people were denied the right to leave or enter the district. Local witnesses reported that snipers and military helicopters were used that day to fire live ammunition at civilians.

The crackdown in Rushan led to casualties amongst protesters and the security forces.

Posts on social media based on eyewitness reports indicate that security forces arbitrarily searched houses, seized mobile phones and detained residents. There are also allegations of torture and deliberate extra-judicial executions of people detained during the crackdown. Since 16th May 2022, at least 40 civilians are reported to have been killed.

According to independent news sources, one of the latest victims was Mamadbokir Mamadbokirov, an influential local leader, who was shot dead by government troops on 22nd May 2022. Hundreds of residents of GBAO have been arrested, including civil society activists and journalists.

Crackdown on local media and civil society

Against the backdrop of the events in the GBAO region described above, Tajikistani authorities have cracked down with unprecedented severity on critical bloggers, journalists and human rights activists across the country. Security forces have conducted house searches, arrests for alleged membership of an extremist organisation, there have been physical attacks on journalists and forcible returns of critical bloggers originating from GBAO and living in Russia and their subsequent arrest (more information and cases under expression below).

The whole region remained cut off from the internet and mobile phone network until the end of June 2022, making it extremely difficult to get verified information from this region.

Expression

In May 2022, Reporters Without Borders issued its World Press Freedom Index,which concluded that freedom of the press and freedom of expression continue to be seriously repressed in Tajikistan. Although Tajikistan’s rating slightly improved from the previous year (from 162 to 152 out of 180), it was still ranked amongst the most restrictive states in the world.

During the reporting period, the Tajikistani authorities continued to severely restrict freedom of expression both on and offline, putting pressure on independent media outlets and representatives, bloggers and activists. State-owned media increasingly engaged in state propaganda.

On an unprecedented scale, the authorities prosecuted journalists, bloggers and activists who made statements critical of the authorities, on charges of ‘’extremism’’ and ‘’terrorism’’. Most cases of prosecutions in the reporting period concern bloggers and civil society activists from the GBAO who criticised the central government’s politics in this region and its crackdown on protesters (see also the section on “Violent suppression of protests in the GBAO").

Intimidation of independent media and prosecution of journalists

  • On 17th May 2022, Asia Plus, one of the few remaining independent media outlets in Tajikistan, announced that it had been forced to cease covering the GBAO events after being threatened with closure by the Prosecutor General’s Office because of alleged “one-sided” reporting on the GBAO.
  • On 17th May 2022 four journalists from Radio Ozodi and Current Times (both services of RFE/RL in Tajikistan) were violently attacked by unidentified men wearing civilian clothes near the home of human rights defender and journalist Ulfatkhonim Mamadshoeva in Dushanbe, after they had interviewed her. The men forcibly confiscated the journalists’ cameras and phones containing the interviews recorded with Mamadshoeva. At the time of writing, no one has been held to account. A day later, Mamadshoeva was detained and charged with publicly calling for violent change of the constitutional order, a criminal offence punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment (See more below under Ongoing persecution of human rights lawyers and imprisonment of human rights defenders).
  • The Tajikistani blogger Junaydullo Khudoyorov, who also regularly posted critical articles about incidents of corruption at the local government level, is facing charges of hooliganism, and accused of having threatened a relative, believed to be the alleged murderer of his nephew Alirizo Khudoyorov. Alirizo, 21 years old, was killed in July 2021 during a conflict in the village of Yashm, Rasht district. On 3rd November 2021, the Rasht District Department of Internal Affairs confirmed that they had opened a criminal case against Khudoyorov for hooliganism (Article 237, Part 3 of the Criminal Code). Khudoyorov has stated that the accusations against him are unfounded and that he is being prosecuted in retaliation for his criticism of the local authorities relating to corruption and abuse of power. It is unknown at the time of writing if the investigation is still going on. In the meantime, on June 2022 his mother, Majigul Gharibova, was sentenced by a court in Lakhsh district (northeastern Tajikistan) to two years of house arrest for hooliganism. She was accused of beating a local resident during a conflict in November 2021, which she has denied. Previously, in 2017 Khodoyorov was sentenced to five years in prison for allegedly belonging to the Salafi branch of Islam, which is banned in Tajikistan, but was released after a year and 10 months under an amnesty law.
  • A criminal case was opened against the mother of exiled blogger Sherzod Mamadjonov on charges of organising an extremist association (Article 307, Part 2 of the Criminal Code) believed to be in retaliation for her son’s blogging activities. Sherzod Mamadjonov has criticised the authorities for violating the rights of religious believers in Tajikistan on his YouTube channel (Abdurahmon09). A statement posted on the official website of the Interior Ministry alleged that the blogger is wanted for extremist and terrorist crimes.
  • On 15th June 2022, two prominent journalists and bloggers, Abdullo Gurbati and Daleri Imomali, were detained by officers of the Shohmansur District Prosecutor's Office in Dushanbe.Daleri Imomalihas been placed under provisional arrest for two months on suspicion of "participating in the activities of banned political parties, public and religious associations". His case has been classified as secret. He has also been charged with "illegal entrepreneurship" and "providing knowingly false information about a crime".
  • Abdullo Gurbati was charged under Article 328 part 1 "Use of violence against a representative of authority" of the Criminal Code and has also been placed under provisional arrest for two months. The trial of both journalists was held behind closed doors on the evening of 18th June 2022. The lawyer was told that the trial would be held in the detention centre. However, when relatives and journalists arrived at the specified place, it turned out that Daleri Imomali's trial had already taken place at the Shohmansur district court building. On 19th July 2022, at a press conference, Shodi Hafizzoda, head of the Interior Ministry's Department for Combating Organised Crime, announced that Abdullo Gurbati was also suspected of collaborating with the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT). In response to these allegations, IRPT spokesman Makhmudzhon Faizrakhmonov said Gurbati has never been a member and has never cooperated with the party, calling the charges “baseless slander”.
  • On 20th May 2022, Khushruz Jumaeva blogger from GBAO, mostly writing cultural articles about the region, was arrested for allegedly calling for a seizure of power by force and faces other charges.
  • On 16th June 2022, government critic, retired journalist and ex-intelligence officer Mamadsulton Mavlonazarov was detained on extremism-related charges. Mavlonazarov had sharply criticised the government’s excessive force against protesters in GBAO.
  • On the evening of 8th July 2022, plainclothes law enforcement officers detained journalist Zavkibek Saidamini in Dushanbe, accusing him of collaborating with the banned Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan and Group 24. Saidamini has denied these allegations. The next day, his colleague, journalist and popular blogger Abdusattor Pirmukhammadzoda was detained by officers of the Vahdat police department for alleged disobedience against the police. On 15th July 2022 police announced that he had been charged with “publicly calling for extremist activities“. Both journalists had published calls for the release of detained journalists Daler Imomali and Avazmad Ghurbatov on their respective YouTube channels and have regularly denounced abuses and injustice by the authorities.
  • In July 2022, the Dushanbe Sino district court sentenced YouTube activist Shodruz Akhrorov (known under his YouTube name “Abdullo”) to six years in prison on charges of "calling for extremism via the Internet". Akhrorov, who had been living in Russia, had repeatedly been critical of the Tajik authorities on his YouTube channel regarding migrant workers. He was deported from Russia in March 2022 for allegedly violating residence rules. Four days later, police detained Akhrorov at his home in Dushanbe. 

Accreditation and Licensing

The authorities continued to attempt to control and put pressure on foreign media outlets by refusing, withdrawing or restricting journalists’ accreditation. Reports stated that law enforcement agencies restricted accreditation to three months in several cases, thus violating the national Law on Periodicals and other Media which provides that accreditation for local journalists of foreign media should be granted for one year.

The State Committee on Television and Radio continued to demand illegal fees for the renewal of broadcasting permits of independent media outlets. Only private, non-state-owned media outlets are required to have a licence.

  • One of the main targets of illegal accreditation policies continues to be independent news outlet Radio Ozodi (Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty’s Tajik Service). During the reporting period the authorities refused the extension of accreditation to several journalists working with Radio Ozodi, and insisted that all Radio Ozodi employees, including the driver and cleaners, were accredited. This requirement also violates national law. In addition, several Radio Ozodi journalists were granted accreditation for three months only. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also refused permission for journalism students to carry out internships at the Radio Ozodi office in Dushanbe since April 2019. This attitude negatively affects Radio Ozodi's ability to work with local journalists.
  • Requests by Radio Ozodi to accredit new staff and staff who were formerly designated as "undesirable" by the authorities were rejected in the reporting period. According to available information, security officials regularly put pressure on the relatives of journalists to dissuade them from working for the media outlet.

Access to information

The National Association of Independent Mass Media of Tajikistan (NANSMIT), an NGO, stated that it is becoming increasingly difficult for journalists to obtain information from local authorities in the country. A report published by the organisation in November 2021 found that even the Prosecutor General's Office, which oversees the implementation of laws, fails to comply with legal requirements on the provision of information. The process of receiving information from the authorities is challenging as it requires journalists to send a written request on a letterhead to obtain official confirmation even of urgent news. The authorities usually refuse to provide information over the phone. NANSMIT also noted that the press centres of ministries and departments often fail to respond to written requests from editors. According to local experts, when information on urgent news is not yet known, it results in an information gap which leads to disinformation and unreliable information.

Blocking of websites and internet shut-downs

The authorities continue to block websites arbitrarily or shut down the internet to suppress freedom of expression. From August 2021 until April 2022, there were several cases of short-term blocking of news outlets Asia Plus and Radio Ozodi, as well as Facebook. However, the blocking of internet and mobile phone services was most systematic in the GBAO region, where anti-government protests occurred (see the section on “Violent suppression of protests in the GBAO").

  • Internet blocked from November 2021 until March 2022 and from May until June 2022 in the GBAO: When protests broke out on 25th November 2021, the central government authorities immediately shut off internet connectivity in the GBAO. The shutdown deprived people of their right to access to information and had serious implications for the economy, trade, mobility, as well as access to health care and education.
  • This was not the first time that the Tajikistani authorities have blocked internet access during times of crisis and unrest. In recent years, the government has repeatedly imposed internet shutdowns, claiming that these were necessary to protect public safety and to prevent the spread of misinformation. Tajikistan’s domestic legislation gives state bodies the right to restrict the internet partially or completely without judicial authorisation in emergency situations that threaten state security such as hostilities, terrorist and extremist operations or natural disasters. However, a state of emergency had not been declared in the region and as such the recent internet shutdown was in clear violation of both international norms and local legislation. On 26th January 2022, 38 human rights organisations from the Civic Solidarity Platform (CSP), including Tajikistani NGOs and IPHR, published a joint statement raising concerns about the volatile situation in the GBAO and the violations of the right to information. On 7th March 2022, during the 49th session of the Human Rights Council, UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, criticisedTajikistani authoritiesfor "continuing practices of suppressing political dissent" and "creating a climate of fear" in GBAO. She stated that the clashes between security forces and protesters in GBAO in November 2021 had “significantly undermined the human rights situation in the area, creating a climate of fear and repression". Furthermore, she deplored the ongoing internet shutdown in the GBAO, stating that “such shutdowns clearly violate human rights”.
  • On 21st March 2022, the internet connection was restored (at a reduced speed of 2G level) only to be cut off again in the entire region in May and June 2022.

Online trolling

In a separate development, human rights activists reported increased activity by troll factories and state organised bloggers who carried out campaigns aiming to discredit and block critical voices online. Members of these troll factories abuse reporting mechanisms on Facebook or YouTube to file complaints against groups who are critical of the authorities and/or raise current issues of public concern. Typically, hundreds of trolls file complaints against such groups, which results in Facebook or YouTube blocking them.

IPHR has information from the reporting period about targeted attacks on women journalists through so-called "revenge porn", where they were threatened that compromising material would be published online if they did not refrain from critical reporting. These threats often lead to self-censorship.

Association

Across Tajikistan the situation of civil society organisations and activists, in particular those working on human rights issues, has seriously deteriorated in recent years. NGOs, activists and lawyers have been subjected to threats and intimidation by the authorities in order to get them to drop or refrain from taking up politically sensitive issues or cases and tax authorities have subjected vocal human rights groups to excessive checks. During the reporting period, human rights defenders from the GBAO region were at heightened risk of repercussions for monitoring and documenting human rights violations in connection with the ongoing crisis in the GBAO (see “Violent suppression of protests in the GBAO").

Ongoing persecution of human rights lawyers & imprisonment of HRDs

  • As reported above, on 18th May 2022, journalist and human rights defender Ulfatkhonim Mamadshoeva, representative of the Pamiri minority in Dushanbe, was detained by security officers at her home in Dushanbe after they had searched her apartment and confiscated her laptop and mobile phone. On 19th May 2022, Mamadshoeva was charged with publicly calling for violent change of the constitutional order (Article 307, part 2 of the Criminal Code). On 24th May 2022, Tajikistani state TV broadcast a video entitled “The punishment of traitors has been proved. Criminals behind bars!”, showing Mamadshoeva “confessing” to actively taking part in organising the GBAO protests. Human rights defenders are seriously concerned that Mamadshoeva was forced to confess that she had organised the protests in Khorog and that she is at ongoing risk of torture and ill-treatment to force her to testify against herself and incriminate others.
  • On 28th May 2022 at least 13 members of the "Commission 44” (Group 44) including Manuchehr Kholiknazarov, Director of the Pamir Lawyers’ Association, were detained and interrogated by security services in GBAO, as government officials attempt to link their human rights work to spurious allegations that they were involved in establishing “extremist groups”. While some civil activists were released, at the time of writing Manuchehr Kholiknazarov, Faromuz Irgashov, lawyer and unregistered candidate for the 2020 presidential election in Tajikistan,Khursand Mamadshoev , brother of journalist and activist Ulfatkhonim Mamadshoeva, and Muzaffar Muborakshoev, a civil society activist from GBAO, remain in detention and have allegedly been charged with participation in an extremist group (Article 187 "Participation in a criminal association (criminal organisation)" of the country's Criminal Code). Under this article, they may face between eight to 12 years of imprisonment. According to another source from Radio Ozodi they are accused of receiving money from Muhiddin Kabiri, chairman of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan and the National Alliance of Tajikistan. In June 2022, seven of thirteen members of Group 44 were transferred to Dushanbe to be detained at the headquarters of the State Committee for National Security. Also in June 2022, two members of the group were sentenced to 18 years in prison for organising an unsanctioned demonstration. Additionally, Pamiri poet Muyassar Sadonshoev was sentenced to 11 years in prison for cooperating and publishing the videos of sessions of the group online.
  • Human rights lawyer Abdulmajid Rizoyev remained behind bars in a high security prison. In June 2021 he was found guilty of “public calls to carry out extremist activity through the media or the internet” after he posted ironic comments about government policies on Facebook (see previous Monitor update) and was sentenced to five and a half years’ imprisonment. In July 2021, Dushanbe City Court upheld the verdict and from August to mid-December 2021 Rizoyev was only able to see his lawyer once. His family was denied access to seeing him, except on 5th December 2021 when they were permitted to pass a parcel of food and necessary supplies to him. In September 2021, his initial prison sentence of five and a half years was reduced to three years under an amnesty law. However, on 30th October 2021 his lawyer was informed by staff of the correctional facility 3/5 that Rizoyev had to spend four months in a punishment cell for allegedly violating prison rules. No further information was given as to what the actual violations were. Prisoners held in so called “punishment cells” in Tajikistan are prohibited from meetings, making telephone calls, purchasing food and receiving parcels. On 12th November 2021, Rizoyev’s lawyers filed a supervisory appeal at Dushanbe City Court which was rejected in December 2021. Subsequently, Rizoyev and his lawyers filed a complaint to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, arguing that his arrest and detention were arbitrary and aimed at preventing him from exercising his right to freedom of expression. Lawyers are currently preparing an appeal to the Constitutional Court against an article in the Code of Execution of Criminal Penalties, which gives the head of a correctional facility the right to place prisoners in solitary confinement without trial.
  • In October 2021, imprisoned Tajikistan human rights lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov’s prison sentence was reduced by four years under amnesty, but he still has to serve 11 years behind bars. Yorov was wrongfully imprisoned in September 2015 and sentenced to 22 years on trumped-up charges after he provided legal representation to members and leaders of the banned opposition party, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRTP). He was detained for eight months before his trial began – during which he was physically abused and held in solitary confinement on many occasions. In May 2019, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Buzurgmehr’s detention violated international law and called on Tajikistani authorities to release him immediately.
  • On 19th October 2021 Dushanbe City Court sentenced Tajikistani migrants’ rights defender, Izzat Amon to nine years in prison after finding him guilty of fraud. Izzat Amon was abducted on 25th March 2021 and forcibly transferred from Moscow to Tajikistan (see previous Monitor update). Amon repeatedly criticised the Tajik government for failing to protect the rights of its citizens in Russia.
  • In November 2021, Tajikistan's Supreme Court upheld Amon’s sentence. In March 2022, another fraud case was initiated against him for allegedly failing to pay back part of a debt. Amon’s lawyer claims that the remaining money was paid to the demander’s wife, but the recipient, who resides in Ukraine, disappeared after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A representative of the Investigation Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs told Radio Ozodi that a new criminal case against Amon has been initiated on charges of ‘fraud on a particularly large scale’. If found guilty, Amon could face another 10- to 12-year prison term.
  • In November 2021, imprisoned lawyer Saidnuriddin Shamsiddinov was sentenced to an additional eight months in prison on a new charge of allegedly collaborating with the country's banned Group 24, an accusation he vehemently denied. Saidnuriddin Shamsiddinov was convicted in late 2020 under seven articles of the Tajikistani Criminal Code, including illegal land dealings, fraud and dissemination of false information, and was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison. Many civil society activists believe that the charges were trumped up and that Saidnuriddin was jailed because he had denounced corrupt officials and criticised the authorities in Vakhsh Region, Khatlon Oblast, on social media.

Persecution and silencing of opposition

The authorities continue to crack down on anyone they perceive as political opposition.

  • On 6th July 2021, Sino District Court in Dushanbe sentenced former Democratic Party activist Rustam Mamajonov to seven years' imprisonment for distributing video footage of opposition activist Sharofiddin Gadoev. According to media reports, 59-year-old Mamajonov was detained by state security officers in March 2021. Mamajonov pleaded not guilty and stated that the video was on his page by accident because he did not know how to use Facebook correctly.

  • In March 2022 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention calledon the Government of Tajikistan to release imprisoned former General Gaffor Mirzoyev. According to their report, the term to which Mirzoyev was sentenced did not comply with the legislation of the country in force at that time. In 2006 General Gaffor Mirzoyev had been sentenced to a lifetime in prison for violating a total of 28 articles of the Criminal Code of Tajikistan. Human rights defenders considered his detention unfair, politically motivated and associated with his possible support for other presidential candidates. Mirzoyev was detained on 6th August 2004, shortly after his appointment as head of the Drug Control Agency under the President of Tajikistan.

Border Conflict

As reported in the previous Civicus Monitor, a water dispute in April 2021 led to some of the worst clashes in years on the disputed Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border in the Batken region where, according to official information, at least 55 people in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan were killed and over 270 injured. Despite the ceasefire from May 2021 the border conflict in the Batken region continues to be an issue, with regular clashes occurring in January and March 2022. Government authorities did not provide official information on the border conflict and obstructed access to information for independent media outlets in the country. Independent sources told IPHR that apart from hindering access to information, the authorities tried to interfere in the editorial policy of media outlets to block reporting on the conflict. This thus leads to the spread of false information circulating on social media and to increased tensions.