The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) was one of the country’s most popular opposition parties until it was banned in 2015. A dozen senior IRPT leaders are currently serving prison sentences ranging from 14 years to life for their association with the party and outspoken criticism of the government.
In early 2015, the Tajikistani government initiated a campaign to discredit and dismantle the IRPT. Shortly before the March 2015 parliamentary elections several news articles appeared in state-run newspapers that accused the IRPT of terrorism and that the nearly 500 Tajik fighters in Syria had ties to the IRPT. Imams at state-controlled mosques also delivered sermons, which were reprinted in newspapers, denouncing the IRPT and its link to terrorism.
The campaign did not end after the IRPT only received 1.5% of the vote in the March 2015 elections and lost both of its seats in parliament. Articles in state-controlled newspapers continued to claim the IRPT was linked with ISIS and did so until the Justice Ministry issued a proclamation which ordered the party to close and banned it from operating. Ostensibly, the reason for the ban was that IRPT’s membership had fallen below 1,000 and thus it no longer met the requirements of a political party under Tajik law. The ban itself was announced in an article by the Justice Minister entitled “Warning on the Termination of the Illegal Activities of the [IRPT]” and published by the state news agency. A day after the ban, a spokesperson from the Interior Ministry claimed that that IRPT members had been in direct contact with ISIS members and that several IRPT members had been arrested after raising the ISIS flag. These accusations were never substantiated.
A week later, General Abduhalim Nazarzoda, the deputy defense minister, was accused of plotting a coup which resulted in the deaths of at least 35 people. The government claimed Nazarzoda was associated with IRPT, but failed to produce any evidence to support this accusation.
Most of the senior IRPT leaders were arrested on September 16, 2015 after they were accused of participating in the failed coup organized by General Nazarzoda, but the government failed to provide any evidence that any IRPT members were involved. Those arrested include Saidumar Husaini, Muhammadali Faizmuhammad, Rahmatulloi Rajab, Zubaidulloi Roziq, Vohidkhon Kosidinov, Sattor Karimov, Kiyomiddin Kuramdzhonovich Avazov, Abduqahar Davlatov, Hikmatulloh Sayfulloza, Sadidin Rustamov, Sharif Mamadalievich Nabiev, and Abdusamat Ghayratov. Relatives of the detained activists informed human rights groups that the detainees were subject to torture and kept incommunicado.
On September 29, 2015, the Supreme Court issued a ruling which banned the IRPT. In its ruling, the Supreme Court determined that the IRPT should be labeled as a terrorist organization, despite the lack of evidence linking it to any terrorist activities. To this day, the distribution of any newspapers, videos, audio recordings, literature and leaflets connected to the IRPT is prohibited.
On February 9, 2016, the Supreme Court began hearing cases against the IRPT leaders. Because the charges involved national security concerns all hearings were closed to the public and took place in the Tajikistani State Committee for National Security pre-trial detention facility in Dushanbe rather than in a courtroom. Lawyers for the defendants were arrested before the proceedings could begin. Subsequent lawyers were deported from the country.
The charges against the IRPT leaders included terrorism, armed rebellion, murder, public appeals to “violent change of the constitutional order,” incitement to racial and religious hatred, and organization of a criminal group. Despite the lack of evidence, on June 2, 2016, the Supreme Court of Tajikistan sentenced the 12 IRPT leaders to sentences ranging from 14 years to life in prison.
On May 19, 2019, a deadly riot broke out at a prison in the city of Vahdat, where many of the IRPT leaders are held. One of the IRPT leaders – Sattor Karimov – was killed, allegedly by members of ISIS. At least two other IRPT members were killed in the violence and several more received serious injuries.
Freedom Now and Hogan Lovells LLP serve as international pro bono counsel for the IRPT leaders.
Letter to European Council President Donald Tusk prior to his visit to Tajikistan.
Report to the UN Human Rights Committee prior to a periodic review of Tajikistan's compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Petition on behalf of the detained IRPT leaders to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention