Washington, D.C. – On September 8, 2017, Freedom Now and lawyers with the international law firm Hogan Lovells LLP, filed a petition with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of behalf of Mahmadali Hayit.  Freedom Now hopes to obtain an opinion from the UN Working Group that the Government of Tajikistan’s detention of the opposition leader is in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Tomorrow will mark two years since the Tajikistani government arrested and detained Mr. Hayit. His imprisonment is representative of Tajikistan’s broader campaign to vilify peaceful political opposition parties,” said Freedom Now Legal Director Kate Barth. “The government’s continued detention of Mr. Hayit violates his fundamental human rights including his right to freedom of association. Freedom Now calls on the Tajikistani government to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Hayit; we are confident that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention will come to the same conclusion.”

Mahmadali Hayit is the deputy chairman of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), a peaceful opposition party. Tajikistan’s efforts to discredit and dismantle the party began shortly before the March 2015 parliamentary elections when several news articles appeared in state-run newspapers that falsely accused the IRPT of terrorism. Imams at state-controlled mosques also delivered sermons denouncing the IRPT and its alleged link to terrorism.

In September 2015, the government accused IRPT members of initiating a failed coup and arrested more than a dozen of its top leaders. Mr. Hayit was arrested on September 16, 2015, despite the absence of any evidence that he or any other IRPT members were involved in the failed coup. 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 banned the IRPT and ordered it to cease operations. 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.

On February 9, 2016, the Supreme Court began hearing cases against Mr.  Hayit and his colleagues. 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. Mr. Hayit’s initial lawyer was arrested before the proceedings could begin. Subsequent lawyers were fled the country after receiving government threats.

The charges against Mr. Hayit and his associates 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. On June 2, 2016, the Supreme Court of Tajikistan sentenced Mr. Hayit to life in prison.

Freedom Now and Hogan Lovells serve as Mr. Hayit’s international pro bono counsel. Since adopting the case, Freedom Now has urged the UN Secretary General to raise Mr. Hayit’s imprisonment with President Emomali Rahmon and delivered a statement calling for Mr. Hayit’s release before the the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s annual Human Dimension Implementation meeting.