Washington, D.C. – On May 21, 2019, 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 11 members of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) political party. Freedom Now expects to obtain an opinion from the Working Group that the Government of Tajikistan’s detention of the political opposition members is a violation of the rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The petition was filed two days after a deadly riot, instigated by imprisoned ISIS members, broke out at a prison in the city of Vahdat, where many of the IRPT leaders are held. One of the IRPT leaders initially named in the UN petition – Sattor Karimov – was killed, reportedly by members of ISIS. At least two other IRPT members were attacked and killed, and several more received serious injuries.
“Tajikistan’s imprisonment of the IRPT leaders is representative of the government’s broader campaign to vilify peaceful political opposition parties,” said Freedom Now Executive Director Maran Turner. “The government’s continued detention of the IRPT leaders violates their fundamental human rights, including their right to freedom of association. Freedom Now calls on the Tajik government to immediately and unconditionally release the IRPT activists, whose lives are at risk of injury and death.”
The IRPT was founded in 1990 and would grow to be become the largest opposition party in Tajikistan with approximately 43,000 members by 2015. The rising popularity of the IRPT threatened the ruling regime, and Tajikistan undertook efforts to discredit and dismantle the party. The government accelerated this campaign before the March 2015 parliamentary elections when several news articles appeared in state-run newspapers that falsely accused the IRPT of links to terrorism.
The Tajik government arrested more than a dozen IRPT leaders on September 16, 2015, accusing them of participating in failed coup. The government provided no evidence to support its sweeping allegation. Relatives of the detained activists informed human rights groups that the detainees were tortured and held incommunicado.
The Supreme Court banned the IRPT on September 29, 2015 and ordered it to cease operations. To this day, the distribution of any newspapers, videos, audio recordings, literature, or 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, all hearings were closed to the public and took place in the Tajik State Committee for National Security pre-trial detention facility in Dushanbe, rather than in a courtroom. At least two witnesses were coerced into giving testimony. One witness recanted his testimony, claiming government coercion. On June 2, 2016, the Supreme Court found all of the IRPT leaders guilty and sentenced them to terms ranging from 14 years to life in prison.
Freedom Now and Hogan Lovells LLP serve as international pro bono counsel to the 11 IRPT leaders as well as IRPT deputy chairman Mahmadali Hayit. In May 2018, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion finding Hayit’s detention to be in violation of international law and called for his immediate release. Freedom Now and Hogan also represent Sattor Karimov, on whose behalf a case is being prepared to the UN Human Rights Committee with allegations relating to the government’s failure to provide for his safety while in detention.