Washington, DC – According to media reports, on the evening of May 19 a deadly riot broke out at a maximum security prison in the Vahdat district of Tajikstan, approximately nine miles east of the capital Dushanbe. The prison holds numerous political prisoners, including members of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) political party and businessman and opposition politician Zayd Saidov.

Tajikistan’s Justice Ministry said three prison guards and 29 inmates were killed in the riot, including Sattor Karimov, Saeed Qiyomiddin Ghozi, and Jomahmad Boev – three prominent IRPT members. An attempt was made on Saidov’s life, but he was protected by fellow inmates and remains unharmed. Freedom Now and Hogan Lovells serve as the international pro bono counsel to Karimov and 12 other senior IRPT leaders as well as Saidov.

“We express our deepest condolences to the families of Sattor Karimov, Saeed Qiyomiddin Ghozi, and Jomahmad Boev,” said Freedom Now Executive Director Maran Turner. “The deaths of these men, who were imprisoned on politically motivated charges, is a travesty of justice. The Tajik government must ensure the protection of all prisoners in its custody, including Zayd Saidov and all IRPT members. The government must also conduct a thorough, transparent, and independent investigation into the riot that occurred at Vahdat.”

Tajikistan’s government has sought to dismantle the IRPT, a political party whose popularity threatens the authoritarian regime. In September 2015, the government accused IRPT members of initiating a failed coup. Karimov, a member of the IRPT’s Supreme Council, and 12 other senior IRPT leaders were arrested on September 16, 2015, despite the absence of any evidence that any 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. On February 9, 2016, the Supreme Court began hearing cases against the senior IRPT members. Because the charges involved national security concerns 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. On June 2, 2016, the Supreme Court of Tajikistan sentenced Karimov to 28 years in prison. The remaining IRPT leaders received sentences ranging from 14 years to life in prison.

Freedom Now and Hogan Lovells were preparing a petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of Karimov and his IRPT colleagues at the time of his death.