Yesterday, the United Nations Human Rights Committee issued an opinion finding the arrest and detention of businessman and opposition politician Zayd Saidov by the Government of Tajikistan to be in violation of international law. The Committee—an independent panel of 18 human rights experts from around the world—called for the release of Saidov.
“We welcome the Committee’s opinion,” said Freedom Now Legal Director Kate Barth. “It has been more than five years since the Tajik government arrested and detained Zayd Saidov in order to silence him and put an end to his political activities. His conviction and the harsh sentence received violates Mr. Saidov’s fundamental human rights, including his right to freedom from arbitrary detention. Freedom Now calls on the Tajik government to respect the Committee’s opinion and immediately and unconditionally release Saidov.”
Prior to his arrest, Saidov was an entrepreneur involved in business entities spanning construction, textiles, jewelry, and real estate. He was named Tajikistan’s Minister of Industry in 2003 and served in that role until 2007. After he left this post, he served in various positions, including as member of the Dushanbe City Council, a position he was holding when he was arrested in May 2013.
In early 2013, Saidov organized a committee of businessmen, political scientists, and former public servants to discuss the creation of the New Tajikistan Party, a new political opposition party. On April 6, 2013, Saidov announced the creation of the party, along with plans to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Shortly after the announcement, Saidov received a message threatening his life if he did not keep out of politics.
While Saidov was abroad in France in May 2013, police raided his house. On May 19, 2013, he returned from France and was arrested without a warrant immediately after he stepped off the plane. The next day the Dushanbe City Council held an emergency vote to strip him of his position and immunity. Saidov was charged with five crimes in the Tajik Criminal Code: “bigamy or polygamy” (Article 170), “illegal deprivation of an individual’s freedom” (Article 131), rape (Article 138), fraud (Article 247), and bribery (Article 319). The court ordered Saidov to be kept in pre-trial detention, where he was held until his conviction 6 months later. During his detention, Saidov’s confidential access to his attorney was extremely limited.
The trial was plagued with procedural irregularities and blatant violations. In the days after his arrest, propaganda slandering Saidov was distributed in the form of news stories on television and flyers handed out in the streets. The trial itself was closed to the public, even though Tajik law dictates that media and the public should have access to the proceedings. The judge denied numerous motions on evidence in favor of the prosecution. Saidov was convicted on all five charges on December 25, 2013 and sentenced to 26 years in prison. In May 2014, the Supreme Court rejected his appeal.
In October 2014, prosecutors brought new charges against Saidov, for forgery, abuse of office, embezzlement, and tax evasion. He was convicted of these charges in August 2015 and three years were added to his sentence; he is currently serving 29 years in prison. This second trial was also closed to the public. Freedom Now has filed a subsequent petition with the Committee asking it to examine human rights violations in regards to these second set of charges. A decision from the Committee is still pending.
In the decision it just returned regarding the first conviction, the Committee found that the Government of Tajikistan had committed numerous violations of international law in arresting and detaining Saidov. The Committee determined that, in addition to arbitrarily detaining Saidov, Tajikistan denied him the right to a fair trial as well as his rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association. The Committee called on Tajikistan to immediately release Saidov and to ensure that he be adequately compensated for the violations against him.