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GBAO

Sub­mis­sion by Free­dom For Eurasia

to the European Par­lia­ment in advance of its hear­ing on 6 of July 2022

Regard­ing Human rights viol­a­tions in Gorno-Badakh­shan autonom­ous region (GBAO), Tajikistan

July,  2022

This memor­andum provides recom­mend­a­tions for the European Par­lia­ment in advance of its hear­ing on July 6, 2022 and urges the European Par­lia­ment to adopt a Res­ol­u­tion with request for inclu­sion in the agenda for a debate on cases of breaches of human rights, demo­cracy and rule of law in the Gorno-Badakh­shan autonom­ous region (GBAO) of Tajikistan.

On May 18, 2022 the Tajik gov­ern­ment launched a viol­ent crack­down of protests in GBAO call­ing it a “counter-ter­ror­ist oper­a­tion”. Sim­il­ar nar­rat­ives have been used recently in Kaza­kh­stan, Belarus, and the autonom­ous Karakalpak­stan repub­lic with­in Uzbek­istan. Unless the inter­na­tion­al com­munity reacts firmly, there is reas­on to believe such nar­rat­ives will be used to legit­im­ise gross human rights viol­a­tions else­where in the reigon in the future. The sys­tem­ic, dec­ade-long tar­geted per­se­cu­tions and killings of the res­id­ents and com­munity lead­ers of Pamiri indi­gen­ous minor­it­ies urges for account­ab­il­ity of the Tajik gov­ern­ment. Accord­ing to reports, crack­down of dis­sent, arbit­rary killings of 40 res­id­ents[1] and mass detention/arrests of over 220 res­id­ents, includ­ing loc­al com­munity lead­ers, journ­al­ists, law­yers, human rights defend­ers, inde­pend­ent entre­pren­eurs have been com­mit­ted in GBAO between Novem­ber 25, 2021 – June 13, 2022.

GBAO is the largest region of Tajikistan, account­ing for approx­im­ately 45% of its ter­rit­ory, with a pop­u­la­tion of approx­im­ately 230,000 people. Due to its moun­tain­ous ter­rain, scarcity of (arable) land and harsh cli­mat­ic con­di­tions, GBAO remains the poorest region of Tajikistan Instead of devel­op­ing and sup­port­ing the region, cent­ral author­it­ies in Dush­anbe repress the region, and per­sist­ently vil­i­fy its res­id­ents, espe­cially the young­er gen­er­a­tion, as ter­ror­ists. The region has seen repeated ‘spe­cial oper­a­tions’ in 2012, 2014 and 2018. Protests in GBAO take place mainly against the arbit­rar­i­ness of law enforce­ment agen­cies, and each time this is a mani­fest­a­tion of a spon­tan­eous reac­tion to cer­tain trig­gers. The protests have nev­er had a planned, organ­ized char­ac­ter and have not had a polit­ic­al basis, as the law enforce­ment agen­cies are try­ing to present[2].

GBAO has been under extreme sur­veil­lance with large secur­ity and mil­it­ary pres­ence since 2018 with the cre­ation of the region­al Inter-Depart­ment­al Com­mit­tee on Secur­ity effect­ively repla­cing the loc­al civil­ian gov­ern­ment. It has been veri­fied by prom­in­ent inter­na­tion­al organ­iz­a­tions work­ing on minor­ity rights that GBAO res­id­ents have been sub­jec­ted to wide ran­ging forms of sur­veil­lance, inva­sions of pri­vacy, arbit­rary deten­tion, and coer­cion since Novem­ber 2021.[3] Due to the com­mu­nic­a­tion block­age and phys­ic­al remote­ness of GBAO, inform­a­tion flow has been severely hampered. For­eign journ­al­ists are not able to vis­it the region due to neces­sity to get spe­cial per­mis­sion and the major loc­al Tajik inde­pend­ent media out­let Asia Plus con­firmed that the agency has been banned from cov­er­ing the situ­ation in GBAO.[4]

On Novem­ber 25, 2021, protests erup­ted in Khor­ugh after the alleged extraju­di­cial killing of Gul­bid­din Ziy­obekov, 29-year-old res­id­ent of Tav­dem vil­lage, Roshtqala dis­trict, GBAO, in broad day­light dur­ing his attemp­ted arrest by the spe­cial forces[5]. On 25 Novem­ber 2021, a com­plete six month inter­net black­out was imposed[6], which was only lif­ted on 21 March 2022. The four-day protests ended with the estab­lish­ment of a joint state and civil soci­ety group[7] included 44 act­ive mem­bers of civil soci­ety and inform­al lead­ers of the city of Khor­ugh and the sur­round­ing area, who became act­ively involved in resolv­ing the situ­ation in the admin­is­trat­ive cen­ter of the autonom­ous region and invest­ig­at­ing the events trans­par­ently and in accord­ance with leg­al procedures.

Under pres­sure from the group, the author­it­ies issued a state­ment in which they prom­ised to object­ively invest­ig­ate the murder of Gul­bid­din Ziy­obekov and pun­ish those respons­ible, as well as not to detain those who went out to protest at the end of Decem­ber 2021.

How­ever, from the very begin­ning of its cre­ation, Com­mis­sion 44 began to report viol­a­tions by loc­al author­it­ies and the power bloc. On Janu­ary 19 of this year, Com­mis­sion 44 issued a state­ment that the group ceased cooper­a­tion with the author­it­ies in con­di­tions where ‘no one is invest­ig­at­ing the cir­cum­stances of the death and injury of civil­ian res­id­ents, and at the same time the pop­u­la­tion is being held account­able for even small violations’.

13 mem­bers of Com­mis­sion 44[8], includ­ing Chair­per­son of Pamir Law­yers Asso­ci­ation Manuchehr Kho­liknaz­arov, law­yer Faro­muz Irgashov and Khursand Mamad­sho­ev[9], were detained and accused. Two mem­bers of Com­mis­sion Khudzhamri Pirnaz­arov and Shaftolu Bek­davlatov were already accused  and sen­tenced for the organ­iz­a­tion of an unsanc­tioned rally to 18 years of impris­on­ment.[10] All court hear­ings were held behind closed doors.

Sev­er­al nat­ives of GBAO have also been extra­dited from Rus­sia[11] and sen­tenced to long term impris­on­ment. Most prom­in­ent are the cases of well known MMA fight­er and blog­ger Chor­shanbe Chor­shan­biev[12] and youth act­iv­ist Amrid­din Avolat­sho­ev[13].

This led to a new wave of protests in Khor­ugh on May 16 and in Vamar, Rus­hon dis­trict of GBAO on May 17. Ulti­mately, both protests were bru­tally cracked down and mass arrests fol­lowed in GBAO and the cap­it­al city of Dush­anbe. Pro­test­ers were inter­rog­ated, arres­ted, and con­victed to pris­on terms ran­ging from 8,5 to 18 years without prop­er investigation.The latest spe­cial ‘anti­ter­ror­ist’ oper­a­tion was con­duc­ted on May 18, 2022, in the after­math of protests that erup­ted in the region­al cen­ter of GBAO, Khorugh.

Author­it­ies face the risk of com­pletely los­ing the oppor­tun­ity to con­duct any kind of dia­logue with the pop­u­la­tion or the oppor­tun­ity to involve legit­im­ate rep­res­ent­at­ives of civil soci­ety in the nego­ti­ation pro­cesses, as the pop­u­la­tion lost con­fid­ence in the author­it­ies, and the mech­an­ism of joint com­mis­sions will already be exhausted. In the absence of oth­er mech­an­isms for a con­struct­ive dia­logue with the author­it­ies, protest moods are inev­it­able in the future, and as bit­ter exper­i­ence shows, they almost always end in injur­ies and cas­u­al­ties among the pop­u­la­tion and poten­tially rep­res­ent­at­ives of law enforce­ment and secur­ity agen­cies. It becomes a spir­al of end­less viol­ence, social anger, ali­en­a­tion, crime. Giv­en the tur­bu­lent bor­der with Afgh­anistan, and the dif­fi­culties on the bor­der with Kyrgyz­stan, the pro­spect of turn­ing an entire region into a per­man­ent zone of instabil­ity poses a ser­i­ous threat to the peace and secur­ity of the coun­try as a whole.[14]

The European Uni­on is one of the main stra­tegic part­ners of the Repub­lic of Tajikistan, sixth most import­ant trad­ing part­ner for Tajikistan[15] and the glob­al lead­er in pro­mot­ing the rule of law, pro­tect­ing human rights, guar­an­tee­ing basic freedoms, and empower­ing civil soci­ety.  These have been integ­ral to the for­eign policy of the European Uni­on (EU), includ­ing in Cent­ral Asia.

The EU Action Plan 2020–2024 is a vivid illus­tra­tion of the Union’s strong engage­ment to pro­mote uni­ver­sal val­ues and prin­ciples of human rights. The Action Plan along with the EU key pri­or­it­ies also includes new ele­ments on social and cul­tur­al rights, which are of par­tic­u­lar import­ance for the indi­gen­ous Pamiri com­munity of GBAO in Tajikistan. Nat­ives of GBAO face impris­on­ment for self-iden­ti­fic­a­tion as Pamiris[16]; access to inform­a­tion in endangered indi­gen­ous lan­guages is non-exist­ent and eco­nom­ic oppor­tun­it­ies are severely con­strained, set­ting GBAO as the poorest region of Tajikistan. Respect­ing the EU con­sid­er­a­tion of the GSP+ scheme for Tajikistan, we urge the EU to pri­or­it­ize human rights and freedoms in line with the respect­ive nego­ti­ations with Tajikistan and estab­lish clear con­di­tion­al­it­ies for Tajikistan to uphold human rights, spe­cific­ally with regards to the long-last­ing sys­tem­ic viol­a­tions and oppres­sion in GBAO.

Nego­ti­ations are ongo­ing between the EU and Tajikistan to upgrade the cur­rent Part­ner­ship and Cooper­a­tion Agreement(EPCA). With the pro­posed new agree­ment, the EU aims to update and enhance its rela­tion­ship with Tajikistan in sev­er­al cat­egor­ies, includ­ing sup­port­ing the ongo­ing, but slow, reform pro­cess, enhan­cing eco­nom­ic oppor­tun­it­ies for the grow­ing young pop­u­la­tion and pro­mot­ing region­al sta­bil­ity, secur­ity, and con­nectiv­ity. All these aspects are of utmost import­ance to Tajikistan, and spe­cific­ally to GBAO. GBAO shares an extens­ive bor­der with Afgh­anistan, and any instabil­ity or insec­ur­ity in the bor­der region can have dra­mat­ic implic­a­tions not only for Tajikistan, but also for the rest of Cent­ral Asia. We call on the EU to con­sider  the situ­ation in GBAO and its role in secur­ing sta­bil­ity in Tajikistan and Cent­ral Asia dur­ing the nego­ti­ations of the EPCA with the gov­ern­ment of Tajikistan.

We urge the EU and Mem­ber States to:

  • imme­di­ately ini­ti­ate a prop­er inter­na­tion­al invest­ig­a­tion into the crimes com­mit­ted against the people in GBAO dur­ing protests (25 Novem­ber 2021 and May 16–17) and “spe­cial oper­a­tion” (and “spe­cial oper­a­tion” (18 May-18 June, 2022 ), includ­ing dis­ap­pear­ances, reports of tor­ture, arbit­rary deten­tion and snipers killing or wound­ing peace­ful protesters
  • use mul­ti­lat­er­al for­ums to mon­it­or the human rights situ­ation in GBAO, includ­ing the UN Human Rights Coun­cil or the OSCE
  • ensure that European insti­tu­tions and agen­cies, includ­ing the EEAS and the European Bank for Recon­struc­tion and Devel­op­ment, and the World Bank to halt fin­an­cing pro­grammes in Tajikistan until the gov­ern­ment takes sub­stan­tial and tan­gible efforts to improve its human rights record, includ­ing imple­ment­ing all recom­mend­a­tions by the European Par­lia­ment, the UN and the OSCE, in a way that does not affect dir­ect sup­port to inde­pend­ent civil soci­ety, act­iv­ists, human rights defend­ers and media
  • impose tar­geted sanc­tions on high-level Tajik offi­cials respons­ible for the ser­i­ous viol­a­tions com­mit­ted dur­ing the protests of Novem­ber 2021 and May 2022
  • pro­mote con­sid­er­a­tion of the situ­ation in GBAO at the next ses­sion of UN Human Rights Coun­cil with the sub­sequent adop­tion of a res­ol­u­tion on the situation
  • mon­it­or the situ­ation, vis­it and provide sup­port to detained pro­test­ers and polit­ic­al pris­on­ers, act­ively engage with loc­al mem­bers of civil soci­ety by organ­ising reg­u­lar meet­ings without dis­crim­in­a­tion and take a role in facil­it­at­ing a dia­logue between the gov­ern­ment and civil society

In ref­er­ence to the afore­men­tioned and acknow­ledging its strong com­mit­ment to pro­tect­ing human rights, we call on the EU to require imme­di­ate and con­crete actions from the Gov­ern­ment of the Repub­lic of Tajikistan demon­strat­ive of its com­mit­ment to address the most hor­rendous human rights viol­a­tions com­mit­ted against Pamiri pop­u­la­tion, particularly:

  • dis­close inform­a­tion related to arrests and cas­u­al­ties res­ult­ing from the protests, and to ensure that all those pro­sec­uted have access to a law­yer and are provided with fair tri­als in accord­ance with inter­na­tion­al law
  • ini­ti­ate a prop­er inter­na­tion­al invest­ig­a­tion into the crimes com­mit­ted against the people of GBAO dur­ing protests in 2021 and May 2022, and among oth­er mat­ters to invest­ig­ate dis­ap­pear­ances, as well as the reports of tor­ture, arbit­rary deten­tion and sniper killing or wound­ing peace­ful pro­test­ers and to announce the res­ults publicly
  • release and rehab­il­it­ate arbit­rary detained and sen­tenced on polit­ic­ally motiv­ated charges demon­strat­ors and civil soci­ety act­iv­ists of GBAO, includ­ing mem­bers of Com­mis­sion 44
  • invite UN spe­cial pro­ced­ures and OSCE experts to under­take field vis­its and to fully cooper­ate with them to invest­ig­ate deaths among civil­ians and oth­er human rights viol­a­tions in GBAO
  • put a halt to mass extra-judi­cial arrests and deten­tions of GBAO nat­ives and mass seal­ing of ongo­ing tri­als and crim­in­al pro­ced­ures against protesters
  • refrain from polit­ic­ally motiv­ated extra­di­tions and oth­er forms of har­ass­ment of exiled act­iv­ists or their fam­ily mem­bers resid­ing in Tajikistan
  • ensure media free­dom and provide inde­pend­ent journ­al­ists with a free and safe access to GBAO and allow them to work without viol­ence and intimidations
  • stop using inter­net shut­downs in GBAO to crush dis­sent and viol­ate free­dom of expres­sion and assembly, con­trary to inter­na­tion­al human rights standards
  • restore unres­tric­ted access to the Inter­net, unblock all oth­er forms of com­mu­nic­a­tion and stop met­ing out repris­als against those who share news independently
  • allow inter­na­tion­al com­munity, includ­ing the UN Human Rights Coun­cil and/or the OSCE to mon­it­or the human rights situ­ation in GBAO, vis­it and provide sup­port to detained pro­test­ers and civil soci­ety act­iv­ists, act­ively engage with loc­al mem­bers of civil soci­ety by organ­ising reg­u­lar meet­ings without dis­crim­in­a­tion and take a role in facil­it­at­ing a dia­logue between the gov­ern­ment and civil soci­ety as well as provid­ing assist­ance to vic­tims of polit­ic­al pro­sec­u­tion and imprisoned act­iv­ists by attend­ing tri­als  and vis­it­ing places of detention.

[1] https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2022/05/tajikistan-un-expert-fears-crackdown-against-pamiri-

minor­ity-could-spir­al

[2] https://cabar.asia/en/what-explains-the-endless-protests-in-gbao

[3] https://minorityrights.org/2022/05/20/tajikistan-crackdown/

[4] https://is.gd/rcdLyy

[5]https://is.gd/7nLIww

[6]https://is.gd/sOF1m5

[7] Com­mis­sion 44 (an unre­gistered pub­lic asso­ci­ation which was cre­ated in the admin­is­trat­ive cen­ter of GBAO on the last day of the Novem­ber 2021 ral­lies to resolve the situ­ation in Badakh­shan jointly with the authorities)

[8] https://acca.media/en/15044/tajikistan-members-of-the-public-commission-44-were-detained-in-khorog/

[9] https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/human-rights-defenders/tajikistan-arbitrary-detention-of-lawyers-manuchehr-kholiknazarov  

[10] https://rus.ozodi.org/a/31922829.html

[11] https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-mma-fighters-pro-pamiri-remarks-land-him-behind-bars

[12]  He was depor­ted or extra­dited by the Rus­si­an author­it­ies and arres­ted upon arrival at Dush­anbe air­port in late-Decem­ber 2021,sentenced to 8,5 years of impris­on­ment: https://is.gd/9HvGqB 

[13] Prom­in­ent com­munity organ­izer among the Tajik dia­spora from GBAO in Rus­sia and one of the main organ­izers of the demon­stra­tion in front of the Embassy of Tajikistan in Moscow in solid­ar­ity of the protest in Khor­ugh in Novem­ber 2021. He was arres­ted in Rus­sia on Janu­ary 11, 2022 and dis­ap­peared after­wards. Only on Feb­ru­ary 2, 2022, the pub­lic pro­sec­utor con­firmed that he had been extra­dited to Tajikistan but his where­abouts remained unknown and he did not have access to a law­yer and to com­mu­nic­a­tion with the out­side world. Sen­tenced to 18 years of impris­on­ment on 29 April. https://rus.ozodi.org/a/31827062.html 

[14] https://cabar.asia/en/what-explains-the-endless-protests-in-gbao 

[15] https://gsphub.eu/country-info/Tajikistan

[16] https://cabar.asia/en/what-explains-the-endless-protests-in-gbao