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Joint Statement on Tajikistan:

21 Novem­ber 2021

Ahead of the annu­al EU-Cent­ral Asia Min­is­teri­al Meet­ing sched­uled to take place in Dush­anbe on 22 Novem­ber 2021 with the par­ti­cip­a­tion of the EU’s High Rep­res­ent­at­ive for For­eign Affairs and Secur­ity Policy, Joseph Bor­rell and the for­eign min­is­ters of the Cent­ral Asi­an coun­tries human rights groups urge the EU to call on the Tajik gov­ern­ment to release two jailed Tajik oppos­i­tion politi­cians, Zubaidullo Roziq and Rah­matullo Rajab, from harsh pun­ish­ment cells where they have been placed on dubi­ous grounds. The men are serving 25 year and 28 year sen­tences, respect­ively, on polit­ic­ally motiv­ated charges relat­ing to their mem­ber­ship in the Islam­ic Renais­sance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), an oppos­i­tion party banned by the Tajik government.

Zubaidullo Roziq (left) and Rah­matullo Rajab (right)

Roziq and Rajab were placed in pun­ish­ment cells, known as SHIZO, in the base­ment of the newly built Vah­d­at pris­on. Such cells are cramped (2.5 m by 4 m) and damp, lack vent­il­a­tion, and are prone to extremely cold and hot con­di­tions in the winter and sum­mer, respect­ively. The cells are over­crowded, with cells inten­ded for 16 people now hold­ing at least 25. Each pun­ish­ment cell has only 4 met­al beds, often with no bed­ding or mat­tresses, for­cing pris­on­ers take turns sleep­ing. The beds are stored dur­ing the day and pris­on­ers are forced to stand until night when they are allowed to use the bed. The lights are always on in the cells.

Dur­ing his last call with rel­at­ives on Novem­ber 8, Rajab repor­ted that the pris­on admin­is­tra­tion placed him and Roziq in pun­ish­ment cells in retali­ation for send­ing an open let­ter to Pres­id­ent Emomali Rah­mon in early Novem­ber urging him to recon­sider their case. Since that time, Rajab and Roziq have been held incom­mu­nic­ado and denied care pack­ages that their rel­at­ives brought to the prison.

“This dis­turb­ing news about the retali­ation against polit­ic­al pris­on­ers for demand­ing review of their cases in open court by pla­cing them in dan­ger­ous and degrad­ing pun­ish­ment cells must be raised by Tajikistan’s inter­na­tion­al part­ners”, said Ilhom­jon Yoqubov, dir­ect­or of NGO Asso­ci­ation of Cent­ral Asi­an Migrants. “We call on rep­res­ent­at­ives of dip­lo­mat­ic mis­sions in Dush­anbe to request per­mis­sion to vis­it pris­on­ers in Vah­d­at, press for their imme­di­ate release from pun­ish­ment cells and call on Tajik author­it­ies to respect pris­on­ers right to a pub­lic and a fair trial”.

The groups are the Asso­ci­ation for Cent­ral Asi­an Migrants, NGO “Free­dom for Euras­ia”, Buzurgmehr Yorov Found­a­tion, Tajik Cen­ter for Human Rights.

This is not the first time the two men have been pun­ished for appeal­ing to Pres­id­ent Rah­mon. In Septem­ber 2021, Roziq, Rajab, and two oth­er IRPT mem­bers, Hikmatullo Say­ful­lo­zoda and Muhammadali Faizmuhammad, sent a let­ter to the Pres­id­ent Rah­mon demand­ing a review of their sen­tences. Soon there­after, 70-year-old Sai­ful­lo­zoda was attacked in a pris­on hos­pit­al and Rajab’s rel­at­ives repor­ted he was attacked with a knife. Fol­low­ing the assault, Rajab’s rel­at­ives tried unsuc­cess­fully to get per­mis­sion to vis­it him.

“As the Tajik author­it­ies’ efforts to coerce the men into mak­ing false con­fes­sions and pub­licly con­demning the IRPT and its lead­ers as ter­ror­ists failed, the ill-treat­ment of these pris­on­ers has intens­i­fied”, Jam­shed Yorov, head of Buzurgmehr Yorov Foundation.

The United States, the European Uni­on, and oth­er key inter­na­tion­al entit­ies should call for the unequi­voc­al release of pris­on­ers from pun­ish­ment cells, the groups said. They should also request access for dip­lo­mats, includ­ing rep­res­ent­at­ives of the UN and the Organ­iz­a­tion for Secur­ity and Co-oper­a­tion in Europe, to vis­it the IRPT mem­bers in detention.

The Com­mit­tee against Tor­ture and the Human Rights Com­mit­tee have con­sist­ently found that deten­tion con­di­tions can amount to inhu­man and degrad­ing treat­ment. We would like to draw the atten­tion of gov­ern­ment of Tajikistan to deten­tion stand­ards adop­ted by the UN Gen­er­al Assembly: the Stand­ard Min­im­um Rules for the Treat­ment of Pris­on­ers, known as the Nel­son Man­dela Rules (amended Novem­ber 5, 2015), and the Body of Prin­ciples for the Pro­tec­tion of All Per­sons under Any Form of Deten­tion or Impris­on­ment (adop­ted Decem­ber 9, 1988).

The Nel­son Man­dela Rules call for, inter alia, appro­pri­ate accom­mod­a­tion, includ­ing a min­im­um cubic con­tent of air and floor space, light­ing, and vent­il­a­tion (rules 12 to 17); require­ments to be met regard­ing per­son­al hygiene (rule 18), cloth­ing and bed­ding (rules 19 to 21), food (rule 22), exer­cise and sport (rule 23), sol­it­ary con­fine­ment (rule 45), and fam­ily vis­its (Rule 58); and a pro­hib­i­tion of the use of force (Rule 82).

We remind the gov­ern­ment of Tajikistan that Prin­ciple 19 of the Body of Prin­ciples for the Pro­tec­tion of All Per­sons under Any Form of Deten­tion or Impris­on­ment emphas­izes: “A detained or imprisoned per­son shall have the right to be vis­ited by and to cor­res­pond with, in par­tic­u­lar, mem­bers of his fam­ily and shall be giv­en adequate oppor­tun­ity to com­mu­nic­ate with the out­side world […]”.

“Tajikistan’s inter­na­tion­al part­ners should pub­licly con­demn the use of pun­ish­ment cells and incom­mu­nic­ado deten­tion by Tajik author­it­ies to inflict even more suf­fer­ing on unjustly imprisoned polit­ic­al pris­on­ers. They should also press the Tajik gov­ern­ment to respect its inter­na­tion­al oblig­a­tions and impose tar­geted pun­it­ive meas­ures, such as asset freezes and visa bans, on Tajik gov­ern­ment offi­cials respons­ible for impris­on­ing, mis­treat­ing, tor­tur­ing or com­mit­ting oth­er grave human rights viol­a­tions against peace­ful act­iv­ists, oppos­i­tion politi­cians, journ­al­ists, crit­ics until imme­di­ate human rights improve­ments are made”, Leila Nazgul Seiit­bek, rep­res­ent­at­ive of “Free­dom for Euras­ia”.