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“Release Eighty-Year-Old Peaceful Political Activist!”

US, EU Should Raise Concern over Seven Year Sentence in Politically Motivated Case

(Vilnius — January 22, 2021) — The Tajik government should immediately and unconditionally release Doniyor Nabiev, an 80-year-old peaceful political activist who authorities detained and sentenced to seven years imprisonment on politically motivated charges, said the Association for Central Asian Migrants, the Tajikistan Human Rights Center, the Buzurgmehr Yorov Foundation, and human rights and academic experts.

The Tajik government’s arbitrary detention and imprisonment of the elderly Nabiev during the deadly COVID19 pandemic for peaceful and charitable activity have placed his life at serious risk and violate Tajikistan’s human rights obligations, the groups and experts said.

“Tajikistan’s long-running human rights crisis has already made victims out of numerous lawyers, journalists, and civil society activists,” said Steve Swerdlow, a human rights lawyer and Associate Professor of Human Rights at the University of Southern California. “But jailing an elderly activist at severe risk of contracting COVID19 during a deadly pandemic is a new low. Dushanbe should free him immediately.”

Doniyor Nabiev, known to many in Tajikistan as Boboi Dona, was a long-time activist in the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), Tajikistan’s most prominent opposition party until authorities forced it to close in 2015, designating it a terrorist organization. Nabiev’s relatives told the groups that authorities arrested him in Rudaki on August 27 on trumped-up extremism charges (Article 307 of Tajikistan Criminal Code), including fabricated allegations that he was funneling money to armed militants in Afghanistan.

Since his detention in August, and despite his advanced age, authorities have held Nabiev in a Dushanbe pre-trial detention center until his December trial. They have not allowed him even a single visit with his relatives. Nabiev’s case was designated as “secret,” as is the case in many politically motivated prosecutions, meaning that his lawyer was not allowed to share any information about the allegations with the public.

Authorities targeted Nabiev as retaliation for his activities providing financial assistance to the relatives of Tajikistan’s numerous political prisoners. Relatives told the groups that Nabiev delivered approximately $18 per month to four or five families whose relatives are IRPT members imprisoned for their peaceful political activity. Nabiev also delivered fruit and meat to the families during holidays. On December 28, 2020, a Dushanbe court sentenced him to seven years in prison.

“Putting Nabiev behind bars given his age and the pandemic is a cruel act of retaliation for his acts of kindness that he very well may not survive,” said Edward Lemon, Research Assistant Professor, the Bush School, Texas A&M University, and president of the Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs. “We urge the Tajik government to immediately release him, at the very least on humanitarian grounds, and end the relentless crackdown on Tajikistan’s civil society and peaceful opposition.”

Since 2015, the Tajik government has waged a relentless crackdown on the IRPT. Authorities have jailed more than 150 of its members. Dushanbe has sought to detain and extradite IRPT members living abroad, submitting warrants for fabricated charges to INTERPOL, the international police organization, in order to forcibly return dissidents to Tajikistan and in some cases have kidnapped them. Authorities have also subjected the relatives of dissidents to acts of public humiliation, in some cases forcing them to record videos denouncing their relatives.

Tajikistan’s handling of the coronavirus crisis has raised serious human rights concerns. For months, Tajikistan’s authoritarian president Emomali Rahmon, refused to acknowledge the existence of the pandemic or implement any measures to restrict the virus’ spread. His government held several mass gatherings in March and April believed to be super-spreader events in direct defiance of World Health Organization guidelines.

Prison authorities have also rejected repeated calls to release or transfer to house arrest certain categories of at-risk prisoners and guidance from the World Health Organization and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to reduce prison population size during the pandemic. Relatives reported in June that prominent political prisoner and IRPT member Rahmatullo Rajab contracted the virus.

“Sentencing an 80-year-old man for providing humanitarian aid to the families of political prisoners? This is the Tajik government showing once again that its goal is to strike fear into the minds of any citizens who would dare to take up independent initiatives,” said Ilhomjon Yoqubov, president of the Association for Central Asian Migrants.

On December 4, authorities announced the detention for two months of another political activist, Makhmurod Odinaev, the deputy head of the smaller opposition Social Democratic party (SDPT).

The government accuses Odinaev, along with his son, Khabibullo Rizoev, of “hooliganism,” which carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison. SDPT party members have said Odinaev’s and his son’s arrest is an attempt to deal a final blow to Tajikistan’s fledgling civil society and political opposition.

“Tajikistan’s starts out yet another year of this crackdown with two more dramatic abuses,” said Mahmudjon Faizrahmonov, the head of the Tajikistan Center for Human Rights. “Jailing the elderly during a pandemic and detaining yet another senior political opposition figure. We hope to see the United States and European Union register serious concerns with Dushanbe over these abuses.”

For further information please contact:

In Vilnius, for the Association for Central Asian Migrants, Ilhomjon Yoqubov (Tajik, Russian); +370 615 37433 (mobile); @yoqubovilhomjon

In Vienna, for the Tajikistan Center for Human Rights, Mahmudjon Faizrahmonov (Tajik, English), +43 664 97 95 485 (mobile); @mahmudjan

In Warsaw, for the Buzurgmehr Yorov Foundation, Jamshed Yorov (Tajik, Russian)

In Los Angeles, Steve Swerdlow, human rights lawyer and Associate Professor of the Practice of Human Rights, University of Southern California, (English, Russian); +1 917 535 0375 (mobile); @steveswerdlow

In Washington, DC, Edward Lemon, Research Assistant Professor in the Bush School, Washington, and president at the Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs, (Tajik, Russian, English) +1 917 580 1115 (mobile) @EdwardLemon3

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