A state prosecutor in Tajikistan has demanded life sentences for opposition figures on trial for their supposed involvement in an alleged coup in September.
The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan’s official website, Payom.net, reported on May 11 that four of its leading members could be sentenced to life in jail, while members of the party’s political council face terms of between 16 and 30 years.
Only one person on trial, IRPT deputy chairman Zarafo Rahmoni, faces a slightly less draconian sentence of five years in prison.
IRPT stands accused of financing and organizing a purported attempt to overthrow the government that officials say was led by disaffected deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda in September.
The startling severity of the proposed sentences appears to be an attempt to frighten anybody even vaguely contemplating any form of dissent in the future. The most severe term handed down to a political opponent to date was reserved for Zaid Saidov, who was in 2013 sentenced to 26 years in jail, a term later extended to 29 years.
Nazarzoda was reportedly killed in a gunfight with government forces on September 16. Senior IRPT members were arrested later that same month.
The trial was held behind closed doors, journalists were officially denied access to the hearings and informally warned to avoid even referring to the case. Even lawyers for the IRPT members were themselves jailed after taking up the case.
Earlier this month, Nazarzoda’s 28-year old son, Bahtiyor Nazarov, was sentenced to 22 years in jail, also for alleged involvement in attempts to overthrow the government.
After a handful of local news websites — Asia Plus, Ozodagon and that of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik service, Ozodi — reported on Nazarov’s sentencing, they had their websites blocked.
Nothing remotely resembling evidence has been presented in public about any of these cases, not least since there are considerable doubts about whether anything of that nature actually exists.
The remnants of the IRPT met at an undisclosed location in Europe for a conference that ran from April 29 to May 2 to select a new leadership. Discussions at the congress focused on what the party has described as the corruption, nepotism, regionalism and intolerance toward dissent currently gripping Tajikistan.
“In order to hide all this, the country’s leadership has maintained the country in a state of permanent crisis and is provoking internal and external instability so that our people would not ask questions about the economic, political and other day-to-day problems affecting our country,” the party said in its congressional resolution.
Even as the IRPT trial has come to a close, the international community has remained largely mute, leaving the scattered opposition forces isolated and at the mercy of increasingly arbitrary government, even beyond Tajikistan’s borders.