The leadership of what was once Tajikistan’s last surviving genuine opposition party has been sentenced to lengthy prison terms, ending a trial that has sealed the country’s inexorable descent into full-fledged authoritarianism.
The Supreme Court in Dushanbe sentenced Mahmadali Hayit and Saidumar Khusaini, deputy leaders of the now-banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, to life in prison, RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Ozodi, reported on June 2.
IRPT faced accusations that it was involved in an alleged attempted coup in September that authorities say was mounted by a disaffected deputy defense minister.
Another 12 leading party figures were handed sentences of between two and 28 years in jail at the end of the closed-doors trial, according to lawyers and relatives of the accused.
The mildest sentence, two years in jail, was reserved for Zarafo Rahmoni, the only woman on trial. The others senteced were Rahmatullo Rajab, Kiemiddin Avazov, Abdukahhor Davlat, Sattor Karimov (28 years), Zubaydulloh Roziq (25 years), Fayzmuhammad Muhammadalii (23 years), Rustam Sadiddin (20 years), Vohidkhon Qosiddinov (20 years), Hikmatullo Sayfullozoda (16 years), Mahmadsharif Nabiev and Abdusamad Ghairatov (14 years). All were members of IRPT political council, except for Ghairatov, who led the party cell in the southern Kulob region.
The sentences are in line with what had been expected and reflect the rapid decline of Tajikistan’s political freedoms and human rights.
“The government accuses the IRPT and its members of serious crimes, but it has refused to give public access to the trial and evidence,” Kaye said.
Kaye said that he too had been denied any access to IRPT members.
Hayit’s wife, Savriniso Juraeva, told Asia-Plus the court even deceived her about when the sentence was going to be passed.
“They tricked us and told us that the sentencing was going to be on June 4-5. Today they called us and told us to come to the sentencing,” Juraeva told Asia-Plus, which has been on the receiving on unofficial warnings to limit its coverage of the IRPT.
Rights groups have also collated testimonies about the IRPT leaders on trial being tortured. Khusaini’s daughter, Zaynab Husaynova, told Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee of the treatment reserved for her father.
“Police from the department responsible for fighting terrorism placed a bag on my father’s head when they arrested him and then beat him. His interrogators offered him the post of a government minister or to be Dushanbe’s deputy mayor if he would agree to publicly renounce the IRPT, but he refused,” Husaynova said.
The campaign against the IRPT has lasted for many years.
An alleged government document leaked to a Russian website in 2012 details the systematic approach adopted by the authorities in dismantling the party, which had the rare attribute of being the only legally operating Islamic party in Central Asia. (Officials denied at the time that the document was real, although many of the steps outlined in it were indeed followed pretty much to the letter).
The document instructed officials to coordinate with local government employees to regularly monitor and draw up detailed lists on the IRPT membership across the country. It also exhorted officials to take efforts to encourage members to abandon the party. State television regularly broadcast lurid reports describing the “unethical actions” of party representatives in the regions.
In April 2014, the government confiscated a family market belonging to IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri, who is living in exile and remains the only leading party figure not behind bars. On the eve of parliamentary elections in March 2015, clerics in the mosques, who typically act under strict instructions from the government, called on worshippers not to vote for what they described as the “party of war.” The IRPT duly lost its only two seats in parliament.
President Emomali Rahmon then chose June 27, which is when Tajikistan marks National Unity Day, an event that commemorates the signing of the UN-brokered peace agreement in 1997, to again renew condemnation of the IRPT. Under that treaty, the loose coalition of Islamists, nationalists and minority Pamiris that formed the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) was promised 30 percent of government positions. The IRPT was the main political successor the UTO.
“The glorious Tajik nation will never forget the treacherous deeds of some groups and people who in the early 1990s pulled our ancestors’ motherland into bloodshed and our newly independent country into the flames of war,” Rahmon said in a not-so-veiled reference to the IRPT.
Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan observed and committed to act as guarantors of that 1997 peace agreement, which was to be monitored by the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (now the Organization of Islamic Cooperation).
Appeals from the IRPT for guarantors to speak in its defense at least under the terms of the peace deal, whose collapse the party warned could “intensify radicalism and threaten stability in Central Asia,” fell entirely on deaf ears.