Tajikistan Promises Amnesty for Returning Jihadis
The Tajik security services are well known for employing heavy-handed tactics as they attempt to stamp out extremism. In recent months, some have reportedly forced men with beards under the razor, tried to ban sales of hijab, and carried on with the usual mass arrests of suspected Islamists. But there is a softer side to counter-terrorism in Tajikistan.
On May 9 the Interior Ministry promised amnesty to Tajik militants in Syria and Iraq who wish to come home. The ministry “is ready to help them return,” the statement declares.
“The Ministry of Interior has received information through its law enforcement agencies that young people have been led astray and are fighting in Syria, Iraq and other countries. Some are now in Turkey and can return home voluntarily. We also inform you that these persons will be exempt from criminal liability,” the ministry’s statement said, without naming any conditions.
Last year the prosecutor’s office in Sughd Province, in the north, offered to amnesty returning fighters. This is the first time authorities have declared a nationwide amnesty.
Authorities are keen to counter messages that the Islamic State is some kind of paradise on earth. On May 7, a man claiming to be a repenting jihadist who had recently returned from Syria spoke to a large crowd in Khujand about his experiences there. Farrukh Sharifov described beheadings, sexual slavery and terrible living conditions. The event, organized by the Interior Ministry, has been widely publicized.
The ministry is also confident it can accurately state the number of Tajiks who have travelled to fight outside of Tajikistan.
In the recent past, several Central Asian governments have given rough estimates of the number of their citizens fighting in Syria and Iraq. In Tajikistan, officials have struggled to agree on a figure. Whereas the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) announced in November that 300 Tajiks have joined the ranks of the Islamic State, in January the Ministry of Internal Affairs put the figure at 200. But yesterday Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda gave a precise number: 386.
His figure, however, includes Tajiks fighting in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Rahimzoda told participants at a counter-terrorism workshop in the southern city of Kulyab that the authorities had opened 150 criminal cases against alleged militants. He added that 50 Tajik citizens have died in Syria and Iraq.
One notable person who may be included in the list is the commander of the Interior Ministry’s paramilitary unit (OMON), Colonel Gulmurod Halimov. According to TojNews, Halimov has not turned up at work for almost two weeks. Asia Plus reports that he travelled to Moscow (and, presumably, onward) on May 2 with 10 other men intending to join the Islamic State. The rumors remain unconfirmed. But if true, Halimov would be the Islamic State’s most prominent Tajik convert to date.