Search RFE/RL

Central Asia in Focus: Tajik Courts Dispense Injustice

Tajik journalists Ulfatkhonim (R) Mamadshoeva and Khushruz Jumaev (L).
Tajik journalists Ulfatkhonim Mamadshoeva and Khushruz Jumaev.

What’s Happening in the Region

Tajik Courts Dispense Injustice

On December 9 the world marked International Human Rights Defender Day, dedicated to human rights activists who stand up against injustice to protect rights and freedoms.

Also on December 9, news was breaking that Tajikistan’s courts were busy throwing people from the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) in prison.

At least six Pamiri natives of GBAO were sentenced in the days leading up to December 9.

All the trials were held behind closed doors, without any relatives or journalists present, so it is unclear who was sentenced on what day.

Since May 2022, Tajik authorities have been targeting members of the Pamiri community. The government responded to peaceful protests in GBAO by launching a security operation left dozens of people dead.

RFERL’s Tajik service, known locally as Ozodi, found out on December 9 about four Pamiris being sentenced, and information later emerged about two more.

Journalist and blogger Khushruz Jumayev uses the name Khush Gulyam on his YouTube channel that posts material about the history, languages, and culture of the Pamiri peoples. He was found guilty of organizing an unsanctioned meeting and publicly calling for the overthrow of the government.

Jumayev was sentenced to eight years, the lightest sentence of any of the six GBAO activists convicted in early December.

Journalist Ulfathonim Mamadshoeva, aged 65, was sentenced to 21 years in prison for allegedly organizing the unrest in GBAO.

Her brother Khursand Mamadshoev was sentenced to 15 years in prison allegedly for “organizing a criminal group.”

The alleged criminal group was Commission 44, a group established by GBAO activists after protests in the regional capital Khorugh in November 2021 that left three people dead.

Commission 44 worked with the government to investigate the causes of the violence.

After the violence in GBAO in May and without any public announcement, Commission 44 was declared a criminal organization.

Another Commission 44 member, Muzaaffar Muborakshoev, was sentenced to 29 years in prison.

Rights defender and head of the Pamir lawyers Association Manuchehr Kholiknazarov was sentenced to 18 years.

Pamiri attorney Faromuz Irgashev, 32, who wanted to run in Tajikistan’s presidential election in 2020, was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Both Kholiknazarov and Irgashev were Commission 44 members and were charged with forming a criminal group, though as yet, Tajik authorities have not publicly spoken about their convictions.

Why It’s Important: While International Human Rights Defenders Day was approaching, UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor was visiting Tajikistan from November 28 to December 9. Lawlor expressed concern in a statement over a “crackdown” on journalists covering human rights in Tajikistan, saying they have been charged “with little reliable evidence, following inadequate investigations, and trials taking place in closed settings.”

At the same time, a delegation from the European Union was in Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe on December 7 for the 13th annual Human Rights Dialogue with Tajik officials.

Yet still, Tajik courts were convicting GBAO activists on dubious charges in courtroom processes that were far from open and impartial.

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon and his government have been pleading for money and other assistance for years from the UN, EU, United States, and other countries, and receiving it. Yet when these same institutions and countries frequently call on Tajik authorities to respect basic human rights, Tajik authorities ignore them.

Russia Continues Trying to Recruit Central Asian Migrant Laborers

Faced with shortages of troops in the Russian military due to its war in Ukraine, authorities in Moscow are openly seeking Central Asian citizens to join the Russian army with the promise of a fast-track route to Russian citizenship.

There are between six and eight million migrant laborers from Central Asia working in Russia, many of them young men.

Russia has already conducted a partial mobilization of its citizens. The Kremlin is apparently reluctant to implement another round of call-ups as the cost of its war in Ukraine is increasingly unpopular among Russian citizens.

Russia has been trying to use Central Asians to help fill the ranks of troops in the Russian military, starting with Central Asians who have already obtained Russian citizenship.

But recent efforts are targeting those who have travelled to Russia for employment.

Some buses in Moscow carried messages in the Uzbek language offering Russian citizenship to those who sign-up for the Russian military.

Similar advertisements in Uzbek, Tajik, and Kyrgyz were posted at migration centers in Moscow. Moscow buses reportedly stopped the advertisements in Uzbek.

The governments of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan have all warned their citizens it is illegal for them to join a foreign military.

Why It’s Important: Central Asian migrant laborers already run a gauntlet of obstacles in Russia.

They are targeted by nationalists, Russian police extort bribes from them with the threat of taking them into custody on bogus charges, and employers pay low salaries and sometimes disappear without paying at all after the work is done.

And now there are attempts to lure young Central Asian men into joining the Russian military to fight in a foreign war.

The Latest Majlis Podcast

This week’s Majlis podcast gives Karakalpaks an opportunity to give their view on the violence in Karakalpakstan in early July, the investigation into the causes of the unrest, and the trial against 22 suspects.

Due to concerns for the safety of family and friends back in Karakalpakstan, this week’s guests are using the pseudonyms Aysulu Azatova and Makset Saparov.

Their voices have also been altered to help conceal their identities.

What I’m Following

Afghanistan’s Hekmatyar says Tajik Citizens Behind Attack on his Kabul Office

Taliban friend Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Afghan warlord and former Mujahideen leader who served two terms as Prime Minister, has accused Tajiks from Tajikistan of being behind an attack on his party’s office in Kabul.

Both militants who attacked the Hizb-e Islami party office on December 2 were killed along with one of Hekmatyar’s bodyguards and a civilian.

Hekmatyar said “the terrorists are citizens of Tajikistan.”

When Will Uzbekistan’s President Go to Kyrgyzstan?

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev was set to make an official visit to Kyrgyzstan in late November, but that was postponed. Miziyoev was then scheduled to be in Kyrgyzstan for his official visit on December 10, but that was also postponed.

The crowning achievement of Mirziyoev’s planned trip is supposed to be the signing of a border agreement with Kyrgyzstan, but there has been more opposition inside Kyrgyzstan to that agreement than the Kyrgyz government expected.

Fact of the Week

Kyrgyzstan’s National Bank has staged 14 interventions this year to prop up the exchange rate of the national currency – the som.

These moves seem to have worked.

The exchange rate in early January was 84.77 som to U.S. $1 and on December 7 the rate was 84.91 som to U.S. $1.

Thanks for Reading

Thanks for reading our Central Asia in Focus newsletter! I appreciate you sharing it with other readers who you think may be interested.

Feel free to contact me on Twitter or by responding to this email, especially if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or just want to connect with me about topics concerning Central Asia.

Please consider filling out this brief survey so that I can better understand how this newsletter can be useful for you.

See you next week for more on what’s happening in Central Asia.

Until next time,