Tajikistan Urged to Release Political Activist, Drop Charges

Human Rights Watch

The Tajik authorities should drop trumped up charges against Nizomiddin Nasriddinov and immediately release him, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Human Rights Watch, Freedom for Eurasia, and Freedom Now said today. Nasriddinov, a political activist, was recently extradited from Belarus at the request of the Tajik government.

Nasriddinov is a vocal advocate for democratic reforms in Tajikistan and has cooperated with Group 24, an opposition political group that has called for reform and shared critiques of the government on social media since its founding in 2011. Tajikistan's Supreme Court baselessly declared Group 24 a terrorist group in late 2014, making affiliation with the movement illegal under Tajikistani law.

Nasriddinov and his family fled to Germany in October 2015, where they were granted refugee status in April 2017 and have lived ever since. Nasriddinov has made public appearances in a number of forums abroad to share his views on Tajikistan's human rights record and political environment. However, Group 24 has stated that Nasriddinov has not been a member of this organization since 2018.

After charging Nasriddinov under article 307-1 of the Tajikistan criminal code for "public calls for extremist activities," Tajik authorities placed him on a global wanted list in November 2017. The prosecution cites Nasriddinov's Facebook reposts of articles from Group 24 and the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, an opposition group similarly outlawed in 2015, as well as a YouTube video in which Nasriddinov lambastes Tajikistan's leader and administration.

On January 8, 2023, Nasriddinov was apprehended by Belarusian authorities at the request of Tajik authorities while crossing the border from Lithuania. The Prosecutor General's Office of Belarus decided on February 21 that Nasriddinov should be sent to Tajikistan. The ruling says that article 307-1 of the Tajikistan criminal code is equivalent to article 361 of the Belarus criminal code on "Public calls for actions aimed at harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus."

The 2002 convention on legal assistance and legal relations in civil, family, and criminal matters (the Chisinau Convention), to which both countries are party, says that if both nations outlaw the same actions, the legislation serves as a statutory basis for extradition. However, according to article 89(f) of the convention, the extradition should not be carried out if there are good reasons to believe that the request for extradition is related to persecuting the person on grounds including political opinion.

Despite protests from regional and international rights groups, Belarussian authorities rejected Nasriddinov's asylum request and deported him to Tajikistan on July 24, before his opportunities to appeal had been exhausted. As such, the Belarussian authorities violated their obligations under multiple conventions, the groups said. First and foremost is the nonrefoulement principle, which prohibits states from transferring or removing anyone from their jurisdiction or effective control when there are substantial grounds for believing that the person would be at risk of irreparable harm upon return, including persecution, torture, ill-treatment, or other serious human rights violations.

Under international human rights law, nonrefoulement is explicitly included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which both Belarus and Tajikistan are parties. The Belarus authorities also violated the Chisinau Convention since Nasriddinov is being persecuted because of his political opinion and thus should not have been extradited to Tajikistan.

Based on the latest available information, Nasriddinov is being held in a temporary detention center operated by the notorious Tajik security service, colloquially known by its Russian-language acronym GKNB, where there is a significant risk of torture and other types of ill-treatment.

An anonymous source said that law enforcement agencies are seeking to modify the charge against Nasriddinov to article 307 of the Tajikistan criminal code on "Public calls for a violent change in the constitutional order of the Republic of Tajikistan." This article carries a longer prison term and indicates that the authorities are trying to remove a critic and political opponent by sentencing him to a lengthy prison term.

In December 2022, after her visit to Tajikistan, the United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, highlighted the extreme vulnerability of human rights defenders in the country. She noted that they are harshly persecuted for carrying out legitimate activities to promote human rights, sentenced to long prison terms in unfair trials, and subjected to unbearable conditions in prison.

A new wave of severe human rights crisis has recently swept through Tajikistan, where the government has kidnapped, disappeared, and executed a number of political opponents and dissidents in addition to imprisoning hundreds of intellectuals, lawyers, and other peaceful opposition members on fabricated political charges.

The government has mercilessly suppressed free speech, repressed the media, and prohibited all forms of political dissent. Torture is a regular practice within the penitentiary system, and impunity for egregious human rights violations continues to be the rule.

  • Tajik authorities should refrain from requalifying Nasriddinov's case to impose a more severe sentence, and instead drop all charges against him.
  • Dushanbe should immediately release Nasriddinov due to the absence of corpus delicti in his deeds - that is, that a crime has actually been committed, since peaceful activism and criticizing the authorities are not crimes.
  • Nasriddinov should be allowed to leave Tajikistan and reunite with his family in Germany.
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