Fourteen Tajik prisoners died when transported from Sughd region to southern Tajikistan.
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How Could Three Loaves of Bread Kill 14 People?
The incident occurred during lunchtime on July 7, when prisoners were transported from the prison colonies of northern Khujand and Istaravshan to the colonies of Dushanbe, Norak and Yovon.
According to the message of the Unit on Execution of Criminal Penalties under the Ministry of Justice distributed on July 8, three cars with 128 prisoners (out of them eight were women) moved out from Khujand to Dushanbe at 12:45 PM. According to the source, when the cars reached the town of Maykhur of the Varzob district, one of the prisoners gave to 16 other prisoners 3 loaves of bread, which he had with him (the message did not specify how the detainee under guard could carry the bread – Ed.).
The message states that the condition of 16 people deteriorated sharply after the prisoners ate this bread: they began to vomit, felt dizziness and heart pain. Thus, when the victims arrived to Dushanbe, they were already unconscious, and the doctors could not help most of them. Fourteen people out of sixteen died.
The General Prosecutor’s Office opened a criminal case on this fact; a special group is investigating the massive death toll. The Attorney General, Yusuf Rahmon, took the case under personal supervision.
Authorities made one official statement and no longer comment on this incident. Meanwhile, the distributed statement raised many questions. For example, how can three loaves of bread kill 14 people in two hours, when doctors say that food poisoning by bread does not kill in the first few hours?
“My Boy’s Whole Body Was Black”
Social networks and news sites put forward different versions of the prisoners’ death during transportation to Dushanbe. Moreover, the parents of some of the victims ask questions: if their children died from the poisoning, then why are there bruises and marks of beatings on their bodies?
Saodat Solekhova, the mother of Nekkadam Solekhov, does not believe the authorities’ explanation of her son’s poisoning. According to her, when they brought her son’s body, it was all black and she could hardly recognize him.
“It was all black, there were visible stiches, cuts in the neck and head, hands and feet were also cut, there were holes on the arms. The veins on the legs were cut. The face was also beaten and black, it was impossible to recognize him”, said Solekhova in an interview to CABAR.asia.
Her son, Nekkadam Solekhov, was 34. Mother told that he was sentenced to 13 years for membership in the banned Salafi movement. He served only three years of sentence. With Nekkadam’s death, this woman lost her third son. This resident of Varzob district reported that earlier one of her sons died in Syria, another one went missing in Moscow.
After the prisoners’ death, the photographs of the deceased man’s body began to spread in the Tajik segment of social networks. Users who posted a photo claimed it was Valijon Odinaev, 43, resident of Hisor district, who is one of the 14 dead. The messages claimed that Odinaev allegedly died of torture. On the photo, the entire face and head of the deceased are black from bruising.
However, the authenticity of the photos could not be established. Odinaev’s relatives, in an interview with Radio Ozodi, did not confirm this information and reported that during the identification they did not see any signs of violence on the body of the deceased.
Observers in social networks pay attention to the fact that the authorities are striving to bury all the dead as soon as possible, and, at the same time, prohibit relatives from communicating with the media.
“He Left to Do Military Service, but Died in Prison”
The information about the majority of the dead prisoners is limited. It is only known that they were from 19 to 43 and that they were born in different regions of Tajikistan.
Local media already wrote about one of them, Mehrob Yusupov, 27, resident of Varzob district. He was detained and sentences in 2016 while trying to join Gulmurod Khalimov, a well-known runaway colonel who became one of the commanders in the IS (banned in Tajikistan). There is no information on his sentence term, but the authorities accused him of communicating with Khalimov by phone.
Another name that is connected with the death of 14 prisoners is Rajabmurod Mannonov. His name was on the list of members of the Islamic Renaissance Party banned in the country. The youngest among the dead is Nekruz Khaidarov, 19, about whom his relatives said that two years ago he went to serve in the army, but was sentenced to five years for fighting in a military unit.
“When There Is No Reform, No One Knows What Happens in Prisons”
The murder of 14 prisoners caused many different opinions among analysts and experts of Tajikistan. They note that this incident, as well as two bloody riots in correctional facilities over the past nine months, cause serious concern about the state of the country’s penitentiary system.
In an interview with CABAR.asia, Oynihol Bobonazarova, a Tajik human rights activist who had repeatedly visited prisons, said that there are no reforms in the penitentiary system of Tajikistan, and corruption is widespread and does not decline for many years. The main problem is that the correctional system in Tajikistan is closed and it is impossible to foresee and predict what is happening inside.
“Abroad, every citizen can visit the prison, and at that moment everything can be observed. I personally went there several times, simply showing my passport.
According to Bobonazarova, the state is obliged to ensure the return of prisoners to their families after serving the sentence. If this does not happen, their relatives will be constantly under stress and worry about the fate of their imprisoned relatives.
“Imagine what it is like, to think every night about what can happen to the child in prison. This is a constant stress”, said Bobonazarova.
Over the past year, this is the third group death of Tajik prisoners. Earlier, in November 2018 and May of this year, there were bloody riots in the colonies in Khujand and Vahdat, which resulted in a death of more than 50 people.
This publication was produced under IWPR project «Forging links and raising voices to combat radicalization in Central Asia».