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Is the Sentence for an 80-Year-Old Man in Tajikistan a Message to the Opposition?

The Tajik court sentenced Doniyor Nabiev, 80, former member of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), to seven years of imprisonment. Experts and human rights organisations expressed their concern, considering this sentence as inadequate and tantamount to the death penalty.

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Дониёр Набиев. Фото: ozodi.org
Doniyor Nabiev. Photo: ozodi.org

Doniyor Nabiev was detained in last August on charges of committing serious crimes. On December 28, a closed court hearing was held on charges of organising the extremist organisation’s activities (Article 307, Part 2 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Tajikistan), where Nabiev was sentenced to 7 years in prison.

The arrest and conviction of the 80-year-old man sparked debates on social media; the human rights organisations and opposition groups claim that the charges against Nabiev were politically motivated.

The Tajik authorities kept silence, and only after wide public discussions, the Ministry of Internal Affairs made a statement on the case on January 8.

The statement claimed that Nabiev received money from the secret services of certain countries, “via remittances from third countries to spread extremist ideas, to purchase, publish and promote extremist literature, and to recruit and mobilize young people to the extremist groups”.

“He transferred part of the funds to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan through Panj district of Khatlon region to support the members of the former military wing of the IRPT – Jamaat Ansarullah,” stated the Interior Ministry.

The Interior Ministry believes that Nabiev used a part of the funds for his own needs.

On the next day, January 9, the banned IRPT issued a statement saying that Nabiev received money transfers from the “families, relatives and members of the IRPT to transfer them to the families of political prisoners”.

However, the IRPT claims that the transfers received by Nabiev “have nothing to do with the secret services of any country”. The IRPT also stated that such activities were not a crime and denied their connection with the Jamaat Ansarullah movement.

After the imposition of sentence, Doniyor Nabiev’s relatives appealed to the Supreme Court requesting to allow the 80-year-old man to serve his sentence outside the prison.

Doniyor Nabiev’s nephew Asomiddin Nabiev told CABAR.asia that his uncle had health issues.

“During the Ramadan month, he got sick and the doctors said he had tuberculosis symptoms. We saw him at the court, and he said he was worried about his health condition and asked, if possible, for a suspended sentence,” Asomiddin Nabiev said.

Why Was the Hearing Closed?

The experts expressed doubts about the necessity of a closed court hearing. They believe Nabiev’s relatives, journalists and representatives of human rights organisations should have attended the hearing.

Shokirjon Khakimov. Photo: asiaplustj

Lawyer Shokirjon Khakimov says that in such situations, the access to the court allows participants and experts to assess the arguments of both parties objectively.

“However, this procedure was not followed. Considering Doniyor Nabiev’s age, psychological and health condition, the sentence should have been softer. For example, restrictions on freedom of movement, suspended sentence, etc.,” says the lawyer.

He believes Nabiev “undoubtedly” acted from humanitarian motives.

“This court sentence will negatively affect the international reputation of Tajikistan and complicate the cooperation process with international humanitarian organisations,” he added.

Political analyst Abdumalik Kadirov also doubts the fairness of the sentence, primarily in the part of transferring funds to Afghanistan.

“The authorities did not provide the public with any evidence on this issue, and everything we know about it is stated by the government officials,” Kadirov said.

In his opinion, if the authorities want people to believe in what they say, they need to “make such widely-discussed hearings open to the public”.

“Otherwise, such cases become another reason to criticize the authorities. Today, we should not complain that the opposition ruins the global image of Tajikistan; we ruin our own image with the illogical behaviour,” Kadirov says.

Abdumalik Kadirov. Photo: asiaplustj

He believes that, considering Nabiev’s age, the authorities could have passed a lighter sentence and not send the 80-year-old man to jail.

“I think the harsh sentence to Doniyor Nabiev was a message to the opposition in Europe: “If you do not stop, this is what we will do with your supporters,” he said.

According to the experts, such trials on charges of extremism against elderly are rare in Tajikistan.

In the statement on January 20, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called Doniyor Nabiev “the victim of a series of politically motivated arrests and convictions”.

The HRW fears that Nabiev will not survive until his release from prison.

“There have already been reports of COVID-19 outbreaks in Tajik prisons. The World Health Organisation recommends the states to release representatives of high-risk groups, including the elderly, from prisons during the pandemic,” the statement said.

“His case shows that the authorities will stop at nothing in persecuting their political opponents,” the organisation noted.

In 2015, the Supreme Court of Tajikistan declared the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan a terrorist organisation and banned its activities in the country. Several party members were sentenced to long terms, while others fled the country, mostly to Western states, where they received political asylum.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with financial support from the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.

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