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UN human rights expert deplores sentencing of Tajikistan opposition leaders

7 June 2016 – A United Nations human rights expert today expressed dismay at the lengthy sentences imposed last week on the leadership of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT).

The deputy party heads, Saidumar Husaini and Muhammad Hayit, were sentenced to life imprisonment on 2 June. According to reports, 11 other high-ranking officials were sentenced to jail terms ranging from 2 to 28 years.

"The harsh sentencing of multiple opposition leaders reflects the steady increase of restrictions on freedom of expression in Tajikistan," said David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression. "The crackdown on IRPT over the last year silenced one of the few opposition voices in the country, seriously compromising the prospects for public participation in Tajikistan's political life."

"Authorities in Tajikistan refer to their concerns regarding the threats of extremism and terrorism while justifying their actions," noted Mr. Kaye. "Yet, imposing such drastic and arbitrary measures against opposition and religious leaders is not only unacceptable but dangerous as it only helps to radicalize those pushed out of public debate."

The Special Rapporteur stressed that "stability can never be achieved through the repression of all forms of dissent."

Mr. Kaye said that during his visit to Tajikistan in March, he shared with the Government his "profound concern" that the ban of IRPT, the arrest and closed trials of its leadership – which were not subject to any form of public or even UN scrutiny – were clearly incompatible with international human rights standards.

The Special Rapporteur noted that the prospects for freedom of expression and democracy in the country seem distant after the constitutional referendum in May, which banned any religious parties and allowed the president to run for an unlimited number of terms.

He also repeated his call for the release of all persons detained on political grounds and expressed alarm at reports on the continued intimidation of the IRPT leaders' lawyers and relatives.

"I received disturbing reports that relatives of IRPT members were prevented by the police from trying to reach the UN office after the verdict was announced, and were taken to a district court where they were threatened to be arrested and fined for not obeying to the Police," Mr. Kaye said. "This is totally unacceptable and furthers the climate of fear in the country."

IRPT members were sentenced on accusations of participation in a criminal group, incitement of national, racial or religious hatred, murder, terrorism, appeals to violent change of the constitutional order, illegal possession or transfer of weapons, and armed rebellion. Yet evidence detailing the accusations has been completely hidden from view, the Special Rapporteur said.

Mr. Kaye's appeal has also been endorsed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, and the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt.

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