Tajikistan: Human Rights Lawyer Detained

(Berlin) – Tajik authorities should immediately release or present credible and internationally recognizable charges against the human rights lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov, six international human rights groups said today.

The authorities arrested Yorov on September 28, 2015, in Dushanbe on what appeared to be trumped-up charges in retaliation for representing 13 of the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), the groups said. The government banned the party in August and declared it a terrorist organization on September 29. Yorov is at least the fourth Tajik lawyer authorities have arrested, imprisoned on politically motivated charges, or subjected to serious harassment in less than two years.

The arrest of a leading human rights lawyer for taking on a politically sensitive case shows just how terrible Tajikistan’s ongoing human rights crackdown has become,” said Nadejda Atayeva, president of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia. “The Tajik government should immediately release or credibly charge Buzurgmehr Yorov, provide him access to a lawyer and his family, and ensure the independence of the legal profession.

The authorities charged Yorov with fraud and document forgery under articles 140 and 340 of Tajikistan’s criminal code. An Internal Affairs Ministry spokesperson said the alleged fraud occurred in July 2010, when Yorov had purportedly received US$4,000 from a resident of the city of Istaravshan.

At the time of his arrest, Yorov had just begun to represent the 13 Renaissance Party members, whom authorities arrested on various charges on September 16. In an interview with a journalist published the day he was arrested, Yorov said that one client, Umarali Hisaynov, a deputy party leader, told him that officers from the Police Unit for Combating Organized Crime had beaten him following his arrest.

The 13 were senior leaders of the party, the second-largest in the country with an estimated 40,000 supporters. It had been the only Islamic political party legally registered in Central Asia before it was banned and declared a terrorist organization. The Supreme Court declaration on September 29 that the party was a terrorist organization made the dissemination of any materials produced by the party a criminal offense.

On October 6 a credible independent media outlet in Tajikistan told Human Rights Watch that up to 78 party members are either in detention or under formal arrest on various grounds related to their party membership.

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers states that lawyers “shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions” and that they must be able “to perform all their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.” Furthermore, lawyers “shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards or ethics.”

By locking up a prominent human rights lawyer, Dushanbe is sending Tajikistan’s legal community an unambiguous warning to stay away from politically sensitive cases,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Now more than ever, Tajikistan needs a strong and independent legal profession that can operate free of interference or fear of retribution.”

Yorov’s arrest comes amid a worsening government crackdown on dissent, and follows the arrest, imprisonment, and intimidation of several other lawyers who were known for taking on politically sensitive cases. On January 13, a Dushanbe court sentenced a well-known human rights lawyer, Shukhrat Kudratov, to nine years in prison following a politically motivated trial for fraud and bribery. His sentence was later reduced on appeal to three years.

A few months before being jailed Kudratov served as counsel for Zayd Saidov, an opposition figure sentenced in December 2013 to 29 years in prison in a prosecution that appeared to be retaliation for his intention to run in the November 2013 presidential election. In August 2015, prosecutors brought additional charges against Saidov, resulting in the addition of three more years to his sentence.

In March 2014, Tajikistan’s Anti-Corruption Agency arrested another prominent lawyer, Fakhriddin Zokirov, on fraud charges. Zokirov was in detention until November 3, when he was released under an amnesty. The International Commission of Jurists and 18 Tajik nongovernmental groups labeled Kudratov’s and Zokirov’s arrests politically motivated.

In July 2015, a Khujand-based lawyer, Fayzinisso Vohidova, who is known for her human rights and criminal defense work, told Human Rights Watch that she had received text messages saying that she and her family could be killed or seriously injured unless she agreed to stop representing politically sensitive clients.

The United States, the European Union, and Tajikistan’s other international partners should press the Tajik government to ensure that all lawyers are able to carry out their work without fear of threats or harassment, including freedom from arbitrary arrest or prosecution, the groups said. The international partners should also press Tajikistan to uphold its international obligations to respect freedom of association, assembly, and expression.

This worrying pattern of arrests of lawyers represents an assault on the independence of the legal profession in Tajikistan and should end immediately,” said Bjorn Engesland, secretary general of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “Locking away the lawyer because of the client is not only a serious miscarriage of justice; it harms the public at large, depriving them of the right to independent legal counsel.” 


A citizen of Uzbekistan Davron Komoliddinov, who went missing in Russia, is in the Tashkent Prison

We received the information that on 17 September 2015 Davron Komoliddinov, who was arrested in Russia, was delivered to Uzbekistan and is currently held in the Tashkent Prison.

On 3 April 2015, he was arrested in the city of Krasnoyarsk, in Russia, following a request of Uzbekistan asking for his extradition. Six months earlier, his family did not know his whereabouts.

 Davron Komoliddinov
Davron Ortikovich KOMOLIDDINOV was born on 14 April 1991 in the Uchkuprik district of the Fergana region.

In Uzbekistan, he is accused of committing offences provided for in the following Articles of the Criminal Code:
— 156 (Incitement of Ethnic, Racial or Religious Hatred);
— 159 (Attempts on the Constitutional Order of Republic of Uzbekistan);
— 244-2 (Establishment, Direction of or Participation in Religious Extremist, Separatist, Fundamentalist or Other Banned Organisations). Komoliddinov is facing a prison sentence of 15 years.

A lawyer provided by the State is participating in the investigations. We have reliable information that during questioning Davron Komoliddinov is giving self-incriminating evidence and signing minutes recording the questioning without reading them. His family does not rule out that his “obedient” behaviour is a result of torture. “Lack of information about where he was for the last six months and impossibility to speak with him suggest the saddest assumptions” – says his brother.

Uzbek law enforcement agencies became interested in him as early as 2012. As it transpired later, two citizens of Uzbekistan, with whom he communicated in Russia, testified against Komoliddinov. Following their returned from Russia to Uzbekistan, they were detained on 3 October 2012.

In the course of 2013, Uzbek criminal investigation officers regularly visited Davron Komoliddinov’s home and coerced his family to give information about his location.

The Court hearing of Davron Komoliddinov’s case will take place in October 2015.

The information we are receiving indicates that the investigation is relying on illegally obtained evidence and the accused does not a chance of viable defence.

Association for Human Rights in Central Asia — AHRCA continues to observe the case against Davron Komoliddinov.

Previous publications on this topic:
          — press release "A citizen of Uzbekistan Davron Komoliddinov went missing in Russia" dated 18 August 2015.


Endemic torture in Uzbekistan

Photo: “Sadness” ©Sergey IGNATYEV, 
Art and Human Rights
– Association for Human Rights 

in Central Asia (AHRCA)
Statement by International Partnership for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, Civic Solidarity Platform, Human Rights Watch to the 2015 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Working Session 4: Rule of Law I (25 September 2015)

Routine and pervasive torture and other ill-treatment 

Our organizations are deeply concerned that torture and other ill-treatment and the admission in criminal trials of evidence extracted under torture remain persistent, endemic problems in Uzbekistan. Torture and other ill-treatment have become defining features of the Uzbekistani criminal justice system. They are central to how the Uzbekistani authorities deal with dissent, combat actual or perceived security threats and repress political opponents.

Security forces and prison guards routinely carry out torture and other ill-treatment, including during arrest and transfer to detention facilities, in police custody, pre-trial detention and in prisons.

Police and secret police use torture and other ill-treatment to extract confessions and other incriminating information, and to intimidate and punish detainees and their families. Those at particular risk include individuals the authorities perceive as a threat to national security, such as those who practice their faith outside state approved mosques and those who are members or suspected members of banned Islamist groups.

Safeguards against torture and ill-treatment are not guaranteed in practice and problems include: Failure to notify family members of detainees’ whereabouts[i]; failure to provide access to legal counsel[ii]; improper use of administrative proceedings where criminal suspects are sometimes initially arrested for alleged administrative violations, detained for up to 15 days and questioned without a lawyer present.[iii] In some cases, such as that of human rights defender Fakhriddin Tillaev, the detainee is then charged with a criminal offence after being forced to confess under duress. The lack of independent medical examinations for detainees when they are first detained is also a problem.

Forced confessions

A flawed justice system continues to prevail in Uzbekistan. Four directives by the Plenum of the Supreme Court issued since 1996 explicitly prohibiting the use of torture and other ill-treatment to extract confessions and the admissibility of evidence obtained through torture have not been implemented in practice. The provisions in the Supreme Court directives have not been incorporated into the Criminal Procedure Code. Courts in Uzbekistan continue to rely heavily on ‘confessions’ extracted under torture, duress or deception. Judges ignore or dismiss allegations of torture or other ill-treatment, even when directly presented with credible evidence in court. There are reports of some cases where false confessions have been filmed on camera, and Amnesty International, AHRCA and IPHR are aware of at least two recent cases where people were tortured to “confess” on camera to charges which they later denied in court.

On 11 December 2014, TV channel “Uzbekistan” broadcast a propaganda film, which featured six men who had previously requested refugee status in Norway but had been returned to Uzbekistan. The six had travelled to Norway in 2008 to work as labour migrants. The Norwegian immigration authorities returned them to Uzbekistan in April 2014 after rejecting their asylum applications. The programme presented them as “traitors of the Motherland” and “religious extremists” and showed footage of them being interrogated by officials of the National Security Service (SNB). On 24 December 2014, the men were convicted by the Tashkent Regional Court of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, of producing materials threatening public safety and for being members of religious extremist, separatist, fundamentalist or other banned organisations. Asadulla Rikhsiev, Zhakhongir Tozhiev, Akhmadzhon Khalikov, Shukhrat Ilkhamov, Zafar Karimov and Davron Rakhmanov were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 12 to 13 years. The men described in court how the security forces had held them incommunicado for long periods of time and subjected them to torture by beatings with a rubber truncheon on the soles of their feet, head and body, applied electric shocks and deprived them of food for up to six days. At their trial, bruises reportedly could be seen on their bodies and one of the men had a badly damaged tongue. State-appointed lawyers were aware that their clients had been tortured, but did not request a forensic medical examination or try to lodge a complaint about torture. At trial, the judge did not make any further enquiries into these allegations but admitted the “confessions” as evidence. Also at the trial, the defendants learned from relatives that they had been shown on television and realized they had been filmed during interrogation with a hidden camera.

Lack of independent complaints mechanism and redress, resulting in impunity for use of torture

Uzbekistan has no independent complaints mechanism or body to examine torture complaints promptly and effectively. Usually the Prosecutor’s Office will refer investigations into torture allegations to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the very agency to which officers accused of committing torture belong. The absence of an effective independent mechanism has allowed impunity to thrive. No effective investigation into any of the allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in the cases documented by our organizations has ever been conducted despite numerous complaints lodged with the competent authorities by victims, their lawyers and families and supported by credible evidence. The lack of independence of judges and independent complaints mechanisms results in impunity for many state actors and officials responsible for human rights violations, including torture.

Erkin Musaev, a former Ministry of Defence official, was working for the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Uzbekistan when he was detained in January 2006. He was sentenced to a total of 20 years’ imprisonment for treason and abuse of office following three separate unfair trials in 2006 and 2007. His family claims that he was tortured to force him to confess. No effective investigation has taken place into the allegations that he was tortured in detention, despite numerous complaints submitted to the authorities by Erkin Musaev, his lawyer and his family. In March 2012, the UN Human Rights Committee concluded in the case of Erkin Musaev that his right under article 7 of the ICCPR had been violated and that the authorities in Uzbekistan were obliged to provide him with an effective remedy, including an impartial and effective investigation into his allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in detention. Calls for a fair trial for Erkin Musaev have been ignored for eight years.

Failure to protect the lives of those in detention

The Uzbekistani authorities fail to protect the lives of prisoners and detainees. The number of reports of deaths in custody of detainees and prisoners has increased in recent years (85 deaths reported, 36 of which the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia has been able to verify). In not one of these cases was an effective investigation carried out into the circumstances of the deaths and lawyers acting for families of the deceased were pressured by law enforcement officials into not asking for forensic examinations. The bodies of detainees and prisoners allegedly killed as a result of torture were often not given back to relatives for burial.

The practice of arbitrarily extending prison terms based on unsubstantiated allegations of disobedience of prison rules under Article 221 of Criminal Code leads to many prisoners serving de facto life sentences with no hope of release. For example, former MP Murad Dzhuraev has had his prison sentence extended four times successively and has spent 21 years in prison, 12 of which were not part of his original sentence. He is due to be released in November of this year. Other examples include the former editor-in-chief of the banned Erk political opposition party newspaper Muhammad Bekzhanov who has spent 16 years in prison and has had his sentence extended twice; disabled human rights defender Isroil Kholdorov, who has spent nine years in prison and had his sentence extended in 2012; and human rights activist Azam Farmonov who was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2006 had his sentence extended by five years in May 2015, just as he was due to be released. The practice of arbitrary extension of prison terms in relation to such individuals, and other imprisoned human rights defenders, journalists, political opponents and thousands of people convicted of crimes related to “religious extremism” has become routine. These extended sentences are handed down in unfair closed trials which violate international fair trial guarantees.

Prison conditions amounting to torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment

Based on our research, our organisations have concluded that prison conditions are often so substandard that they amount to torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. There are numerous credible reports of severe overcrowding in cells in prisons and pre-trial detention centres (SIZOs) and that prisoners in some SIZOs have to take turns to lie down on bunks to sleep. There are consistent reports about appalling conditions in some prisons where there is inadequate drinking water, food, medication, sanitation and ventilation. Former political prisoners have reported that sick prisoners are not exempt from heavy manual work.

Lack of independent detention monitoring

Uzbekistan has no independent monitoring mechanisms in place to inspect all places of detention. Due to government-imposed restrictions, no independent NGO or other monitoring body – domestic or international – carries out any form of regular, unannounced and unsupervised prison monitoring. In April 2013, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) terminated all visits to detainees in Uzbekistan due to restrictions on their standard working procedures and as a result, according to the ICRC, those visits were “pointless”. Foreign diplomats, while granted access to some detention facilities, are usually accompanied by prison or law enforcement officials during their visits. The same applies to human rights defenders who have on rare occasions been allowed to visit imprisoned colleagues. The Uzbekistani authorities refuse to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), which requires states to accept a system of regular visits to all places of detention by independent “national preventive mechanisms” and by an international expert body.

It is imperative that the Uzbekistani authorities agree to establish systems of effective and independent monitoring of all detention places as a priority. Currently, there are 13 pending requests for country visits by the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, including the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Extradition and Forcible Return to Torture

The Uzbekistani authorities have relentlessly pursued the extradition or forcible return of hundreds of people they have suspected of having organized or participated in a number of violent attacks in Uzbekistan. Many of these extradition requests are based on fabricated or unreliable evidence. The Uzbekistani government frequently offers “diplomatic assurances” to sending states to secure the returns, pledging free access to detention centres for independent monitors and diplomats. However, there are no independent detention monitoring mechanisms in place and once a person is returned to a country like Uzbekistan, where torture and other ill-treatments are endemic, his or her safety cannot be ensured. Diplomatic assurances from the Uzbekistani authorities, the same authorities that routinely practice the torture and ill-treatment of detainees, are inherently unreliable.

24-year-old Uzbekistani citizen Davron Komliddinov was forcibly disappeared in Russia in April 2015. He was detained on 3 April in the Russian city of Krasnoyarsk after the Uzbekistani authorities requested his extradition. Two Uzbekistani citizens who he had met in Russia had reportedly given evidence against him in 2012 when they were detained upon returning to Uzbekistan. In 2013 law enforcement officials regularly visited Davron Komliddinov’s home in Uzbekistan and put pressure on his relatives to tell them where he was living. Davron Komliddinov’s parents have had no news from their son since his detention by the Russian authorities in April this year. The Russian authorities told them that Davron Komliddinov is no longer in Russia, but the family has been unable to find out anything about his whereabouts from the Uzbekistani authorities. It is feared that he has been taken to Uzbekistan, where he is held in incommunicado detention and at real risk of torture and other ill-treatment.   Information on this case has been sent to the UN Working Group on Forced and Involuntary Disappearances.

Recommendations to the authorities of Uzbekistan:
  • Take meaningful steps to fully address the concerns and effectively implement all the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Committee Against Torture and the Human Rights Committee;
  • Issue a standing invitation to the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council, and facilitate a country visit in particular by the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
  • Immediately and publicly condemn the use of torture and other ill-treatment;
  • Bring domestic law into full compliance with Uzbekistan’s international obligations regarding the absolute prohibition against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In particular, the Uzbekistani Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code must be amended to define torture as established in the UN Convention against Torture and explicitly prohibit any confession extracted under torture from being admitted as evidence in criminal and other proceedings, except as evidence of abuse in a case against an alleged perpetrator;
  • Issue and ensure the implementation of rules to ensure that all judges at every level are instructed regarding the proper actions to take and procedures to follow to determine whether confessions and/or other evidence submitted by prosecutors in criminal proceedings and by any state actor in any other proceeding have been extracted by the use of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
  • Establish an effective system of independent, unannounced inspection and supervision of all places of detention by competent, independent and impartial bodies;
  • Initiate prompt, impartial and comprehensive investigations of all complaints of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of any person subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment, as well as when there are reasonable grounds to believe that the torture or ill-treatment has occurred even if no complaint has been made;
  • Cease the practice of secretly filming suspects during interrogations and using the secretly recorded video footage as evidence in criminal cases as such practice compromises a suspect’s right against self-incrimination and to be presumed innocent until found guilty in fair proceedings in a court of law.

[i] The Criminal Procedural Code provides for the notification of detainees’ relatives in Article 217 but this is often not implemented in practice.

[ii] Despite the Criminal Procedural Code providing for basic rights upon detention, such as the right to a lawyer, in practice detainees are not routinely informed of these rights.

[iii] The Code of Administrative Responsibility of Uzbekistan does not provide for procedural guarantees such as the presence of a defence lawyer during interrogation.

Statement - PDF


A matter of regional concern: Shrinking civil society space in Central Asia

Written statement to the 2015 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Working session 4, 23 September 2015: Fundamental freedoms I by the following organizations: International Partnership for Human Rights (Belgium); Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (Kazakhstan); Nota Bene (Tajikistan); Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (Turkmenistan, based in exile in Austria); the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (Uzbekistan, established by political emigres in France); and the Voice of Freedom Foundation (Kyrgyzstan).

There is a growing trend in Central Asia, in which the authorities curtail fundamental rights and freedoms and clamp down on civil society in the name of ensuring stability. New restrictive legislation has been initiated and repressive measures taken against groups and individuals who criticize government policies and speak up for human rights, justice and rule of law. When visiting Central Asia in June 2015, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon spoke about “a shrinking democratic space” across the region and warned against using security threats to “place further limits on fundamental rights such as the freedoms of expression, assembly and association”. He emphasized that “experience has shown this only backfires” and that such an approach will only foster frustration and contribute to instability in the long run. He concluded: “I see this phenomenon on the rise in the region and it troubles me greatly”.[1] 

In this statement, we highlight a number of recent developments concerning the situation of civil society in the five Central Asian countries that are of serious concern to us.


The new Criminal and Administrative Codes, which entered into force in January 2015, contain a number of provisions that restrict freedom of expression, association and assembly and may be used to penalize legitimate civil society activities. Among others, the Criminal Code characterizes “leaders of public associations” as a separate category of offenders, a provision that could be used to arbitrarily target “inconvenient” individuals. Vaguely worded Criminal Code provisions on “inciting” social, national or other “discord” and “spreading false information” have repeatedly been used to bring charges against civil society activists and other outspoken individuals.

Freedom of assembly is seriously violated in law and practice. Prior authorization is needed to hold any protest, and “illegal” ones are routinely dispersed and organizers and participants detained and held accountable. Well-known civil society activists are often “preventively” detained ahead of planned events, as recently happened to Ermek Natambayev, who was detained on 20 August 2015 and locked up for 20 days after announcing on Facebook that he planned to go to Republic Square in Almaty to protest the devaluation of the national currency. Following his Kazakhstan mission earlier this year, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association concluded that the government’s approach to regulating assemblies “deprives the right of its meaning”.[2]

The new Trade Union Law that entered into force in July 2014 undermines the freedom of association of trade unions by requiring mandatory affiliation to regional, branch or federal trade unions. Hundreds of trade unions are at the risk of closure because of the failure to re-register and comply with this requirement within the 1-year deadline set out by the new law. Local executive authorities have warned trade unions that have not re-registered that they may face liquidation lawsuits. Independent trade unions have reportedly been denied re-registration on questionable grounds.

Concerns have been expressed that draft legislation currently under consideration by the parliament could result in that a new grant-making body is charged with overseeing the allocation of both state grants and other grants to NGOs. Government representatives have said that the new provisions will not apply to NGO grants from foreign and international sources. NGO representatives have called for ensuring that the new provisions are worded so as to strictly limit their scope to state grants, as also recommended by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.[3]

The opposition Communist Party was closed down by court in August 2015 because it allegedly had less than the 40 000 members required for the registration of political parties. Opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov, poet/dissident Aron Atabek and human rights activist Vadim Kuramshin remain imprisoned after being convicted on charges deemed politically motivated in unfair trials. There are concerns about their treatment in prison, including a pattern of penalizing them for alleged violations of prison rules, which prevents them from qualifying for improved prison conditions or release on parole. 


The draft “foreign agents” law under consideration by Kyrgyzstan’s parliament poses a serious threat to civil society.[4] If adopted, it may result in a similar witch-hunt on NGOs as in Russia after the entry into force of a similar law there. The draft law requires NGOs to adopt the stigmatizing label of “foreign agents” if they receive foreign funding and engage in “political activities”, a term that is so broadly defined that it could be applied to virtually any NGO activities. It also grants authorities new, broad powers to interfere in the internal affairs of NGOs and introduces problematic provisions on criminal liability for NGO representatives as a separate category of offenders. 

In spite of widespread criticism of the draft “foreign agents” law, it was passed by the parliament in the first reading in early June 2015. Later the same month it was taken off the plenary agenda for additional discussion at committee level. In case the consideration of the draft law is still pending by the time of the 4 October parliamentary elections, the new parliament may pick up where the previous one left it.

In the recent period, civil society groups, activists and lawyers in Kyrgyzstan have increasingly been subjected to verbal attacks, intimidation and harassment. Both media and public figures have accused NGOs of promoting the political interests of foreign donors and betraying national values. At a press conference in July this year, President Atambayev also made such statements.[5] 

In a case of great concern in view of the integrity and confidentiality of the work of lawyers, security service officials carried out searches of the Osh branch office of the Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Movement, as well as the homes of two of its lawyers in March 2015, confiscating case material related to dozens of individual cases. These searches were subsequently deemed unlawful by court in three separate rulings that were upheld by the Supreme Court in late June 2015.[6] Bir Duino and its lawyers have continued their efforts to obtain justice in relation to the March events. 

It has now been five years since a life sentence was handed down to human rights defender Azimjan Askarov, a victim of the miscarriage of justice that took place after the inter-ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010. The trial against him was marred by due process and fair trial violations, and credible allegations that he was tortured in pre-trial detention have never been properly investigated. Last year, the Supreme Court upheld a decision to discontinue a new investigation into his case. There are concerns that his health has deteriorated considerably in prison. In July 2015, Kyrgyzstan’s government unilaterally terminated a cooperation agreement with the US government after the latter granted Askarov a prestigious human rights award.


New legislation signed by the president in August 2015 requires information about all funds received by public associations from foreign and international sources to be included in a special government register. While the final version speaks about “notification” of funds, the provisions remain vaguely worded and do not provide any details on the notification procedure. This aspect was left to a government regulation currently being drafted. Both civil society[7]  and international human rights bodies[8] have expressed concern that the new provisions may be used to restrict the work of NGOs in violation of international human rights standards.

In recent months, a series of inspections of the activities and finances of NGOs have been carried out by authorities without any clear reason being stated, and well-known human rights NGOs have been singled out for punitive measures initiated by tax authorities. Following a check of its financial documents, the Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law was ordered to pay a large fine corresponding to some 6000 EUR for alleged violations of the Tax Code in August 2015. Nota Bene is currently facing a lawsuit brought by the Tax Committee, which is requesting it to be closed down for allegedly taking advantage of gaps in the law when registering in 2009. As many other NGOs in Tajikistan, Nota Bene is registered as a “public foundation” with the Tax Committee rather than as a “public association” with the Ministry of Justice. Nota Bene was not given any prior warning. It is now challenging the lawsuit in court. 

A new Law on Assemblies adopted in Tajikistan at the end of 2014 is more restrictive than the previous one and limits the right to hold peaceful assemblies in ways that are not compatible with international human rights standards. In particular, it requires the organizers of assemblies to obtain permission in advance and contains broadly worded provisions on the grounds for prohibiting assemblies and the venues in which their conduct is limited. The law also does not provide for spontaneous assemblies.

The new Law on the Bar and the Practice of Law adopted earlier this year sets out a new qualification procedure for lawyers that risks undermining their independence, and additional amendments currently under consideration by the government would further tighten access to the legal profession. There are also concerns that lawyers have been subjected to intimidation and harassment because of their professional activities. Lawyer Shukhrat Kudratov is serving a five-year prison sentence on charges believed to have been motivated by his work, including on high-profile cases involving public figures.

The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), the country’s largest opposition party, has been subjected to growing pressure in recent months and is now facing closure. In late August 2015, the Ministry of Justice sent a warning to the party[9], stating that its activities are “illegal” because it does not have the number of branches required for political parties and carries out “religious propaganda”.


As Turkmenistan’s government continues to closely control different areas of society, quash criticism of official policies, and mass mobilize citizens for regime-praising events, the environment for civil society remains highly repressive.  

The 2014 Law on Public Associations requires compulsory registration of associations, sets out strict registration rules for national-level organizations and grants authorities wide powers to oversee the activities and funding of associations. In practice, the government promotes the role of GONGOs, while current conditions as previously do not allow for independent civil society groups to operate.

The country’s first-ever Law on Assemblies, which entered into force on 1 July 2015, is aimed at protecting the right to hold assemblies, but imposes a number of problematic restrictions on this right. There are concerns that the law may be used to obstruct the organization of spontaneous, peaceful protests, of which there has been a growing number in the past year.

Following the adoption of the 2012 Law on Political Parties, which created a legal basis for a multi-party system, two more political parties were established alongside the pre-existing presidential Democratic Party of Turkmenistan. However, neither of these represents any independent political platforms, and no independent parties are able to work in the country.

Several recent cases illustrate the vulnerability of individuals who are considered “inconvenient” by the authorities. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty correspondent Osmankuly Hallyev resigned this summer citing unprecedented pressure. Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, who works for the same service, went missing in July 2015 and was later reported to have been detained on charges of possessing “narcotics” and to have been sentenced to three years in prison last month. Horse-breeding expert Geldy Kyarizov, who fell out of favour with the government years ago, was prevented from travelling abroad with two of his family members in August 2015. Only several weeks later, on 14 September, was he allowed to leave the country and go to Russia – at first without his relatives.[10] In yet another case, well-known civil society activist Natalia Shabunts had her private satellite dishes arbitrarily removed this summer by local officials. This was done as part of a wider campaign against such antennas, which has restricted citizens’ access to information from foreign channels.

Dozens of individuals imprisoned after flawed and politically motivated trials remain disappeared, including individuals convicted after the alleged assassination attempt on late President Niyazov in 2002. The authorities have failed to comply with international calls to make known their whereabouts and to grant them access to their lawyers and family members.


The civil society situation in Uzbekistan shows no signs of improving. While the government claims that there are over 8000 NGOs in the country[11], an overwhelming majority of these are government-controlled and funded so-called GONGOs. Most independent human rights NGOs continue to operate on an informal basis due to the lack of opportunities to obtain mandatory registration. In practice, the executive authorities deal with issues relating to the registration of NGOs with reference to internal, non-public instructions rather than provisions of the law. The National Security Service has reportedly listed independent human rights NGOs as “not trustworthy”, which blocks them from obtaining legal status. Recent regulations[12] reinforce restrictions on NGO activities by setting out a new procedure for NGOs to inform and obtain permission from the government for holding seminars, trainings and other events.   

In the current conditions, independent human rights defenders experience serious difficulties to legally carry out their work, and opaque bureaucratic procedures for obtaining exit visas restricts their freedom of movement. At the same time, they are subjected to ongoing intimidation and harassment. Independent international human rights experts are as previously denied entry to the country.

When examining the situation in Uzbekistan in July 2015, the UN Human Rights Committee criticized “unreasonable, burdensome and restrictive requirements for registration”, “other obstacles to the work of human rights NGOs”, and “arbitrary restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly”. It also expressed concern about ”consistent reports of harassment, surveillance, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officers and prosecutions on trumped-up charges of independent journalists, government critics and dissidents, human rights defenders and other activists, in retaliation to their work.”[13]

Numerous human rights activists, independent journalists and dissidents remain in prison on politically motivated charges. There are serious concerns about their health and well-being due to notoriously bad prison conditions and widespread torture and ill-treatment. The practice of arbitrarily extending the sentences of “inconvenient” prisoners whose sentences are expiring is highly troubling.[14] Such prisoners are typically charged with disobeying the orders of prison authorities (Criminal Code article 221) and given new sentences in closed trials. As the timing of the trials is announced only shortly beforehand, defence lawyers are often not able to attend. The relatives of prisoners are also often not informed about the trials.

In a recent example, human rights defender Azam Farmonov, who was due to be released in April 2015 after serving out a 9-year prison sentence, was given an additional five years under Criminal Code article 221. In another, egregious example, former MP Murad Dzhurayev has had his original prison sentence extended four times and has spent 21 years in prison, 12 of which were not part of his original sentence. The Supreme Court recently upheld his latest sentence.


The authorities of Kazakhstan should:
  • Take concrete and effective measures to implement the recommendations made by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in the outcome report on his mission to Kazakhstan in January 2015.
  • Bring existing legislation and practice on freedom of association and assembly into line with Kazakhstan’s international human rights obligations; ensure that any new legislation that is adopted fully complies with these requirements; and consult and cooperate closely with civil society on reforming and improving relevant law and practice.
  • Ensure that no one is arrested, charged or convicted for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly; and immediately and unconditionally release all those who are held on such grounds. As long as Vladimir Kozlov, Aron Atabek and Vadim Kurasmhin  remain in prison, protect their safety and well-being and ensure that they are not penalized for alleged violations of prison rules as a form of retaliation.
  • Safeguard the right to freedom of association of trade unions and political parties and ensure that such organizations are not denied registration or closed down in violation of international human rights standards.
The authorities of Kyrgyzstan should:
  • Reject the draft law on ”foreign agents” due to its inconsistency with Kyrgyzstan’s national and international human rights obligations.
  • Refrain from using rhetoric that stigmatizes and discredits NGOs and their representatives; acknowledge the importance of their work; and ensure that they can carry out their work without hindrance and fear, irrespective of their sources of funding or the issues they address.
  • Uphold the right of lawyers to integrity and confidentiality of their work and ensure that all court decisions relating to the March 2015 searches of the office of Bir Duino and the homes of its lawyers are effectively implemented.
  • Carry out a new, full, independent and impartial investigation into the case of human rights defender Azimjan Askarov, including his allegations of torture and other human rights violations, and release him pending such an investigation due to the failure to protect his rights and grant him a fair trial upon his arrest in 2010.
The authorities of Tajikistan should:
  • Ensure that the new legislation on NGO funding is not implemented so as to impede the access to funding of NGOs; and revise this legislation in accordance with the recommendations of civil society and international human rights experts to ensure that it safeguards the right to freedom of association. 
  • Refrain from undue interference into the work of NGOs and ensure that NGOs can operate freely and are not sanctioned or closed down on arbitrary grounds, in violation of Tajikistan’s obligations under international human rights law.
  • Bring the provisions of the Law on Assemblies into compliance with international human rights standards and promote an enabling environment in practice for the exercise of the right to freedom of assembly.
  • Revise the Law on the Bar and the Practice of Law in accordance with the recommendations of national and international experts and refrain from adopting any further provisions undermining the independence of the legal profession. Ensure that no lawyer is arrested, charged or imprisoned in retaliation for his or her work.
  • Ensure that political opposition parties can carry out their activities without hindrance.  
The authorities of Turkmenistan should:
  • Request international experts to review the Law on Public Associations and the Law on Assemblies in the light of Turkmenistan’s international human rights obligations and amend these laws in full accordance with the recommendations received.
  • Ensure that NGOs and political parties that are independent from state structures may obtain legal status in a fair and transparent process and carry out their activities without undue interference.
  • Allow peaceful, spontaneous protests to take place without repercussions for the organizers and participants.
  • Put an end to intimidation and harassment of independent journalists, civil society activists and others who dare to criticize government policies.
  • Immediately release all individuals who have been detained on politically motivated grounds; and disclose the fate of those who have disappeared in prison.
The authorities of Uzbekistan should:
  • Take concrete and effective measures to implement the recommendations made by the UN Human Rights Committee with respect to safeguarding freedom of expression, association and assembly.
  • Enable independent human rights NGOs to obtain legal status and carry out their work without hindrance; allow peaceful assemblies to take place without undue interference; and stop intimidating and harassing human rights defenders, journalists and dissidents.
  • Release all those who have been imprisoned in retaliation for their peaceful exercise of freedom of expression, association and assembly; and put an end to the practice of arbitrarily prolonging the expiring sentences of “inconvenient” individuals because of alleged violations of prison rules.
  • Ensure the safety and well-being of those in prison and thoroughly and impartially investigate all allegations of torture and ill-treatment of prisoners and bring those responsible to justice.

[1] Secretary-General's remarks to the International University for Humanities and Development, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, 13 June 2015, http://www.un.org/sg/statements/index.asp?nid=8723
[2] Statement by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association at the conclusion of his visit to the Republic of Kazakhstan, 27 January 2015, http://freeassembly.net/rapporteurpressnews/statement-kazakhstan/
[3] Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai on mission to Kazakhstan, June 2015, available at http://freeassembly.net/rapporteurreports/kazakhstan/
[4] See also statement by members of the Civic Solidarity Platform, “Kyrgyzstan: Reject ‘Foreign Agents’ Bill in Plenary”, 26 May 2015, http://www.iphronline.org/kyrgyzstan-reject-foreign-agents-bill-in-plenary-20150526.html
[5] “Алмазбек Атамбаев: В Кыргызстане есть иностранные агенты, и об этом надо открыто говорить”, 27 July 2015, at http://www.24kg.org/politika/16825/
[6] See Bir Duino press release, “Тройная победа”, 25 June 2915, http://birduino.kg/blog/2015/06/25/press-reliz-25-iyunya-2015g-trojnaya-pobeda/
[7] See appeal  signed by 92 organizations in November 2014, “Tajikistan: Drop draft legislation restricting access to NGO funding”, http://www.iphronline.org/tajikistan-ngo-law-appeal-20141125.html
[8] See, for example, statement by Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 3 August 2015, www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16288&LangID=E#sthash.6yzVLtAs.dpuf
[9] Official statement by the General Prosecutor of Tajikistan published by the state Khovar news agency on 17 September 2015, at http://www.khovar.tj/
[10] Human Rights Center Memorial, “Власти Туркменистана разрешили выезд в Россию опального конезаводчика Гельды Кяризова”, 15 September 2015, http://www.memo.ru/d/245620
[11] Ministry of Justice press release, October 2014, http://m.minjust.uz/ru/press/news/2014/10/6343/
[12] Regulations concerning the procedure for agreeing events of non-governmental organizations (No 2679), approved by the Ministry of Justice, 4 June 2015.
[13] Human Rights Committee Concluding Observations on the fourth periodic report of Uzbekistan, July 2015, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CCPR%2fC%2fUZB%2fCO%2f4&Lang=en
[14] For more on this topic, see also Alternative report submitted by the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA) and International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) to the Human Rights Committee review of Uzbekistan in July 2015: http://www.iphronline.org/uzbekistan-alternative-report-to-un-human-rights-committee-20150706.html