By Oleg Salimov (05/08/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
A series of high-profile convictions and trials of members of the political opposition took place in Tajikistan in the second half of July. Among them are a 17-year prison term for Maksud Ibrogimov, the leader of “Youth for Revival of Tajikistan,” a 5-year prison term for Jamoliddin Makhmudov, the top political advisor to the leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, and the final phases of a new trial of former Tajik Minister Zaid Saidov, who is already serving a 26 year prison term, which could result in an additional sentence of 25 years. Human rights activists and relatives of convicted opposition members report unfair trials and significant violations of human rights.
Ibrogimov disappeared in Moscow in January 2015 and later reappeared in Dushanbe (see the 04/01/2015 Issue of the CACI Analyst). He was tried behind closed doors at the Ismoili Somoni district court of the city of Dushanbe. The information about Ibrogimov’s trial and verdict was kept secret for a month. Ibrogimov was convicted on June 24 but the official release of the verdict was published only on July 23. Yet the details of Ibrogimov’s case, such as his illegal extradition from Russia to Tajikistan, the substantiation of the accusations against him, and details of the trial, were declared a state secret. The 36-year-old Ibrogimov was convicted on four criminal counts, including “organization of extremist group,” “organization of activity of extremist group,” “public calls to extremist actions,” and “organization of criminal group.” According to Radio Ozodi, Ibrogimov was deprived of his right to be defended by a Russian attorney as his Russian citizenship was revoked during his extradition to Tajikistan.
On July 20, the Hissar district court sentenced Makhmudov to five years in prison for illegal possession of weapons and ammunition. At the trial, Makhmudov admitted that he possessed a handgun due to his leadership position during the Civil War but dismissed state accusations and witness statements on his illegal turnover of weapons, calling them a farce. Makhmudov is a political advisor to the leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) Mukhiddin Kabiri. As a prominent IRPT member, Makhmudov held positions in the IRPT Supreme Governing Council as well as the State Central Committee on Elections and Referendums as part of the post-Civil War reconciliation agreement between the government and opposition. Makhmudov was arrested in February 2015, right before Tajikistan’s parliamentary elections in March. IRPT was subjected to substantial persecution from the government prior to the elections, forcing its leader Kabiri to flee the country after IRPT lost the elections. Makhmudov’s case was likely intended to intimidate Kabiri and drive him out of the country.
Tajikistan’s Supreme Court finalized the review of Saidov’s new economic case on July 22 in Dushanbe. The trial took place behind closed doors at the ward of Tajikistan’s State Security Services (former KGB). Saidov was sentenced to 26 years in prison in 2013 for criminal charges, including rape and polygamy. In the new case, the state prosecutor requested another 25-year sentence for Saidov, a US$ 5.5 million fine, and the confiscation of his entire property for economic crimes involving abuse of office and illegal assets appropriation.
Earlier this year, Tajik courts in Dushanbe and the Khatlon region sustained the decision of Tajikistan’s Anticorruption agency to expropriate two enterprises owned by Ukrainian businessman Dmitry Firtash, which were privatized during Saidov’s work as a Minister of Industry of Tajikistan.
In his final statement, Saidov rejected all state accusations and insisted that his imprisonment was politically motivated. Saidov was arrested in May 2013 after announcing the formation of the political party New Tajikistan. The announcement preceded the November 2013 presidential elections in Tajikistan.
Recent events in Tajikistan demonstrate the disregard for international law, human rights, and principles of democracy on the part of Tajik authorities. Human rights activists and organizations protested against the secretive trials, lengthy and questionable prison terms, concealment of information, deprivation of defense for the accused, and other transgressions. Tajikistan’s justice system is highly politicized, and is frequently used as a tool to deal with political challengers for Rakhmon’s regime. The president’s clan exercises strong influence over the country’s courts and justice in Tajikistan is curtailed by the judges’ personal loyalty to the country’s ruler rather than their commitment to the rule of law and democracy. The long overdue reform of Tajikistan’s justice system must emphasize the actual independence of the justice system as a separate branch of power and guarantee its representatives safety from retribution from the government and president. Until then, the illegal persecution and imprisonment of political dissidents in Tajikistan will continue.
(Image courtesy: RFE/RL)
By Eka Janashia (02/18/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On February 4, Tbilisi City Court ordered pre-trail detention for eleven former and incumbent police officers in connection with the death of two young men in the so called “tennis court special operation” taking place in 2006.
According to the then-official version, spread by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), on May 2, 2006, Zurab Vazagashvili, Aleksandre Khubulov and Bondo Puturidze were on their way to commit armed robbery in a Tbilisi district and the police prevented the crime through a special operation. When law enforcement officers tried to stop the suspects’ car nearby a tennis court in downtown Tbilisi, the suspects opened fire, which was returned by the police officers. Vazagashvili and Khubulov were shot dead whereas Puturidze was wounded.
The Public Defender’s Office commissioned an alternative ballistic investigation, detecting that no shots were fired from the car. Nevertheless, in 2007 the case was closed. Zurab’s father, Yuri Vazagashvili has accused the authorities of fabricating evidence to clear the offenders. The case was even brought to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights.
After coming to power in 2012, Georgian Dream (GD) coalition reopened the investigation into the Vazagashvili case though could not reach any tangible results. Yuri Vazagashvili then asked former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili to help in dismissing the suspected officials who were still working in law enforcement.
In a recent interview to newspaper Kviris Palitra, Vazagashvili criticized the lack of government efforts to determine the truth and accused the then interior minister Alexander Tchikaidze of protecting the culprits. On the next day, Vazagashvili was killed in an explosion at the grave of his son in the village of Karapila located near the South Ossetian conflict zone.
The murder gave rise to widespread speculation regarding the links between the explosion and Vazagashvili’s continued efforts to penalize his son’s murderers. PM Irakli Gharibashvili said the incident “shocked” him and urged the law enforcement agencies to investigate the case immediately, and to complete the investigation of the 2006 special operation “in the shortest period of time.” Almost immediately, Interior Minister Tchikaidze resigned. Tchikaidze’s written statement reads, “Though Yuri Vazagashvili’s allegations are far from reality, I feel the moral responsibility to quit the post.”
In two weeks, the Prosecutor’s office (PO) indicted Irakli Pirtskhalava, former deputy head of the Criminal Police Department, for the premeditated murder of Khubulov. The prosecutor’s motion states that Khubulov tipped off police regarding Pirtskhalava’s brother, Levan, drug-related crimes resulting in his arrest in April, 2006. Pirtskhalava then decided to take revenge on Khubulov, plotting a special operation by inventing the false story of a robbery, resulting in the shooting of Khubulov and Vazagashvili. By eliminating the witnesses, Pirtskhalava was able to avenge his brother while keeping his “official influence and reputation,” the PO’s motion said. The Tbilisi City Court rejected the defense lawyer’s petitions to release the former and active detained officers on bail.
On February 8, Gia Sosanashvili, another policeman and allegedly a friend of Pirtskhalava, was detained as a suspect of Yuri Vazagashvili’s murder. According to PO, he was identified through a DNA sample detected on part of a hand grenade that went off at the grave. The PO said that Sosanashvili installed the explosive device while someone else gave the order. The detained policeman denies guilt. His lawyer said that at the moment of the explosion, Sosanashvili was at a public place and that dozens of witnesses can prove it.
The recent developments taking place in about two weeks had an immense resonance among the public. From the very beginning, the “tennis court special operation” involved inconsistencies and controversies but the investigation has focused only on the possible use of excessive force by the police. The PO’s new charges, however, turned previous findings upside down and raised several additional questions. For example, how the deputy head of the department was able to mastermind a murder of this scale and involve so many subordinates in it. Moreover, if Pirtskhalava aimed to liquidate witnesses, why did Puturidze survive?
Another striking feature is the timing of the crimes’ resolution. After the investigation was idle for two years, the PO was able to solve both cases in two weeks, while other baffling murders occurring during the GD’s term in power remain unsolved. Most significantly, the assassination of the politician and media tycoon Erosi Kitsmarishvili and the murder of 10 month-old baby-girl Barbare Raphaliants, who was allegedly killed for political reasons.
GD supporters have welcomed the PO’s move, labeling it a “restoration of justice” – one of the prominent pre-election promises of the coalition. Others suspect political motives behind the events and perceive them as an attempt by the government to divert public attention from simmering social discontent.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.