Critics of Tajikistan’s justice system probably cringed on January 10 when the prosecutor’s office announced it had convicted 168 alleged terrorists and extremists last year.
The number includes suspected members of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), as well as supporters of Muslim groups with no documented link to violence. Four members of Tablighi Jamaat – a missionary group operating openly in many countries, including Kyrgyzstan and the United States – were among the convicted. (In total, approximately 200 terrorism and extremism suspects were arrested last year – apparently a local record. According to Asia-Plus, it appears the remainder are awaiting trial.)
Those convicted include the father of an alleged terrorist who died in mysterious circumstances last January. Seventy-six-year-old Muzaffar Davlatov was sentenced to seven years in November, seemingly for being Ali Bedaki’s dad.
Separately, Justice Council Chairman Zafar Azizov announced that courts had passed 17 life sentences last year, up from three the year before. (Tajikistan placed a moratorium on the death penalty in 2004.) One particularly disturbing proceeding involved a closed trial in December that found 53 people guilty of a car bomb attack that killed two police officers in Khujand. Five received life sentences without their lawyers present, local news agencies reported.
The rising number of convictions for extremism and terrorism in Tajikistan’s notoriously partial courts is disheartening for anyone interested in judicial reform. It also bolsters fears that the government’s heavy-handed tactics will drive Muslims to practice in secret and potentially spur them to adopt radical ideas.
Perceived inequity in the judiciary is causing “massive popular indignation,” Asia-Plus reported recently. Of 7,491 defendants tried in criminal cases in 2010, only two (or three one-hundredths of one percent) were acquitted. In the words of Asia-Plus, “citizens of Tajikistan do not believe in the purity and independence of the judiciary.”