Short briefing for EU-Tajikistan Cooperation Committee Meeting, October 2016
Fundamental rights and torture in Tajikistan
Recently the human rights situation in Tajikistan has seriously deteriorated because of repressive measures taken against the political opposition, as well as growing pressure on media, civil society, lawyers and those considered to endorse so-called non-traditional religious views. The authorities have used arguments about protecting national security to restrict the legitimate and peaceful exercise of fundamental rights.
Further strengthening the authoritarian rule of the country, President Rahmon was declared a “Leader of the Nation” in late 2015 granting him immunity against prosecution, while amendments to the constitution approved in a May 2016 referendum abolished the limitations on how many times he may be re-elected.
In the 2016 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters without Borders, Tajikistan was one of the countries whose ranking fell most from the previous year: the country plunged 34 places to place 150 out of 180 due to growing pressure on independent media and journalists. Self-censorship is widespread and journalists have been subjected to intimidation, including online attacks aimed at discrediting them. While libel was de-criminalized in 2012, insulting the president and government officials is still subject to criminal liability, which has a chilling impact on freedom of expression. Civil defamation lawsuits are used as a form of retaliation against outspoken media and journalists.
Amendments to the Law on the Media adopted this summer set out broad grounds for suspending and closing down media outlets, including non-compliance with any provisions of national law. However, following criticism by representatives of the journalist community a provision that would have allowed prosecutors to initiate the suspension of media outlets without a court decision was abolished. The final provisions require a court decision both for the suspension and closure of media outlets.
Recently tax and other authorities have carried out a growing number of inspections and checks of NGOs with reference to national security concerns.
Amendments to the Law on Public Associations that entered into force in August 2015 introduced a new scheme requiring such associations to report information about foreign and international grants for inclusion in a special government registry.
The Tajikistani authorities strictly control the practice of religion and have recently stepped up efforts to counter so-called non-traditional religious beliefs, in particular forms of Islam that are considered “alien” to the country.
Torture and ill-treatment
The authorities have made some positive steps to address concerns about torture in recent years. For example, earlier in 2016 Tajikistan passed legislation strengthening safeguards against torture in detention; in 2014 the Ministry of Health obliged medical personnel to examine detainees in line with the standards of the UN Istanbul Protocol; and several victims of torture or their bereaved families received compensation payments for moral damages sustained through torture following rulings by civil courts.
However, torture and other forms of ill-treatment continue to be widespread and impunity is the norm. From January to September 2016 the NGO Coalition against Torture in Tajikistan has registered 60 new cases of torture and ill-treatment. It is believed that this figure only reflects the tip of the iceberg since many victims of torture and their relatives refrain from lodging complaints for fear of reprisals or because they have no hope to attain justice.