GENEVA (7 June 2016) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, today expressed his dismay at the lengthy sentences imposed on 2 June 2016 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. According to reports, eleven 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,” Mr. Kaye said. “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 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 UN Special Rapporteur stressed that “stability can never be achieved through the repression of all forms of dissent.”

“During my visit* to Tajikistan in March, I shared with the Government my profound concern that the ban of IRPT, the arrest and closed trials of its leadership, not subject to any form of public or even UN scrutiny were clearly incompatible with international human rights standards,” he said.

Mr. Kaye 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.

The UN expert 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 fromtrying 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.

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.

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full end-of-mission statement:

UN expert deplores harsh sentencing of Tajikistan opposition leaders and warns of radicalization