DUSHANBE, June 8, 2016, Asia-Plus -- The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, on June 7 expressed his dismay at the lengthy sentences imposed on June 2 on leading members and activists of the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT).

“The harsh sentencing of multiple opposition leaders reflects the steady increase of restrictions on freedom of expression in Tajikistan,” said Mr. Kaye.  “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 incumbent 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 from trying 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.”

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.

We will recall that the Supreme Court on June 2 sentenced the deputy IRPT heads Saidumar Husaini and Mahmadali Hayit to life imprisonment.  Eleven other IRPT activists were sentenced to jail terms ranging from 14 to 28 years.  Zarafo Rahmoni, the party''s lawyer and the only woman in the high-profile trial, was sentenced to two years in prison.

They were arrested on September 16 and 17 last year after completion of the operation against the armed group of Abduhalim Nazarzoda.

In a statement released on September 17, the Prosecutor-General''s Office noted that they are suspected of abetting party leader Kabiri''s plot, saying that they had been arrested “to prevent more terrorist attacks in the country.”

Tajikistan’s Supreme Court banned the Islamic Revival Party as terrorist group on September 29 on the basis of a suit filed by the Prosecutor-General’s Office.  The Supreme Court ruled that the IRP should be included on a blacklist of extremist and terrorist organizations.  The verdict forces the closure of the IRP''s official newspaper Najot and bans the distribution of any video, audio, or printed materials related to the party''s activities.

Party leader Muhiddin Kabiri, who now lives in exile, has rejected the accusations.