Nowruz celebrations for the Persian New Year this March gave no cause for rejoicing for Manuchehr Kholiknazarov and his family, as he remains behind bars serving a 16-year-long prison sentence in retaliation for his human rights work.
Today, International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR); the World Organisation against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH), both in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders; Human Rights Watch (HRW); Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR); Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC); Frontline Defenders; and Freedom Now call for the immediate and unconditional release of Manuchehr Kholiknazarov.
“Manuchehr is a prominent human rights lawyer, a fighter against injustice and exceptional advocate for victims of human rights abuses – his conviction is shameful and every day that he spends behind bars reflects even more badly on the human rights record of Tajikistan". Brigitte Dufour, Director IPHR
On 9 December 2022 Tajikistan’s Supreme Court found Manuchehr Kholiknazarov guilty under articles 187, part 2 (participation in a criminal organisation) and 307 (3), part 2 (participating in the activities of a banned organisation due to its extremist activities) of the Criminal Code sentencing him to 16 years’ imprisonment in a strict regime penal colony.
Manuchehr Kholiknazarov is the Director of the Lawyers Association of Pamir (LAP), one of the few civil society organisations in Tajikistan’s Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) that works to promote and protect human rights. As a member of several important platforms, such as the Civil Society Coalition against Torture and Impunity, the Public Council on Police Reform, and the Coalition on Housing Rights, Kholiknazarov has helped countless victims of human rights violations and strengthened rule of law and democratic structures in the GBAO. Furthermore, Kholiknazarov and his organisation had been working for many years to create a platform for dialogue between state bodies and civil society institutions, where the most pressing problems of the region, including in the field of human rights were discussed.
On 25-28 November 2021, mass protests erupted in Khorog, GBAO, over the extrajudicial killing of a young man, Gulbiddin Ziyobekov. After the protests settled, Kholiknazarov joined the "Commission 44", consisting of representatives of local civil society and law enforcement agencies, to investigate the events. Given his professional experience, he was included in the Joint Investigation Team headed by the Prosecutor General’s Office. Despite some criticism of its passive approach, the Joint Investigation Team achieved some results, including the exhumation and re-examination of Gulbiddin Ziyobekov’s body in December 2021. In addition to his role in the Joint Investigation Team, Kholiknazarov worked with victims of indiscriminate use of firearms by law enforcement during the protests, and in March 2022 the Civil Society Coalition against Torture and Impunity assigned four lawyers to work with the victims and their relatives.
Yet, all efforts to fight impunity for the November 2021 violence were derailed in May 2022 amid a renewed crackdown on protests in Khorog and Rushan District of GBAO.
On 28 May 2022, Kholiknazarov was arrested along with a dozen members of Commission 44 for alleged “participation in a criminal association” and “publicly calling for violent change of the constitutional order”. Their trial began on 20 September 2022, and was held behind closed doors at a detention facility of the State Committee for National Security (SCNS) in Dushanbe.
On 21 October 2022, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders issued a communication to the government of Tajikistan expressing concern about the alleged arbitrary detention of Kholiknazarov and his colleagues.
However, despite all appeals, on 9 December 2022 the Supreme Court of Tajikistan sentenced Manuchehr Kholiknazarov to 16 years in prison.
“For many years, Manuchehr and his team from the Lawyers Association of Pamir provided assistance to victims of human rights violations and peacefully promoted human rights, the rule of law and access to justice in GBAO. His detention is arbitrary and he must be released immediately and unconditionally”. Gerald Staberock, Secretary General, OMCT
- International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR)
- World Organisation against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
- International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
- Human Rights Watch (HRW)
- Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR)
- Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC)
- Frontline Defenders
- Freedom Now