Content Regulation / Censorship, National Security
The Sunday Times v. United Kingdom (No. 2)
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Closed Contracts Expression
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In August 2015, Tajikistan’s Justice Ministry issued an order, forcing the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) to permanently close down its operations across the country due to failing to meet membership quotas. This drastic measure came after the country’s prominent opposition party failed to secure its only two seats in the Parliament. As an international observant, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) reported that the March 2015 parliamentary elections were not conducted in “an impartial manner” and failed to provide “a level playing field for candidates.”
On September 29, 2015, at the request of the Tajik Prosecutor General, the High Court classified the IRPT as a terrorist group. The government alleged that the political party of over 40,000 supporters was involved, among other things, in orchestrating an anti-government rebellion that resulted in a deadly attack on the main police station in the Vahdat District of Tajikistan.
Columbia Global Freedom of Expression could not identify the official legal and government records on the case and that the information contained in this report was derived from secondary sources. It must be noted that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding this legal matter will be updated as an official source becomes available.
IRPT has been generally known as “the lone mainstream Muslim party” in post-Soviet Central Asia. Since its establishment in 1990, the political party of more than 40,000 supporters has been formally recognized as the sole opposition party in Tajikistan. Then in March 2015, the IRPT faced an uphill battle as it failed to secure its only two seats in the Parliament. The highly contested parliamentary elections were brought into international spotlight after the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights published its election observance report, indicating that the elections across the country were not conducted in an “impartial manner” and failed to provide “a level playing field for candidates.”
Following the parliamentary defeat, the party began to complain about increased pressure and persecution of its members by the government. It first complained to the Ministry of Interior to investigate the government’s continuous persecution of its members. Having received no response, the party also submitted an open letter to the President of Tajikistan. The rising tension between the government and the party then led the Tajik Justice Ministry to dissolve the IRPT in July 2015, citing its failure to maintain its parliamentary membership. It ordered the party to shut down its 58 regional branches across the country. The statement also alleged that 45 members of the party committed various crimes, ranging from illegal storage of firearms, to deadly assault, and to corruption.
On September 8, 2015, the government formally charged the ousted Deputy Minister of Defense Abduhalim Nazarzoda for his alleged involvement in an attack on the main police station in Vahdat District of Tajikistan that left nine officers dead. An official statement by the Ministry of Interior tied Nazarzoda with IRPT. But the party insisted that the ousted defense official was not its member as the existing laws banned military personnel from joining political parties. Despite of this, the government remained decisive in permanently disabling the group by arresting its 13 top members, including the deputy chairman and spokesperson. Later, the country’s Prosecutor General sought the High Court to declare the party as a terrorist organization, accusing it of direct involvement in orchestrating a rebellion against the government.
On September 29, 2015, the High Court of Tajikistan granted a request of the Prosecutor General to ban the party and all of its informational materials, including the official website and newspaper. The basis for the ruling was the Law on Political Parties, Article 4, that forbids terrorist and extremist activities, violent overthrow of the constitutional regime, establishment of armed groups, or propaganda of hatred on the basis of race, ethnicity, nationality or religion.
The ruling received international condemnation. The UN OHCHR released a statement that highlighted its worries about the deteriorating human rights situation in Tajikistan and urged the government to follow international norms in the war on terrorism. Human Rights Watch urged the government of Tajikistan to lift the ban on the party and to stop the persecution of its members.
The issue before the Supreme Court of Tajikistan was whether the IRPT had violated Article 4 of the Law on Political Parties, which prohibits terrorism-related activities, violent overthrow of the constitutional regime, establishment of armed groups, and propaganda of hatred on the basis of race, ethnicity, nationality or religion.
The Supreme Court assessed the criminality of the party as a whole in making its decision. But it allegedly relied only on the information provided by the Prosecutor General. Purportedly, the Court erred in considering a number of exculpatory evidence insufficient to establish that the party was directly involved in terrorist activities. For instance, the Court took into account a 2010 murder charge against one of the party’s representatives who was never found guilty of the crime. The Supreme Court also agreed with the government that the IRPT’s official newspaper had been disseminating information aimed at inciting religious hatred since 2010, yet no official charge against the newspaper has been brought until the events at hand.
The Court’s also declared that the IRPT supported the attack on a police outpost organized by major-general Abukhalim Nazarzoda was a major reason for concluding that the party had terrorist links. However, the government’s stance that Nazarzoda belonged to the IRPT has been rejected by the IRPT. Moreover, military personnel are banned by law from all political activity.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The case greatly contracts freedoms of expression and association in Tajikistan by banning the only opposition party in the country. The government has not attempted to shut down the party until it lost seats in the parliament.
Furthermore, the lawyer and human rights activist representing the party’s members has also been arrested on charges of fraud. Allegedly, in 2011, he fraudulently received $45,000 from a resident of Khudzhand.
Considering the facts of the case and the international outcry against the ban, it seems that the party’s shut-down was political, rather than based on real threats to the security of Tajikistan.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.