Central Asia: Feb/Mar '11
A series of IWPR-supported meetings have helped to consolidate efforts by lawyers, activists and journalists to campaign against torture, participants say.
The meetings, in Hudjand, the provincial centre of the northern Soghd region on February 21, and the capital Dushanbe four days later, brought together rights defenders and lawyers, two groups who in the past have not worked together as closely as they might in lobbying against torture.
A separate discussion will be held in the second half of March to build bridges between civil society and media to enhance the anti-torture campaign by raising public awareness.
The meetings – staged in partnership with the Independent Centre for Protection of Human Rights and rights group Nota Bene – came as lawyers, activists and journalists attempt to respond to the mounting evidence of torture in Tajik detention facilities.
At the Hudjand and Dushanbe events, participants expressed support for the Tajik newspaper Asia Plus which is being prosecuted for publishing a report last December exposing alleged police torture of suspected criminals.
The head of the regional interior ministry department in Hudjand, who launched lawsuit against Asia Plus in January, has denied wrong doing by its officers and demanded about 224,000 US dollars in damages from the newspaper. The trial continues.
According to rights activists, the legal system in Tajikistan does not adequately address the continuing use of torture in detention. One of the main reasons is that current legislation does not define torture clearly enough. Very often cases are reclassified as the lesser offence of abuse of power.
At the February meetings, Nigina Bahrieva, head of Nota Bene, appealed to civil society organisations to express their backing for journalists persecuted for campaigning against torture, while Mohira Usmanova, head of Association of Lawyers in the Soghd region, said it’s important to “show solidarity with mass media at the moment when they need it”.
Following these calls, the Coalition Against Torture, an umbrella grouping of a number rights organisations, including Usmanova’s association, published a statement on March 11 expressing concern over the defamation case and appealing to the court to conduct a just and fair trial.
Usmanova said the IWPR-supported meetings enabled various pressure groups that have common interests, but do not always talk to each other, to join forces. She also pointed out that such work is particularly important in regions like Soghd where obstacles are put in the way of media attempting to investigate torture claims.
“First of all, I would like to thank IWPR for organising such a meeting for lawyers and rights defenders in the regions where it is difficult to pursue cases involving torture,” Usmanova said.
Bahrieva said these were timely and much needed events that helped to consolidate the efforts of civil society activists and lawyers. She explained that what groups like hers wanted from the discussions is to identify the main difficulties facing legal practitioners and rights defenders who deal with cases of torture.
She explained that some lawyers are reluctant to take up such cases. “First, they do not have the required knowledge and skills to lead them. Second, lawyers [that do take them on] say that they get threats from [police] investigative bodies during their work,” Bahrieva said.
Sergey Romanov, who heads the Independent Centre for Protection of Human Rights, said the IWPR-supported events laid down the foundation for further action, “We are planning to work out strategy of putting an end to torture in Tajikistan involving more NGOs and practicing lawyers who have experience in providing legal help to torture victims.”
According to Romanov, rights organsations hope to continue cooperation with IWPR in training journalists how to report on such abuses particularly when it comes to sources who would like to remain anonymous out of fear for their safety.
Lola Olimova is IWPR’s Tajik editor.