A group of seven international rights organizations have called on the Tajik authorities Dushanbe to immediately and unconditionally release Tajik human rights lawyer Manouchehr Kholiqnazarov, who is serving 16 years in prison.

On April 3, International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), World Organization against Torture (OMCT), 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, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, and Freedom Now released a joint statement calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Manouchehr Kholiqnazarov.

"Manouchehr 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 of the International Partnership for Human Rights, said as part of the joint statement.

The Supreme Court of Tajikistan sentenced Manoucher Kholiqnazarov to 16 years in prison on December 9, 2022.  The sentence followed his conviction on charges of participation in a criminal organization (Article 187 (2) of Tajikistan’s Penal Code) and participating in the activities of a banned organization (Article 307 (3)) 307 (3).  He is service his term in a high-security penal colony.  

The statement notes that Manouchehr Kholiqnazarov is the Director of the Lawyers Association of Pamir (LAP), one of the few civil society organizations 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, Kholiqnazarov has reportedly helped countless victims of human rights violations and strengthened rule of law and democratic structures in the GBAO.

After mass protests erupted in the region in November 2021, Kholiqnazarov joined the Commission 44 organization -- in which members of law enforcement agencies and local civil society representatives joined to investigate the reasons behind the unrest.  But in May 2022, Kholiqnazarov and a dozen other members of Commission 44 were arrested, the statement says.

The statement notes that in March 2023, Tajikistan was downgraded from “repressed“ to “closed“ by the CIVICUS Monitor, a global research project that rates and tracks fundamental freedoms in 197 countries.  ‘Closed’ is the worst rating a country can receive by the CIVICUS Monitor.