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Imprisoned for Their Faith

On September 10, 2019, the Khujand City Court sentenced 68-year-old Shamil Khakimov to seven and a half years in prison under the fabricated charge of ‘inciting religious hatred.’ * The court also imposed a three-year ban on his religious activities after he completes his sentence. He had been in pretrial detention since February 28, 2019, while the prosecutors and police prepared a criminal case against him.

Shamil Khakimov

Mr. Khakimov, a widower, is one of 24 Witnesses in Khujand and nearby towns in northern Tajikistan who were interrogated by officers of the Department of Organized Crime Control (DOCC) during the latter part of January and continuing through early February. On January 28, he received a phone call from an individual who was later identified as a member of the DOCC of the Sughd Region. The next day, police officers summoned some of Mr. Khakimov’s non-Witness acquaintances and fellow believers and questioned them about him. Then, on February 1, the Khujand office of the DOCC summoned Mr. Khakimov. After searching him, the officers began interrogating him about how he became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and about the structure of the Witnesses’ organization. He was not offered legal assistance.

The police officers detained Mr. Khakimov for eight hours and deprived him of the medical treatment he needed after recently undergoing leg surgery. He also suffers from high blood pressure. When the police finally took him home, they seized his laptop, tablet, Bible, several religious books and brochures, and his passport. Without his passport, Mr. Khakimov was unable to access his pension funds to continue the medical care he needed to recover from his surgery.

On February 26, the police arrested him. Two days later, at the request of the Sughd Regional Prosecutor’s Office, a judge at the Khujand City Court ruled to place him in pretrial detention. On March 12, a panel of three judges at the Sughd Regional Court upheld the ruling. Since then, the Khujand City Court extended his detention three times and ruled to keep him in prison during his trial proceedings.

Mr. Khakimov’s criminal trial began on August 5 in the Khujand City Court with Judge N. Nabizoda presiding. The judge changed the venue for the trial, and several hearings were held in the Khujand jail, where Mr. Khakimov remains imprisoned. On September 10 he was convicted, and on October 9 he lost on appeal. However, in a letter dated July 4, 2020, Mr. Khakimov received a notice from the YaS 3/5 prison administration that based on Tajikistan’s amnesty law, his sentence had been reduced by two years, three months, and ten days. On September 9, 2021, his sentence was further reduced by one year based on the same provision. He is now scheduled to be released on May 16, 2023.

While he has been in prison, Mr. Khakimov’s health has rapidly deteriorated and he is unable to stand or walk. Mr. Khakimov’s family and friends are very concerned about his health. Independent specialists at two different clinical centers in Ukraine examined his medical records, and both doctors concluded that Mr. Khakimov is suffering from life-threatening conditions that require urgent and comprehensive treatment at a specialized clinical institution. However, Mr. Khakimov has not even been transferred to the prison medical unit since early January 2021. He has repeatedly approached the prison administration to seek urgent medical care, only to have his requests rebuffed. Prison officials also refused to process a motion for pardon because Mr. Khakikmov refuses to renounce his beliefs. The Specialized Prosecutor’s Office, which supervises the prison, confirmed the denial of the motion on July 16, 2021. He has no other domestic remedies.

On February 24, 2021, Mr. Khakimov was adopted as a Religious Prisoner of Conscience by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, sponsored by Commissioner Nury Turkel, who has also called for his immediate release. In the official announcement, Commissioner Turkel explains: “Since 2019, this ailing, elderly man has been languishing in a decrepit and overcrowded prison on a bogus seven-and-a-half year prison sentence. This term could very well represent a death sentence for a man wrongly imprisoned for peacefully practicing his religious beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness.”

On March 15, 2021, Mr. Khakimov’s lawyers filed an urgent application with the UN Human Rights Committee and an urgent request for interim measures. On March 19, 2021, the CCPR granted the request for interim measures. The CCPR requested that Tajikistan “ensure, without delay, that [Mr. Khakimov] receives adequate medical treatment in a specialized medical institution in accordance with his health care requirements, and that an alternative to imprisonment is secured for [Mr. Khakimov], while his case is pending before the [CCPR].” Mr. Khakimov filed supervisory appeals relying on the CCPR decision; however, all domestic courts, including the Supreme Court, have denied them.

Time Line

  1. September 21, 2021

    Following a countrywide amnesty, Mr. Norov is released from prison after serving 11 months of his 3.5-year sentence.

  2. January 7, 2021

    Mr. Norov is sentenced to three and a half years of imprisonment in a general regime colony for conscientious objection.

  3. November 1, 2020

    Jovidon Bobojonov receives a presidential pardon and is released from prison after serving nine months of his two-year sentence.

  4. October 1, 2020

    Rustamjon Norov is forcibly taken into custody because of his conscientiously objecting to military service and despite his request to perform alternative civilian service.

  5. July 4, 2020

    The YaS 3/5 prison administration notifies Mr. Khakimov that his sentence has been reduced by two years, three months, and ten days. He is scheduled to be released on May 16, 2024.

  6. April 2, 2020

    Mr. Bobojonov is sentenced to two years of imprisonment in a general regime colony.

  7. January 28, 2020

    Mr. Bobojonov is charged with evasion of military service.

  8. October 9, 2019

    Appeal court confirms guilty decision rendered by Khujand City Court in the case of Mr. Khakimov.

  9. October 4, 2019

    Jovidon Bobojonov is forcibly taken into custody because of his refusal to enlist in the military.

  10. September 10, 2019

    Mr. Khakimov is found guilty of the fabricated charge of ‘inciting religious hatred’ and sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.

  11. August 5, 2019

    Mr. Khakimov’s trial begins in the Khujand City Court. He remains imprisoned while his trial continues.

  12. June 25, 2019

    Khujand City Court extends Mr. Khakimov’s detention until July 26, 2019.

  13. May 31, 2019

    Sughd Regional Court upholds extension of Mr. Khakimov’s detention.

  14. May 24, 2019

    Khujand City Court extends Mr. Khakimov’s detention until June 26, 2019.

  15. April 29, 2019

    Sughd Regional Court upholds extension of Mr. Khakimov’s detention.

  16. April 23, 2019

    Khujand City Court extends Mr. Khakimov’s detention until May 26, 2019.

  17. March 12, 2019

    Sughd Regional Court upholds Khujand City Court decision to place Mr. Khakimov in pretrial detention for two months.

  18. February 28, 2019

    Khujand City Court places Mr. Khakimov in pretrial detention for two months.

  19. February 26, 2019

    Mr. Khakimov is arrested on fabricated charge of ‘inciting religious hatred.’

  20. February 1, 2019

    Shamil Khakimov is summoned to the police office, searched, and interrogated. After detaining him for eight hours, the police take Mr. Khakimov to his home, where they seize his personal belongings and passport.

  21. Late January–Early February 2019

    Officers of the DOCC in the city of Khujand search seven homes and interrogate 24 Witnesses, some for up to 14 hours.

^ par. 2 Article 189 (2) of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Tajikistan.