Tajikistan Blocks NGO from Investigating Press Gangs

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Photo credit: Simon West. Dushanbe Army Day Parade: Soldier with toddler

Informed observers in Tajikistan are continuing to tell EurasiaNet.org that this week’s shuttering of a prominent human rights group had nothing to do with its alleged technical violations (moving its office without reporting to authorities, publishing its findings on a website) and everything to do with its persistent investigation into abuses of military conscripts.

For the past five years, the Young Lawyers Association “Amparo” has documented press-ganging in northern Tajikistan and provided thousands of families pro bono legal advice. Of late, Amparo had started to look at how its lawyers could help recruits outside of Sughd Province. Moreover, and this is perhaps where the organization stepped over the Tajik authorities’ invisible line, Amparo began expressing concern about abuses of Border Service draftees, not just the Ministry of Defense conscripts. The Border Service is a branch of the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) – the powerful successor to the Soviet-era KGB.

A report Amparo published this year with support from the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is an example of the kind of work that seems to have angered authorities. The report describes Tajikistan’s biannual conscription process as marred by the kidnapping of recruits, some underage, sometimes with violence, and a systematic denial of conscripts’ legal rights.

While military service in Tajikistan is mandatory, conditions in the military are believed to be so bad that many young men bribe their way out of service; many others leave Tajikistan as migrant laborers, creating a dearth of able bodies for the service.

Despite Amparo’s documentation of such cases for five years straight, and its offering recommendations on how Dushanbe could implement reforms, “violations during the period of conscription to military service are repeated year after year,” while officials enjoy “impunity,” says the report (an English version was emailed to EurasiaNet.org).

The monitoring shows that militia [police] officers and representatives of military commissariats conduct raids on the streets, in public places, i.e. illegally detain citizens and take to the local military commissariat. Detentions take place in a chaotic manner, i.e. not only “deviators”, but also persons who haven’t received call-up papers, or even those having a deferment or exemption from military service. In practice, there were also detained persons under the age eligible for military service, or non-citizens of the Republic of Tajikistan.

For example:

The conscript B. with his mother was driving by on a car near one of the Universities in Khujand city. Suddenly the car was stopped by three men in civilian clothes and they attacked the conscript trying to force him to pull out of the car. The conscript attempted to escape, but three men caught him and started beating him.

Authorities often refuse to consider medical conditions that would excuse some recruits from the mandatory service.

The violation of the rights of citizens during a medical examination is one of the most common violations during carrying out the conscription activities. Not suitable for military service young patients who were to receive the exemption or deferment on health grounds [are] considered suitable to serve. […]

Very often conscripts complain […] the medical commission doctors do not consider the health complaints of conscripts.

Many of Amparo's activities are designed to educate young people about their rights, because, “the main factors contributing to violations of the rights of citizens during the conscription are extremely poor awareness of citizens about their rights and ways on protecting them, as well as unacceptable legal practice, non-observance of existing legal norms by officials.”

Authorities thrive off potential recruits’ poor legal knowledge, meaning Amparo, by offering legal advice, is something of a nuisance: “Conscripts are often convinced by authorities on the hopelessness of their position, despite obvious presence of legal ways of the solution.”

In sum, one of the major problems is a lack of reform for decades, with a reliance on Soviet-era practices:

[The] conscription system that exists today in Tajikistan hasn't been subjected to any significant changes after Republic's acquisition of a sovereignty, and based on the basis of the totalitarian Soviet model generates gross and massive violations of human rights.

Source: Inside the Cocoon, 26 October 2012

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