Crossroads Asia

Jailed Tajik Opposition Politician Given Additional Time

A court in Tajikistan added three years to Zaid Saidov’s existing 26-year sentence.

Zaid Saidov, a would-be Tajik opposition candidate and former businessman, has had three years added to his 26-year prison sentence, Asia-Plus reports. Saidov has been serving a 26-year term in prison since his December 2013 conviction in Tajikistan for fraud, bribery, rape and polygamy in a trial human rights organizations and Saidov’s supporters say was politically motivated.

Originally, prosecutors wanted to add 25 years to Saidov’s existing sentence and the court decided on 20 years for the new charges. The new charges were for forgery, abuse of office, embezzlement, and tax evasion and the case nominally revolved around construction of the Dushanbe-Plaza Center and alleged illegal privatization of a joint-stock company in conjunction with Saidov’s time as the Tajik Minister of Industry from 2002 to 2007. But, according to  Asia-Plus, Tajik legislation limits the overall period of imprisonment to 30 years. By adding three years to Saidov’s existing sentence he will serve 29 years in prison.

The trial took place behind closed doors and reportedly Saidov delivered a 100-page speech to the court over three days in which he rejected the charges against him. For Saidov, who is 57, the difference between adding three years to his existing 26-year sentence or 20 is largely immaterial. Now he’ll be at least 86 when he is released, provided his sentence isn’t extended arbitrarily.

In April 2013, Saidov announced the creation of a new political party–New Tajikistan–and his intention to run for president in the November 2013 election. A month later, Saidov was arrested. Saidov, at the time a member of the Dushanbe city council and technically immune from arrest, was quickly stripped of that immunity. According to Human Rights Watch the charges against him were bogus:

He was charged with “bigamy or polygamy” (article 170), “illegal deprivation of an individual’s freedom” (article 131), rape (article 138), fraud (article 247), and bribery (article 319) under Tajikistan’s Criminal Code. Authorities accused Saidov of raping an underage girl and fathering her child. Court-ordered DNA tests did not prove any link between Saidov and the child. Prosecutors also accused Saidov of simultaneously living with four wives. Saidov has said he has one legal wife but provides material support to two former wives.

Saidov was convicted in December 2013. In the summer of 2014, Saidov’s defense counsel, Shukhrat Kudratov, who was known to frequently take on politically sensitive cases, was arrested for fraud and bribery. He was sentenced in January 2015 to nine years.

Tajikistan’s president, Emomali Rahmon, has spent 23 years in power but brooks no dissent. Over the last few years he has become increasingly intolerant, even by Central Asia’s skewed standards of opposition. The government has crushed the country’s largest opposition party–the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT)–and gone after smaller alternative voices as well. Saidov, once a part of the government, has fallen quite far–a lesson others have taken to heart. Muhiddin Kabiri, leader of the IRPT, is in exile in Turkey and in interviews often sites Saidov’s case as a warning.