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Tajikistan’s Dangerous Prisons

A high-security prison in Dushanbe.
A high-security prison in Dushanbe.

Violence in Tajikistan’s Vahdat prison on May 19 left 32 people dead -- 29 prisoners and three prison guards. Among the prisoners killed during the riot were two prominent members of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan and Behruz Gulmurod, whose father, Gulmurod Halimov, was a former commander in Tajikistan’s elite police commando unit before leaving for the Middle East where he joined the Islamic State (IS) militant group and became the IS war minister.

It was the second prison riot just over six months. A riot in a prison in the northern Tajik city of Khujand in early November 2018 left at least 23 people dead. Some say the figure could be more than twice that.

In both cases, Tajik authorities blamed imprisoned IS members for starting the violence. IS did claim one of its fighters was responsible for the November riot, but IS has not publicly made any statement about the Vahdat prison violence.

Tajik authorities have not allowed any independent organizations the opportunity to investigate what happened at the Vahdat or Khujand prisons. Some have questioned the accuracy of the information released by the Tajik government concerning both the prison riots.

RFE/RL's media-relations manager, Muhammad Tahir, moderated a discussion on the prison riots.

From Kazakhstan, we were joined by Helene Thibault, who is currently teaching humanities and social science at Nazarbaev University, but prior to that spent time doing research in Tajikistan. From Washington, our friend Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, took part in the discussion. From Prague, Salimjon Aioub, the acting head of RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, known locally as Ozodi, participated. I had some things I wanted to say also.

Majlis Podcast: Tajikistan’s Dangerous Prisons
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Each week, hosts Bruce Pannier and Muhammad Tahir welcome a panel of expert guests to discuss significant political developments and pressing social issues affecting the nations of Central Asia.

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