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Ill-treatment and torture: Something about which women choose to remain silent

Article by Favziya Nazarova and Nigina Bakhrieva

May 17, 2021

Ill-treatment and torture: Something about which women choose to remain silent

Over the past decade, the Coalition of Civil Society against Torture and Impunity in Tajikistan has documented numerous cases indicating that women and girls in Tajikistan are regularly victims of torture, sexual coercion, insults, humiliation, beatings, and other inhumane treatment by police and law enforcement officials.[1] Between January 1st and December 31st 2020, the Coalition documented 37 cases of torture and ill-treatment, nine of which involved women and two minors.[2]


Nevertheless, in the Tajik context, where patriarchal culture prevails, women and girls who are victims of torture and ill-treatment face particular discrimination when applying to the competent authorities. Often such complaints are either not registered or women have to go through exhausting and often costly procedures to verify the occurrence of violence. As a result, criminals enjoyed almost absolute impunity, while the State preferred to hide the problem. Furthermore, there is almost no research conducted in this sphere and there is no comprehensive official statistics about the scope of this problem in the country.


Tajikistan is a state party to CEDAW since 1993 and on July 22nd 2014 the country also acceded to Optional Protocol to the CEDAW. In its concluding observations, the CEDAW Committee repeatedly recommended Tajikistan to prioritise its measures for eliminating violence against women and ensure that women and girls who are victims of violence have access to immediate means of redress and protection, and perpetrators are prosecuted and adequately punished.”[3] However, despite the high level of violence against women, both domestic and custodial, to date no complaints have been submitted to the Committee.


Police abuse

Violence against women in detention very often includes rape and other forms of sexual violence, such as threats of rape, touching, being stripped naked, insults, and humiliation of a sexual nature. Victims of police abuse and brutality usually include young, poorly educated and underprivileged women, which leads to their further marginalisation. As it was stated by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture “in addition to the physical trauma, the mental pain and suffering inflicted on victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence are often long-lasting, in particular as a result of subsequent stigmatisation and isolation.”[4] Therefore, in most of the reported cases, women, especially in rural areas did not report such violence for fear of social stigmatisation or because the police had failed to take appropriate action in previous cases, and because of possible reprisals by abusers.


The few victims who were brave enough to report the violence to the Coalition Legal Aid Unit constitute a small percentage, while in most cases women prefer not to speak openly about the humiliation they have suffered.


In summer 2019, the Coalition Legal Aid Group registered the case of a 24-year-old resident of Vakhsh district, N.B., who had been subjected to ill-treatment and violence by the district internal affairs officers. A young woman was brought in on suspicion of theft and detained for almost two days, during which police officers used various forms of humiliation to force her to confess to a crime, including insults, threats and torture. According to the victim, she was blindfolded and forced to flee quickly along a narrow corridor of the office, causing her to run into the wall several times and fall. She was also beaten repeatedly, which caused her severe pain. She was later given an injection, which partially paralysed her as she could not feel her arms and legs. Taking advantage of her condition and helplessness, she was raped by a police officer.


Despite the best efforts of the lawyers, to date no police officers responsible have been brought to justice. In the presence of the lawyer, the victim indicted at one of the duty officers of the Vakhsh District Department of Internal Affairs, however, the management refused to inform the lawyer of his name.


For about a year now, a complaint of torture against the victim has been examined by the competent authorities at various levels, from the Office of the Procurator-General, the Office of the Procurator-General of Vakhsh district, the District Court of Vakhsh and the District Procurator’s Office of Khatlon, but N.B. has been awaiting a response to her complaints to date.


Rape and sexual harassment by the hands of law enforcement officers 

It’s widely recognised that rape “carried out by, at the instigation of, or with the consent or acquiescence of public officials” constitutes torture and the perpetrators must be brought to justice.[5] However, there are cases when women and young girls become victims of sexual violence while addressing the law enforcement agencies with complaints.


In October 2018, a resident of the village of Pakhtakor, Pyanj district, S.H. turned to a local police officer, with a complaint against the unlawful actions of her neighbour. In spite of registering the complaint and taking appropriate measures, the officer locked the door of his office and raped the woman. According to the victim, the police officer threatened that if the incident became known, he would cripple her and make her as disabled as her mother, who has been paralysed and bedridden for years. However, according to the victim, she would not have been able to tell anyone without these threats, as it would have been a disgrace to her and her family.


Taking advantage of her weakness and his own impunity, the police officer continued to harass the young woman for more than eight months, raping and beating her until she had the courage to call a medical expert to record the beatings. The medical examination documented the victim’s beatings, including a broken arm, nose, as well as injuries to his ribs and chest. The victim filed complaints against the police officer to the Department of Internal Affairs of Khatlon province. However, the beatings and threats did not stop there, to the extent that the police officer attacked her with a knife, injuring her seven-year-old son who stood up to defend his mother.


As a result, the police officer was fired from the internal affairs agencies, but was not prosecuted. To the date his victim does not give up hope for justice. In January 2020, when she repeatedly addressed the General Prosecutor’s Office with her complaint, she was told that an investigation was being conducted, however, no additional information was provided.


Torture and ill-treatment against female relatives of the suspect and detained persons

In addition, female relatives of suspects and detainees are also among the victims of violence in places of detention. There are cases where suspects confess to a crime under duress, including threats of rape against their mother, wife or daughter.


Case of Hasan Yodgorov

In the autumn of 2017, internal affairs officers in Tursunzade arrested Hasan Yodgorov on suspicion of murder. Immediately after his arrest, a video was shown on central television in which Yodgorov confessed to the murder. However, nine months later, Yodgorov was released after the real killer was apprehended. After his release, Yodgorov told that the confession was made under torture and ill-treatment, to which his mother, his wife and even his eight-year-old daughter were also subjected.


Sharofat Narzykulova, Yodgorov’s mother, was subjected to ill-treatment from the first days of her son’s detention. When attempting to enter the police station, the person on duty abruptly closed the door and slammed her hand, so she stood for 20 minutes, after which random passers-by helped push the door and free the woman’s hand. When her son was charged with murder, Narzykulova herself was tried as an accomplice, allegedly hiding a stolen bracelet and the deceased’s phone. For two weeks, she was summoned daily for extended questioning. During the interrogation, the woman was insulted, called a “thief” and “mother of the murderer” in front of her son, who could not even say a word in defence of his mother and only cried in silence. During one of the interrogations, his son was forced to kneel and ask his mother for money. According to S.Narzykulova, she was asked for $6,000. The son, on his knees, begged the mother to find the money to stop the abuse they were both experiencing.


Tojinissiso Izatullo, Yodgorov’s wife and his eight-year-old daughter were also subjected to the brutality of law enforcement: the woman was constantly harassed, insulted and humiliated, and threatened that if her husband did not confess the crime the child would be sent to an orphanage. As a result of constant interrogations, the child suffered a great deal of psychological trauma and developed nervous enuresis (urinary incontinence).


Based on the received information, a criminal case was initiated against officers of the Tursunzade Internal Affairs Department Sherali Azizov, Saadi Davlatmurodzoda, Eradj Naimov, for using torture and ill-treatment against Yedgorov and his family members. The first trial was held in July 2019 in the Supreme Court of Tajikistan. Nevertheless, on January 16th 2020, the judge decided to return the case for additional investigation due to the fact that “… there were a number of flaws and violations of procedural norms…” In particular, the judge stated that the criminal investigation should be initiated not only against the police officers who had committed the torture, but also against the judge in Tursunzade city court, who had tried the case of administrative detention, the leadership of the Internal Affairs Department and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, who have failed to exercise proper control over the actions of their officers.[6]


To the date there is no information about the course of the investigation.


Case of Mastona Zainiddionva and Mariam Sodikova

On December 16th 2017, officers of the Internal Affairs Department of the Shohmansoor district of Dushanbe detained Mariam Sodikova and two of her minor children, in connection with the search for Sodikova’s husband, accused of stealing a large sum of money. According to the woman, she was subjected to electric shocks in an attempt to obtain information about her husband’s whereabouts. The torture continued for three days, during which the children were held at the police station and allowed to sleep on chairs. In addition, the police also detained Mastonа Zainiddinova, wife of the suspect’s brother, with her and she was also subjected to beatings and humiliation.


One year later, the General Procurator’s Office initiated criminal proceedings against Shohmansur district police officer Nurhonov F. and other persons under six articles of the Criminal Code, including the use of torture.


On December 16th 2019, the Dushanbe court handed down a verdict in which the defendants were found guilty on all charges and received the following punishment: Nurhonov F. – 17 years’ imprisonment, Sabzaev A.- 9 years’ imprisonment, Wakhobov U. – 7.5 years of imprisonment, and Ikroriddin Akhliddin – 9 years of imprisonment.[7]


Violence against female sex-workers

In addition, female sex workers are often victims of abuse by law enforcement agencies. Under article 130 of the Code of Administrative Offences, prostitution was only an administrative offence and was punishable by a fine or administrative detention for ten to 15 days. However, the police have used various methods of pressure against sex workers, including verbal abuse, inhuman and degrading treatment and arbitrary detention. At the same time, police officers visit sex workers and demand free sexual services, using their position, violence and blackmail.[8]


Social and family stigmatisation

Often, the suffering caused by sexual violence by public officials goes ‘beyond the suffering caused by classical torture’, as victims usually find no support from either society or family members, which often leads to her isolation.[9] In the context of Tajik society, very often families, including parents and husbands, abandon victims of sexual violence, condemning them to destitution and poverty.


Victims of sexual violence face a high level of stigma. It can take place at the individual level as well as within the family or community and at the institutional level, including the judiciary. Guilt and shame, fueled by traditional prejudices, often discourage victims from talking about their experiences.


The cases, mentioned above clearly demonstrate lack of support from the state and judicial bodies. Women who are victims of torture face a number of difficulties. According to the national legislation, they must independently prove that they are victims of torture, which includes various expert examinations, the gathering of evidence, the filing of complaints and many others, which is almost impossible without the qualified assistance of a lawyer, which is not always available, especially in rural areas. Moreover, female detainees who are victims of rape face major obstacles when seeking justice. The procedures required to pursue a complaint can often lead to the re-traumatisation of the victim.


In addition, complaints about torture and ill-treatment are often not investigated effectively because the investigating institutions are not sufficiently independent. No separate and independent mechanisms capable of carrying out effective criminal investigations and prosecutions have been set up in Tajikistan despite recommendations by the CAT, the Human Rights Committee (HRC) and the Special Rapporteur on torture.


In Tajik society, there is special discrimination against women who are single parents or divorced women. Often victims of violence complain of rough treatment, even in the prosecution system, where she is branded ‘beva’ (divorced or widowed), which gives an excuse to treat her roughly and/or impolitely. In colloquial speech, the word is used for the purpose of humiliation.


In addition, victims of torture are usually criminal suspects, which creates negative social attitudes towards them. Unfortunately, the presumption of innocence is often forgotten, and a detained or suspected citizen is already subjected to negative treatment and may be subjected to cruel treatment for the purpose of punishment.


Coalition’s efforts to fight against torture and impunity

Since 2011, the Coalition has documented over 1,000 cases of torture. While most victims of torture are still waiting for justice and perpetrators enjoy impunity, the Coalition and its lawyers sometimes are the only hope for the victims of torture and their family members. Apart from the legal consultations, the Coalition also represents the victims and their relatives in the courts for claiming compensation for the physical and moral harm and as a result of Coalition’s litigation in court, financial compensation was provided to nine of victims. The Coalition helped change laws and increase levels of public awareness about the responsibilities of the state and the rights of victims. The Coalition also engaged in dialogue with authorities on improving conditions in closed institutions, including prisons, psychiatric institutions and military units. Members of the Coalition, together with the Ombudsman carry out human rights monitoring in the penitentiary facilities – in light of there being no independent access for the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Coalition also engaged in meaningful process with the state on improving the quality of forensic examination of allegations of torture. Furthermore, the Coalition is promoting rehabilitation services for victims, including psychological assistance. While these are all positive trends towards breaking the cycle of silence by victims, non-action by state actors and impunity for the perpetrators, a lot remains to be done to remove some of the most persistent obstacles to end torture in Tajikistan.



According to Oynihol Bobonazarova, one of the prominent human rights activist in Tajikistan and a member of the Coalition of Civil Society against Torture and Impunity in Tajikistan, the widespread use of torture is “a consequence of the failure to combat torture in a country where, in most cases, perpetrators of torture enjoy impunity. This gives investigators a sense of untouchability and permissiveness.”[10] It was therefore necessary to constantly promote a policy of zero tolerance for torture in the country and to ensure that all perpetrators were brought to justice.


The Coalition welcomes recent positive developments in which Tajikistan’s courts have begun to draw attention to investigative shortcomings as well as broadening the circle of those responsible for torture and ill-treatment (Yodogorov case). However, there is also a need to ensure that criminal investigations and trials address all forms of violence and ill-treatment against women and girls, including through the lens of gender discrimination.


Recommendations for the Government of Tajikistan:

  1. Various strategic documents in the area of human rights and freedom from torture, including the National Human Rights Strategy until 2030 and its Action Plan for 2021-2023, and the Draft Law on Non-Discrimination, are currently being developed. It is very important to take a gender perspective in the development of any strategies.
  2. There is also a need to conduct educational activities for investigative bodies on the specifics of conducting criminal cases against women victims of torture and ill-treatment.
  3. A State programme for the rehabilitation of torture victims, with a special focus on women, should be developed, as well as rehabilitation centres where women victims of torture could receive psychological assistance and rehabilitation.


Favziya Nazarova is Director of Public Foundation Notabene ( She has over 15 years of experience in protection and human rights advocacy in Tajikistan, with a focus on civil society development, torture and ill-treatment and non-discrimination issues.


Nigina Bakhrieva is the Founder of Notabene with human rights experience over 20 years. She is a regional Expert on the issues of freedom from torture and other fundamental human rights and the protection of human rights in the United Nations system.


The information is based on the cases, documented by the Coalition from 2017 to 2020.


Image by Ninara under (CC).


[1] Freedom From Torture: the Coalition of Civil Society against Torture and Impunity in Tajikistan,

[2] Civil Society Coalition against tortur’s Annual report 2020,

[3] CEDAW/C/TJK/CO/3, 2007, para 22.

[4] UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Gender perspectives on torture (A/HRC/31/57), para. 51.

[5] Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak, A/HRC/7/3, para 34.

[6] Freedom from Torture, Press Release, August 2019,

[7] Radio Ozodi, Policemen accused of torture received from 7 to 17 years in prison, December 2019,

[8] Shah-Aiym Network NGO and Apeyron NGO, Joint submission for the Pre-sessional Working Group for the 71st session of the CEDAW Committee to generate list of issues to the Sixth Periodic Report of the Republic of Tajikistan, Condition of sex workers in Tajikistan, CEDAW, January 2018,

[9] Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak, A/HRC/7/3, para 36.

[10] Evening, Abuse and Torture Against Women: What Women Choose to Stay silent about, Vecherka, April 2020,

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