USCIRF Vice Chair Nury Turkel Calls on Tajikistan to Release Shamil Khakimov

Washington, DC – U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) calls for the release of imprisoned Jehovah’s Witness Shamil Khakimov on the third anniversary of his arrest. On February 26, 2019, Tajik authorities arrested Khakimov following widespread raids on the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses who were meeting together for worship. 

For three years, Khakimov has been forced to rot in prison because of his peaceful religious activity. Tajik authorities have refused to provide proper medical care for the open sores on Khakimov’s leg; they refused to allow him to attend the funeral of his son—his only allowed visitor in prison; and they have refused to let him share his faith or read his Bible in public,” said Vice Chair Nury Turkel, who advocates in support of Khakimov as part of USCIRF’s Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project. “The immense physical, mental, and spiritual suffering he continues to undergo must come to an end with his unconditional release.” 

In September 2019, the Khujand City Court sentenced Khakimov to seven and a half years in prison on extremism charges. Despite reducing his sentence by three years and three months, there are serious concerns about Khakimov’s health and ability to survive his prison term. He was still recovering from major leg surgery when he was arrested. His leg is reportedly covered with open sores, he has high blood pressure and has shown symptoms of COVID-19—all of which have gone untreated. Khakimov has also been under grave emotional stress following the September 2021 death of his son. All these issues are compounded by Tajikistan’s overcrowded and notoriously harsh prison system, with torture and inhumane conditions widely documented.  

In its 2021 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended that the U.S. government designate Tajikistan as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) for its systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom. USCIRF has also called on the U.S. Department of State to remove the national security waiver, which negates any punitive consequences resulting from the designation. USCIRF’s recent Tajikistan Country Update and Spotlight podcast explored the impact of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan on religious freedom conditions in Tajikistan and Tajikistan’s use of national security to curb religious freedom. 

SOURCE United States Commission on International Religious Freedom