A Tajik judge widely known for being “lenient” has gone on trial behind closed doors on fraud charges that he adamantly denies.
Rustam Saidahmadzoda, 44, was known for issuing acquittals in criminal cases when he said he believed there wasn’t sufficient evidence to convict the defendants. Acquittals are extremely rare in Tajikistan, where the judges — who are independent in name only — are expected to follow the line of the prosecution.
In a trial in Dushanbe on April 3, prosecutors demanded nine years for Saidahmadzoda on several charges, including violation of the law in adopting judicial decisions and giving false information to the media.
Three weeks later, nothing is publicly known about any ruling on Saidahmadzoda’s case.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, an official who was present at Saidahmadzoda’s trial said he pleaded not guilty to all charges and insisted that his rulings as a judge were based on law and his assessment of facts and evidence.
According to the source, Saidahmadzoda told the court: “The reason I am here today is that I have dismissed cases that were illegally brought by investigators, and I acquitted innocent people facing baseless charges.”
Prosecutors accuse Saidahmadzoda of allegedly giving information to RFE/RL about a court ruling. Both Saidahmadzoda and RFE/RL have denied the accusation.
Saidahmadzoda, a judge in the Bobojon Ghafurov district court in the northern Sughd Province, was arrested in June 2022.
The Supreme Court had initially launched disciplinary proceedings against Saidahmadzoda at the request of the Prosecutor-General’s Office in July 2021, several weeks after he cleared a defendant, saying the prosecution hadn’t provided sufficient evidence to convict them.
The proceedings were opened on the grounds that during 2020 and the first five months of 2021, Saidahmadzoda handed down five decisions that were overturned by higher courts.
In December 2022, Saidahmadzoda’s assistant, Aziza Haidarova, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of fraud and illegally obtaining property. Haidarova denied the accusations.
According to official figures, Tajik courts receive about 11,000 cases a year. Only two defendants were cleared in 2020, and there were 11 acquittals in 2021.
Not a single defendant was cleared of charges in the 5,508 criminal cases reviewed by Tajik courts in the first half of 2022.
At the time, Supreme Court Chairman Shermuhammad Shohiyon attributed the complete lack of acquittals to “the good work of the investigators.” But lawyers privately say the near-zero acquittal rate in Tajikistan has eroded the public’s trust in courts and added serious doubt about the independence of the judiciary.
Clampdown On Bribery
There are more than 400 judges in Tajikistan, an authoritarian country of about 10 million people. More than 30 judges have been arrested and dozens more dismissed or demoted in the past 10 years.
Official documents ambiguously say the judges were dismissed for “discrediting the honor, dignity, and reputation” of the judicial system.
Graft remains widespread in Tajikistan, including in its criminal justice system. But critics say a lack of transparency in the government’s apparent clampdown on corruption in the judicial system and the closed trials have thrown the legitimacy of the process into question.
With few exceptions, authorities have failed to release any information about criminal cases or subsequent imprisonment of the judges jailed in recent years. But sources familiar with several cases have told RFE/RL that the judges were mostly charged with bribery, fraud, and abuse of office.
Police arrested Zafar Qodirzoda in April, just five months after he was appointed as a judge at the Gorno-Badakhshan regional court, two sources close to the matter told RFE/RL.
In November 2022, Khujand city court Judge Homidjon Muhammadzoda and his deputy, Rustam Muhammadsaidzoda, were each sentenced to two years in prison.
In October last year, Sino district court Judge Rahmiddin Rahimzoda was given a five-year sentence.
There was no official comment on any of these cases, but according to RFE/RL sources the judges had been accused of corruption.
Relatives of the accused also routinely refuse to talk to the media, fearing that authorities will retaliate against them for speaking out.
Source: Radio Free Europe