TAJIKISTAN: Two Sentenced to Death for Church Bombing.

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 16 July 2001

Two former students of the Islamic Institute in the Tajik capital Dushanbe have appealed against the death sentences handed out last Friday (13 July) over last October's bombing of the Korean-led Grace Sonmin church in which ten people died and more than fifty were wounded (see KNS 24 October 2000). Relatives and the lawyer for the two have denied their guilt, claiming that their confessions were extracted under torture, but a member of Grace Sonmin church told Keston News Service from Dushanbe on 16 July that the authorities had found the right men.

The head of the chancellery at the Supreme Court told Keston from Dushanbe on 16 July that the two had already appealed to the chairman of the Supreme Court and that the court's board will decide `whether the sentence should be carried out or should be amended'. `The appeal is still being considered and no date has yet been set for the board to meet, but it is likely to take place in about 15 days' time,' Vekhomboi Gafurov told Keston.

The two men, Mustofokul Boymurodov (born in 1976) and Sadridin Fatkhuddinov (born in 1979), were sentenced to death by firing squad on terrorism charges after a two-month trial at the Supreme Court, a spokesman for the Security Ministry (former KGB) told Keston from Dushanbe on 16 July. He said the investigation - which was led by the Security Ministry and the Interior Ministry - also proved the two were involved in bomb attacks at a shop in Dushanbe and at the settlement of Dangara in southern Tajikistan. The two had been found to be `of sound mind'. The court ruled that the motive for the attack on the Christian centre was religious fanaticism.

The spokesman, who gave his name as Zhorkirov, declined to say how many death sentences are handed down each year or how many are carried out, declaring that this was not within the competency of the security ministry. `It is not the first time that the highest measure of punishment has been handed down,' he declared, using the Soviet euphemism for the death penalty, `but it is not used all that often.'

A member of Grace Sonmin church, who declined to be identified by name, told Keston on 16 July that the church believes those sentenced are guilty of carrying out the bombing. `Many church members saw and recognised them.' Several church members were called as witnesses during the trial, though no-one else from the church attended the trial. The church member stressed that the death penalty had been imposed not just for the church bombing, but for other terrorist offences also, adding that the church had not been involved at all in lobbying for any particular sentence to be handed down. `It was up to the court to decide.'

The church member said that in general the Grace Sonmin church did not favour the death penalty, pointing out that the two men sentenced were both young. `Christian believers are in favour of life and generally oppose the death penalty, but each person must decide for themselves. I can't speak for the whole church.'

However, relatives and the lawyer for the two men have denied that they were guilty and that the two were tortured into signing confessions, which they retracted in court. Abdukarim Kaharov, Boymurodov's father, told the Tajik service of Radio Liberty in the wake of the sentence that the authorities extracted the confessions using torture. `They took my son from home at midnight, beat him with metal rods and pulled out his fingernails. I will protest against the sentence.' The lawyer Nazrishah Ubaidov told Radio Liberty that the two men's rights had been violated, complaining for example that Fatkhuddinov had been held for 13 days after his arrest instead of the maximum three days allowed in law. `It was precisely during this time that the confession - the main proof - was extracted from him. They got the confession by ill-treatment. I don't accept the verdict.'

The church member told Keston that ten church members had died as a result of the bombing and more than 50 had been injured, figures higher than those published by the Tajik authorities. The court verdict spoke of the two bombs that exploded on 1 October in the church, but failed to mention two further bombs which failed to explode, one located on the stairway landing of the third floor and one out in the garden. More than a dozen church members were initially arrested and interrogated, but the authorities eventually turned their attention to other suspects.

It remains unclear whether the Grace Sonmin bombing was linked to smaller explosions on New Year's Eve at Dushanbe's Adventist church and at the city's St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral (see KNS 18 January 2001). Neither attack caused any deaths or injuries. (END)