Radio Liberty’s Tajik Service says Rustam Saidahmadzoda, 44, a judge in the Bobojon-Ghafourov district court in the northern Sughd province, has gone on trial behind closed doors on fraud charges that he adamantly denies.

He is reportedly widely known for issuing acquittals in criminal cases when he said he believed there wasn’t sufficient evidence to convict the defendants.

In a trial in Dushanbe on April 3, prosecutors reportedly demanded nine years for Saidahmadzoda on several charges, including violation of the law in adopting judicial decisions and giving false information to the media.

RFE/RL’s Tajik Service reported on April 27 that 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 brought against him and insisted that his rulings 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 reportedly accuse Saidahmadzoda of allegedly giving information to RFE/RL about a court ruling.  Both Saidahmadzoda and RFE/RL have denied the accusation.

Saidahmadzoda 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 instituted 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.

It is to be noted that acquittals are extremely rare in Tajikistan, where the judges -- who are independent in name only -- are expected to follow the line of the prosecution.  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 over the first six months of 2022, according to RFE/RL Tajik Service.

There are more than 400 judges in Tajikistan and more than 30 judges have been arrested and dozens more dismissed or demoted over the past decade. 

Official documents say the judges were dismissed for “discrediting the honor, dignity, and reputation” of the judicial system.

Graft reportedly remains widespread in Tajikistan, including in its criminal justice system.  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.