Ismoil*, a 41-year-old man, sits in a hot, sunlit room in the busy city of Dushanbe at the service desk for ex-prisoners. When Ismoil graduated from school in 1992, he got his driver’s licence, hoping to find work as a driver. However, that same year, the civil war started and he was forced to take up arms and fight. In 1998, when the war was over, Tajikistan was devastated and Ismoil was imprisoned for having participated in the war.
During his time in prison, conditions were dismal; prisoners were tortured and those who managed to survive did so only because of the food they received from their families. Ismoil had to work in prison and spent his days blowing glass, which eventually gave him lung problems. During his 9 years in prison, Ismoil worked for 7 years and earned a total of 37 Somoni (approximately €6).
While in prison, Ismoil was visited by a group of Iranian human rights observers looking to interview former soldiers from the civil war. During each interview, prison guards were present, so no one dared speak about the conditions they were enduring in prison.
Ismoil was released after 9 years. While leaving prison meant freedom, it also meant being unemployed. He had to deal with his lack of professional experience, education or social network to rely on. On top of that, as an ex-convict, he was an easy target for police harassment.
Through a friend still in prison, he heard of the services provided by the Bureau on Human Rights and Rule of Law (BHR) at the service desk for ex-prisoners in Dushanbe.
At the service desk, a lawyer and a psychologist are at hand to provide their services for ex-prisoners. Zarrina Alimshoeva, the centre’s psychologist, says that clients who come to her are often traumatised, afraid and lack self-esteem. The centre combines psychological support with legal advice, if requested.
For Ismoil, the services of Zarrina and her colleague changed his life. "When I came to Zarrina, I felt like I could stretch my wings. Whenever I face any challenges, I pass by or call them", says Ismoil.
The lawyer at the centre has managed to help Ismoil deal with groundless indemnity claims from authorities and Zarrina has helped him restore his self-confidence.