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MMA fighter deported from Russia handed 8-year jail sentence for ‘inciting riots’

The Tajik government accused Chorshanbe Chorshanbiev of “inciting national and regional hatred,” as well as “inciting riots.”

Chorshanbe Chorshanbiev

An MMA fighter who was deported back to his native Tajikistan from the Russian Federation has been jailed for protesting the treatment of a local minority group.

Chorshanbe Chorshanbiev, a middleweight fighter with a 6-3 professional record, was handed an eight-year jail sentence by the High Court of the Ismoili Somoni district in Dushanbe on charges of “inciting ethnic, racial, or religious hatred” as well as “public calls for violent change of the constitutional order.”

According to the Prosecutor General’s office, Chorshanbiev allegedly published “provocative” social media posts and was “engaged in inciting national and regional hatred,” as well as “inciting riots.”

Chorshanbiev’s alleged crimes date back to January 2020, when he was engaged in a war of words with Russian fighter Nikita Solonin. When Solonin referred to Chorshanbiev as a “Tajik fighter,” Chorshanbiev appeared to take issue with that statement and revealed that he belongs to an ethnically distinct minority group from the Gorno-Badakhshan region of Tajikistan.

“What do you mean Tajik? I’m not Tajik. You want to see a Tajik, look in the mirror,” Chorshanbiev said at the time. “I am a Pamiri, written in big letters. Remember that forever.”

The Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) is populated by the Pamiri people, an ethnic and religious Ismaili Shia minority in Sunni-majority Tajikistan. The region became part of the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic in the 1920s and later morphed into part of the modern Tajik state.

Amidst the 1992-1997 civil war in Tajikistan, the region emerged as an opposition stronghold, with many ethnic Pamiris siding against the central government. That tension continued to fester, most recently in November 2021 when a standoff with the central government took place after a police officer fatally shot a local resident.

Chorshanbiyev took to social media at the time to voice his support for residents of the Gorno-Badakhshan region.

“I urge you to stand up against injustice and against the unjust death of innocent people,” he said.

Chorshanbiyev’s support for the minority group was enough to trigger criminal charges by Tajik authorities. The fighter was living in Moscow at the time but was deported by Russian authorities after local police caught him speeding in January 2022. Critics suggest that Chorshanbiyev’s deportation was done at the request of the Tajik government.

It appears the MMA fighter will now serve a lengthy jail sentence for daring to speak out against the Tajik authorities.