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DUSHANBE, November 25 (Itar-Tass) —— Tajik President Emomali Rahmon criticized the passive position of his party comrades in the case of the Rolkan pilots.
“The world and this country engaged in heated debates, but the People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan was mum,” the president and the party’s only leader since 1998 said at a closed-door meeting of the Central Elections Commission on Friday.
He said all the parties but the People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan expressed their position on the pilots’ case, the local media quoted high-ranking party sources. The People’s Democratic Party “should have been the first to stand up for national interests but it preferred the ‘it’s no concern of mine’ position,” he said.
Local independent experts believe that the pilots’ case seriously exacerbated Tajik-Russian relations, which had already been rather cool.
Acclaimed Islamic leader, ex-head of the Tajik United Opposition Hajji Akbar Turajonzoda publicly described the pilots’ trial as “a big political mistake” of Dushanbe and urged the two countries to restore relations.
“The confrontation will be equally painful for the Russians and the Tajiks,” he said.
The Khatlon Regional Court ordered the release of Sadovnichy and Rudenko right in the courtroom on November 22.
The court found the pilots guilty of contraband and border trespassing, which is punished with 2.5 years in custody. Bearing in mind the presidential amnesty and the prison time they had already served, the pilots were set free.
On November 8 the Kurgan-Tyube City Court sentenced Sadovnichy and Rudenko of Estonia to 8.5 years in a maximum-security penitentiary for the breach of Tajikistan’s air space and contraband. The pilots were apprehended in March 2011. They pleaded not guilty.
The two pilots of a Russian airline registered on the Virgin Islands were seized by Tajik security service officers in March 2011 as soon as their Antonov An-72 jets touched down in the Kurgan-Tyube airport. The bill of indictment said that the pilots breached the rules of international flights and illegally crossed the border of Tajikistan. The prosecutor demanded 13 years in custody for each. The trial started on October 13.
The defense said that the pilots had a preliminary permit to fly across the Tajik border but the Tajik authorities suddenly denied them the entry when the planes were already in the air.
Earlier both pilots worked in Afghanistan. Their Afghan contract ended on March 10, 2011.
The Kurgan-Tyube trial triggered a broad public response. Representatives of the Russian and Estonian embassies and Russian journalists attended the trial.
The State Duma called ‘dubious and unjust’ the guilty verdict of the Tajik court on two pilots of the Russian Rolkan Investments Ltd airline and urged an appeal for acquittal.
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon took personal control of the case.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called the sentence “questionable.”
“I hope that they [the Tajik authorities] will give a legal evaluation of this case proceeding from the national legal system, constitutional and juridical norms. As I have said, such events certainly have an impact on interstate relations whenever the states refuse to hear each other,” he said.
“I hope very much that our Tajik friends will hear us and will be guided with the general level of Russian-Tajik relations in addition to abstract considerations in making a final decision. We could not ignore the case because it was related to a citizen of Russia. The whole situation looks odious,” the president said.
A week after the trial Tajik Prosecutor General Sherhon Salimzoda said that the sentence was too severe and expressed the hope for a less than minimal sentence due to the exclusiveness of the case. On the same day the regional prosecutor appealed the sentence.
The Russian Foreign Ministry welcomed the victory of the common sense in the odious case of the Russian and Estonian pilots in Tajikistan on Tuesday.