Thursday, February 05, 2015

Tajikistan: Tajikistan Extradites Opposition Leader, Arrests Sympathizers

Originally published by
Tajikistan Extradites Opposition Leader, Arrests Sympathizers
By Edward Lemon

Yet another dissident who has angered Tajikistan’s authorities now languishes in prison.

Maqsood Ibragimov, the 37-year-old head of the Russia-based opposition movement "Youth for the Revival of Tajikistan," was arrested in Moscow on January 20 and promptly appeared in a Tajik prison.

A rights activist who spoke with Ibragimov after his arrest wrote that five men entered Ibragimov’s Moscow apartment dressed as members of Russia’s migration service. On January 30, the Tajik prosecutor general’s office confirmed to Radio Ozodi that Ibragimov had indeed been extradited on charges of extremism. It did not explain how he got home.

Dushanbe had been pursuing Ibragimov since he established the movement last October. At the request of the Tajik government, Russian authorities arrested him in November. But as a dual Russian national, he was released. According to France-based human rights activist Nadezhda Atayeva, the Russian authorities then forced him to relinquish his citizenship. Then followed the detention and extradition in January. (Meanwhile, in late November, an unidentified assailant stabbed Ibragimov in Moscow.)

Ibragimov’s arrest appears to be part of a pattern, whereby the hypersensitive government of strongman Emomali Rakhmon accuses critics of “extremism” and uses the servile judiciary to lock them up.

Ibragimov’s supporters claim that his movement is about social justice rather than regime change. But he is also affiliated with the opposition coalition “New Tajikistan,” which frequently calls for Rakhmon’s resignation and is active in the Tajik migrant community in Russia. The coalition’s former leader, Zaid Saidov, is currently serving a 26-year sentence on charges of statutory rape, fraud and polygamy after a trial widely condemned for irregularities.

After Ibragimov’s stabbing in November, New Tajikistan published a statement arguing that he had been "blacklisted after he organized a series of rallies and marches demanding the resignation of President Emomali Rakhmon in various cities of Russia."

Since Ibragimov’s arrest, another ten of his associates have been detained according to TojNews—seven were arrested in Russia.

Tajik officials have confirmed the arrests, but strongly deny that these individuals are linked to Ibragimov. Instead, the security services have accused them of being members of the outlawed Group 24, another exiled opposition group that authorities have deemed “extremist,” but which seems capable of little more than poking fun of Rakhmon on Facebook.

Cooperation between the Tajik and Russian security services runs deep, with the extradition of alleged terrorists and dissidents common. In a July 2013 report, Amnesty International documented the ways in which Russian and Central Asian governments collude to abduct, extradite and torture.

With parliamentary elections in Tajikistan set for next month, the authorities appear increasingly sensitive to any criticism.