Tajikistani dissenters at grave risk after an opposition leader shot dead in Turkey
Photo: Poster of Tajikistan's President Emomali Rakhmon in Dushanbe. Umarali Kuvvatov and his family received threats, some allegedly coming from the highest levels of Tajikistan’s authorities. © AFP/Getty Images
Associates of Umarali Kuvvatov, a founding member of a Tajikistan opposition group, are at grave risk of further attacks after he was shot dead in Istanbul last night, Amnesty International said today.
Umarali Kuvvatov and his family previously told the organization he had received threats, as well as tips from sympathizers that there had been “orders” to harm them, allegedly coming from the highest levels of Tajikistan’s authorities.
Umarali Kuvvatov’s killing sends a chilling and extreme message to Tajikistani political dissenters both at home and abroad.
“Umarali Kuvvatov’s killing sends a chilling and extreme message to Tajikistani political dissenters both at home and abroad. The Turkish authorities must lead an impartial, effective and prompt investigation into his unlawful killing, reveal the full truth and bring the perpetrators to justice,” said Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Europe and Central Asia Programme Director.
“We have received reports of death threats and attempted assassinations of dissenters from Tajikistan in foreign countries in recent years, but this is the first actual killing of a Tajikistani political activist. It begs the immediate question: how many more are at risk?”
In recent years other high-profile persons fleeing persecution have been killed in Turkey, allegedly by foreign operatives. The victims have included former Chechen insurgents and an Uzbekistan-born imam who was critical of the Uzbek government.
“The Turkish authorities must ensure safety for all persons fleeing persecution, from Tajikistan and other countries,” said Denis Krivosheev.
“There are also Tajik refugees elsewhere, including in Russia, where political and religious dissenters have long faced serious risk of abduction and forcible return to Tajikistan.”
The human rights situation in Tajikistan has further deteriorated in recent months, with the rights to freedom of expression and association under attack, particularly in the run-up to the parliamentary elections, held last Sunday, with little room left for political or other dissent.
Umarali Kuvvatov – along with other Tajikistani business leaders, opposition politicians and activists – was one of the founders of “Group 24”, which has publicly criticized the widespread corruption under Tajikistan’s President Rahmon. In Tajikistan he faced charges of “economic crimes” and “extremism”, which appear to be politically motivated.
In October 2014 Tajikistan’s Supreme Court pronounced “Group 24” an “extremist” organization and banned all its activities in Tajikistan. The Tajikistan authorities also stated that a number of suspected “Group 24” members had been added to an international wanted list for “the attempt to overthrow a government” and “extremism”.
Forced returns to Tajikistan
Tajikistani political dissenters and those accused of religious “extremism” have also been abducted and forcibly returned from several former Soviet countries.
Amnesty International has numerous cases of security services in Russia and the Central Asian republics colluding in the abduction, disappearance, unlawful transfer, imprisonment and torture of individuals wanted on religious, political and economic grounds. The frequency of these human rights violations amounted to a region-wide renditions programme.
An example is Maksud Ibragimov, the head of political movement “Youth for Tajikistan Revival”, who was detained briefly by Russian police last October after being put on Tajikistan’s wanted list. He was released the same day by orders of the Prosecutor’s Office on the grounds that a Russian citizen cannot be handed over to another state. In November 2014, two unidentified assailants stabbed and shot at him in Moscow, but he survived.
According to Maksud Ibragimov’s family, on 20 January 2015 he was taken from his flat in Moscow to an unknown location by five men claiming to be officers from the Federal Migration Service. On 30 January members of the Prosecutor General’s Office of Tajikistan told the media that Maksud Ibragimov was being held in pre-trial detention in Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan, on charges of “extremism”. His family in Moscow had learnt that his Russian citizenship had been revoked.
The recent cases of Umarali Kuvvatov and Maksud Ibragimov add to a growing list of Tajik opposition members who have faced violence, harassment and even death when they sought a safe haven abroad.
“The recent cases of Umarali Kuvvatov and Maksud Ibragimov add to a growing list of Tajik opposition members who have faced violence, harassment and even death when they sought a safe haven abroad. This must come to an end and those responsible for these politically motivated attacks must be brought to justice,” said Denis Krivosheev.