Increasing Pressure on Families of Exiled Activists
(Berlin) – Tajik authorities in late November 2020 summoned, interrogated, and threatened family members of Fatkhuddin Saidmukhidinov, a Tajik activist in exile, apparently to force him to cease his online criticism of the government, Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee said today. As the human rights crisis in Tajikistan deepens, the authorities have increased pressure on family members of exiled critics.
“The Tajik government has severely curbed free speech in the country and left no space for any criticism by targeting opposition political figures and activists, lawyers, journalists, and relatives of peaceful dissidents,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should immediately stop harassing Saidmukhidinov’s relatives over his activism.”
Saidmukhidinov has been based in the European Union since 2016. He is a supporter of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), a peaceful opposition party that was labeled a terrorist organization and banned by Tajik authorities in 2015.
Saidmukhidinov writes and disseminates criticism of the Tajik government online, showcasing the current crackdown. He told Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee that, following a period of inactivity for two months due to illness, he resumed his activities in October 2020. On November 19, Saidmukhidinov’s brother and father were summoned to the State Committee for National Security in Dushanbe, where law enforcement officials interrogated and threatened them for five hours. The officials told them that Saidmukhidinov should cease all his activities and shut down his social media accounts, including his YouTube channel and his blog. The officials told them he should also publicly apologize to and ask forgiveness from “S.S. Yatimov,” Saimuddin Sattorovich Yatimov, the head of the country’s feared security services.
In addition, they said he must not associate with Muhammadikboli Sadriddin, an exiled editor of the oppositional website Isloh.net. The officials showed them photos and videos of Saidmukhidinov participating in the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), an annual human rights and democracy conference, in both 2016 and 2017, saying that he participates in “an anti-state conference and sits right next to traitors.”
Saidmukhidinov told the groups that it was clear his family had been threatened and intimidated, and they feared the consequences should Saidmukhidinov not comply with the demands. He said that the officials told his father that “they will bring him back, but they [the family] will never see him again,” referring to Saidmukhidinov.
This is not the first time Saidmukhidinov’s family members have found themselves in the crosshairs of the Tajik authorities. In December 2019, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and others reported that the authorities had harassed his family members in Tajikistan.
“By targeting critical voices abroad, the Tajik regime is posing a tangible threat to freedom of expression in Europe and elsewhere,” said Gunnar Ekeløve-Slydal, acting secretary general of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “European decision makers cannot sit idly by as Tajikistan continues to persecute individuals based in their countries. The time is overdue for the European Union and others to implement meaningful measures to counter the Tajik human rights crisis.”
The case of Saidmukhidinov’s family fits into an established pattern in which Tajik authorities lash out against critics through any means, the groups said. Since the onset of the current Tajik human rights crisis over six years ago, authorities have cracked down brutally on all dissent, outlawed and imprisoned the political opposition, and eradicated most political rights and freedoms enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and guaranteed by Tajikistan’s Constitution.
Scores of peaceful activists and opposition members have fled the country, seeking protection and safety from persecution in Europe and elsewhere. In its campaign against all dissent, the Tajik government targets critics abroad by an array of means including kidnapping, extradition, forced disappearance, and harassment and persecution of family members of exiled critics.