Tajikistan has reportedly requested that Russia extradite seven men accused of being members of a banned opposition group. According to RFE/RL, the Tajik Interior Ministry expects the request to be honored by Russia since the men were arrested by request of Tajikistan.
The seven men are accused of being members of Group 24, an opposition group labeled by Tajikistan as an extremist organization in October 2014 after its leader called for a public protest in Dushanbe–using slogans like “Tajikistan without Rahmon.” Group 24 was founded in 2012 by Umarali Quvatov, an exiled Tajik businessman living in Moscow. Eurasianet wrote in 2014 after Quvatov’s protest fizzled that he was “not well-known or well-liked” in Tajikistan but the authorities were swift to intervene, blocking websites, “deploying armored vehicles, and holding a mock demonstration during which police repelled actors pretending to march on Dusti Square.”
In March, Quvatov was killed in Istanbul, Turkey. Turkey had refused to extradite him. Opposition members say Quvatov and his family were poisoned at a dinner at the house of Sulaimon Qayumov, another Tajik who had positioned himself as sympathetic to Quvatov’s cause. Quvatov began to feel ill after dinner and went outside. A man approached and shot him in the head. Opponents of President Rahmon say the Tajik government orchestrated Quvatov’s assassination.
The Tajik state has gone to great lengths to detain alleged members despite the group’s apparently lack of popular appeal in Tajikistan. Three men have already been extradited from Russia and sentenced to prison terms in Tajikistan this year.
Group 24 is not the only opposition group which has been under increased pressure from the government–but the small constellation of opposition groups share many links. In July, Maqsood Ibragimov, leader of Youth for the Revival of Tajikistan, was sentenced to 13 years in Tajikistan. Ibragimov had been extradited from Russia, despite holding a Russian passport and had previously been attacked in Moscow. Ibragimov, according to Eurasinet, had been associated with the New Tajikistan coalition. New Tajikistan’s former leader, Zaid Saidov, recently had three years added to his 26-year sentence.
Quvatov, Ibragimov and the seven men likely to be extradited to Tajikistan were exiles and had limited influence inside Tajikistan. The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), the region’s only legal Islamist party that has spent over 15 years working within the limited Tajik political system, has been under pressure as well. The space for opposition has always been small in Tajikistan, and it now seems virtually nonexistent.