In early July, a group of Tajik opposition members gathered to in Germany to mark the 20th anniversary of the signing of the peace agreement which ended Tajikistan’s devastating civil war. The July 9 conference, which brought together members of several organizations including the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), Group-24, Vatandor and the Congress of Constructive Forces of Tajikistan, did not make many major international headlines.
But Dushanbe is always watching.
Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee said in a July 18 press release that Tajik authorities had “detained, interrogated, and threatened relatives of 10 peaceful opposition activists who attended a July 9 conference in Germany.”
The day after the conference, Saifullo Safarov, deputy director of the Strategic Research Center of the Office of the President of Tajikistan, reportedly appeared on national television condemning the gathering in Dortmund. “He stated that their attempts to unite into a coordinated opposition movement posed a ‘serious threat’ to Tajikistan’s national security,” HRW says.
According to HRW, IRPT members reported that immediately before and after the July 9 meeting, members of their families still in Tajikistan were harassed in Dushanbe, as well as several villages around the country.
In Dangara, for example, police paid a visit on July 7 to the home of Jannatulloh Komilov, an IRPT member based in Germany. They scolded his elderly mother and intimidated his brothers, threatening to confiscate the family’s home if Komilov’s political activities abroad continued. In Kulob, the parents of Bobojon Kayumov, an IRPT member based in Turkey, were similarly harassed by police who threatened to “demolish” their home; again the threats were tied to their son’s political activities.
None of this is new. Dushanbe has engaged in successive waves of repression targeted at the families of political dissidents. At times this is in lieu of striking the desired target. For example, on July 8, security services officers detained Asomuddin Saidov, the father of Poland-based IRPT member Islomiddin Saidov, in his village in Nurobod district and showed him pictures of his son participating in a peaceful protest in Warsaw last September and warned they would take “necessary actions” if his son did not stop his activism. In the next two days, Asomuddin was summoned “in front of a group of “concerned citizens” while officials and others denounced his son and the entire family for their “treacherous” political activities against the government.”
At other times, Dushanbe’s threatening of relatives is merely heaping insult upon injury. Jamshed Yorov, brother of jailed human rights lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov, attended the Dortmund conference and made a public statement. On July 10, officers visited his family’s home in Vahdat, informing his wife, Zuhurova, that she and their children were not allowed to leave the country and would be detained if they tried to do so. The officers reportedly “pressured Zuhurova to divorce him, promising to supply her with food and money if she agrees.” More shockingly, they “also threatened to rape Jamshed’s 15-year-old daughter,” according to what Yorov told Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.
Earlier this year, Muhiddin Kabiri, the leader of the IRPT, recounted for Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska his family’s tribulations. While Kabiri has secured refugee status in a European country, his extended family back in Tajikistan has been subject to not just threats and intimidation, but violence. “When the repression machine begins to work, it destroys everyone,” Kabiri said. “It does not distinguish between the guilty and the innocent, young and old, it crushes everyone. And once there are no oppositionists left, it begins to turn against itself.”
Kabiri has long argued that Dushanbe’s systematic repressions and violation of rights could generate the very thing it accuses him and the IRPT of being: extremists.