Crossroads Asia

Another Day, Another Child Used as Political Hostage by Tajikistan

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Crossroads Asia

Another Day, Another Child Used as Political Hostage by Tajikistan

So, how does a 10-year-old end up on a list of wanted persons? In Tajikistan, by relation to an exiled dissident.

Another Day, Another Child Used as Political Hostage by Tajikistan

How does a 10-year-old end up on a list of wanted persons?

On August 4, Fatima Davlyatova, the 10-year-old daughter of a Tajik activist was taken off a Dushanbe-Almaty flight along with her grandmother, Gulidzhamilamo Khudoydodova, and uncle, Komron Khudoydodov, by the Tajik security services.

According to Human Rights Watch, the three were interrogated for several hours and then made to sign statements acknowledging that they were all on a “wanted list.”

The three had been en route to Europe to join the girl’s mother, Shabnam Khudoydodova.

Shabnam Khudoydodova is a former member of Group 24, a political movement that has been subject to heavy crackdowns by the Tajik government. In January 2015, Maksud Ibragimov, a Group 24 activist who had been living in Russia for a decade, disappeared from Moscow and turned up in Dushanbe where he was sentenced to 17 years in prison on extremist charges. In March 2015, Umarali Kuvvatov, Group 24’s founder, was assassinated in Istanbul. In May that year, Ekhson Odinaev, another group member, was abducted from St. Petersburg and hasn’t been heard from since.

Khudoydodova, at the time living in St. Petersburg, grew increasingly nervous — especially when she became aware of men following and photographing her. And then, as she recounted in a 2016 article for openDemocracy with Maxim Edwards, a man from Tajik state security knocked on her neighbor’s door:

After the man left, Shabnam’s neighbour revealed to her that he was “from Tajikistan. State security. He’s looking for you.”

“My daughter, if you can, leave – otherwise you’ll go missing, too. You have a child. Think of her.”

So Khudoydodova fled, taking a train to Belarus and then attempting to cross into Poland to claim asylum in Europe. But she was pushed back at the border. As Yan Matusevich chronicled in an August 2016 article for The Diplomat, that year Poland was facing a veritable wave of Tajik asylum seekers. Polish border authorities, he wrote, had “prevented more than 3,000 Tajik nationals from entering the country in 2015.”

Khudoydodova was denied entry (likely because of an INTERPOL red notice that was later taken down) and detained by Belarusian authorities, facing an extradition request by Tajikistan for nine months. After an international campaign on her behalf, Khudoydodova was released and allowed to cross into Poland, where she was granted asylum. But Khudoydodova’s troubles were not over.

In September 2016, Khudoydodova participated in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)’s Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM), an annual human rights conference. Shortly after, a mob descended on then 9-year-old Fatima’s school in Kulob. The gathered crowd called the girl the daughter of an “enemy of the people” and a “terrorist.” It got worse, according to Human Rights Watch, as the crowd followed her home:

The crowd surrounded the house, chanting that Khudoydodova should be prosecuted for criticizing the president. Members of the local TV station, including a prominent TV executive, Safarali Ergashev, filmed the event, and city officials took an active lead role. The demonstration lasted about an hour.

The crowds returned the next day. Demonstrators attacked Khudoydodova’s 10-year-old niece, hitting and kicking her, apparently mistaking her for Shabnam’s daughter. The demonstrators threw rocks at the gates and windows, and several people scaled the gates and broke into the house, beating at least three relatives who attempted to keep them out, shouting that the relatives were “terrorists.”

It’s far from surprising that Khudoydodova’s daughter and family would try to join her in Europe. They were prevented from doing so in late 2016, when their passports were confiscated by Tajik authorities. In 2017, the family’s documents were returned to them but it seems the government is determined to not let them go.

Activists energized by the successful campaign to convince the Tajik government to let another child leave the country — 4-year-old Hamza, the grandson of IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri — are pushing for Dushanbe to let Fatima rejoin mother in Europe.

In both cases, the Tajik government has used the relatives of political opponents as pawns and proxies. Unable to strike its opponents directly — both Khudoydodova and Kabiri, for example, have obtained asylum in Europe — Dushanbe has sought to punish their relatives.