For the second time this month, Tajikistan’s government has allowed a child of exiled dissidents to leave the country and reunite with their family living abroad.
The children – Ibrohim Hamza, aged 4, and Fatima Davlyatova, aged 10 – are unrelated apart from one thing: They had effectively been held hostage for years – banned from leaving the country since a severe human rights crackdown picked up steam in 2015 – to punish their parents abroad for peaceful political and human rights work.
It was just over a week ago that authorities pulled Fatima Davlyatova, along with her grandmother and uncle, from an international flight just before take-off, blocking them from traveling to Europe to reunite with Fatima’s mother, activist Shabnam Khudoydodova.
But a dramatic reversal happened two days ago, on August 11: Following an international outcry, security officers – with apparent support from top government officials – gave the family new tickets to fly out.
In Hamza’s case, the travel ban could have killed him. Hamza is severely ill, but Tajik authorities had prevented him and his mother traveling abroad for necessary treatment, before finally relenting on August 2. His father and grandfather are both opposition politicians living in exile.
Even though the government’s actions were very late in coming, it has acted correctly in allowing ordinary Tajik citizens to leave the country. As Hugh Philipott, the United Kingdom’s ambassador to Tajikistan tweeted about Fatima’s flight out, the government’s “excellent decision” allowed “three generations (to be) reunited.” #TheRightThingToDo, he added.
However, allowing these children to leave is only the very tip of the iceberg in terms of ending the government’s practice of harassing relatives of exiled activists and politicians, or indeed of ending the human rights crisis that has gripped the country for the last three years. In September 2015, the main opposition party was banned, kicking off an intense downward spiral of repression and human rights abuses.
Yet change has to start somewhere for the poorest country in Central Asia, already facing many development and security challenges. Let’s hope the happiness allowed to two small children could also be a turning point in the government’s respect for human rights.