(Berlin, October 6, 2023) – The authorities in Tajikistan have detained relatives of their country’s opposition diaspora members who held protests during President Emomali Rakhmon’s recent visit to Germany, Human Rights Watch said today. Almost 50 relatives in Tajikistan were detained and questioned. Some were released, but many remain behind bars on unclear charges.
“The Tajik authorities have been retaliating and imposing collective punishment for years for political activity by activists in exile,” said Syinat Sultanalieva, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The arrests are a blatant and grave violation of Tajikistan’s international human rights obligations, and all those detained should be immediately released and all other acts of retaliation ended.”
On September 28, the day of President Rakhmon’s arrival in Germany, activists of the National Alliance of Tajikistan and Group 24 – both organizations banned in Tajikistan for their opposition to the government – organized protest rallies outside the Tajik embassy. On September 29, some activists threw eggs at the car in which President Rakhmon was traveling on his way to meet with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. On September 30, Tajik law enforcement began detaining relatives of the rally participants and known opposition members, totaling at least 47 people, according to a tally shared with Human Rights Watch.
The detainees, including elderly grandparents and children, ranging between an 81-year-old man and a one-and-a-half-year-old child, were apprehended without explanation and reportedly subjected to ill-treatment, threats, blackmail, and insults. Many of the relatives were recorded in videos, apparently condemning the actions of their relatives as well as the activities of the two opposition groups, and calling for the dissidents to return to Tajikistan. The circumstances under which the relatives participated in the videos are unclear. Tajikistan has pressured detainees to make such videos in the past.
Tajik authorities have long practiced collective punishment for actions of the government’s foreign based critics, intensifying especially after 2015 and 2016, when the country’s only opposition groups – Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan and Group 24 – were labeled terrorists and banned. The National Alliance of Tajikistan , a EU based alliance of opposition dissidents formed in 2018 in Warsaw, was banned in 2019 and also labeled a terrorist group.
Thirteen of the nearly thirty participants in the Berlin protesters have published a call to the Tajikistan government to stop harassing and punishing their relatives in response to family members exercising their right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. The head of the exile group, Sharofiddin Gadoev, reported that his elderly mother was detained on October 1 and blamed for his role in the protests. He said she was reportedly asked by law enforcement officers, “Why can’t he just live peacefully,” without engaging in any political activism.
Tajik authorities have not commented on the detentions.
Germany, the United States, the European Union, and other international actors should condemn these shameful and inexcusable actions by the Tajik government and press them to end these abuses and for Tajikistan to uphold its international obligations to respect freedom of association, assembly, and expression. Officials responsible for the arbitrary detentions and other serious and systematic human rights violations in the country, should be held to account.
“The outrageous punishment of relatives as proxy for political activists in exile is fundamentally unlawful and shreds multiple basic international human rights norms and obligations,” Sultanalieva said. “Tajik authorities should immediately release the detained and refrain from further retaliation.”