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Emomali Rahmon’s Regime Threatens Activists’ Families to Silence Voices Abroad.

Freedom for Eurasia has received reliable information about more cases of transnational repressions committed by Tajikistan against dissidents abroad. Highlighting the cases of Tajik dissidents Salim Sultonzoda and Bakhtiyor Safarov, Freedom for Eurasia underscores the severe repressive tactics employed by the Tajikistani regime against its opponents, which includes threats against family members to intimidate those living abroad.

Salim Sultonzoda (Salim Isoboev), is a Tajikistani citizen and a press secretary for the “National Alliance of Tajikistan” – a coalition of four opposition parties and movements of Tajikistan. Now residing in France, Sultonzoda has persistently exposed the oppressive actions and human rights abuses of the Tajikistan government.

In late April, before President Rahmon’s visit to Italy, Tajikistani security forces intensified pressure on the relatives of exiled opposition members, including Sultonzoda’s brothers. Salim Sultonzoda wrote that the Tajik security authorities threatened his brothers, warning that if he participates in protests against Emomali Rahmon, his family’s lives would turn into “hell and a nightmare.” Despite threats and intimidation activists, including Salim Sultonzoda organized rallies against Rahmon’s regime. 

Following previous threats, authorities in the Zafarabad district of the Soghd region ordered the eviction of Salim Sultonzoda’s brother, Isoboev Khalimdjon, and his family, including a chronically ill family member and a minor, from their home. The authorities cited the annulment of a 2008 local government decision on land allocation and issued a decision declaring that the house was built illegally. This decision led to the confiscation of the family’s home, where they had lived for 14 years. Notably, this decision was made based on a claim by the district prosecutor after President Rahmon’s visit to the region.

Salim Sultonozoda’s situation is one of many.

In a recent interview with Freedom for Eurasia, activist and human rights defender Bakhtiyor Safarov highlighted the ongoing persecution of freedom of speech by Emomali Rahmon’s regime. Safarov, a vocal critic of the kleptocratic Tajik authorities, has dedicated his efforts to exposing the oppression in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO). Despite living outside of Tajikistan since 2011, Safarov has relentlessly campaigned against the regime’s injustices, using social media to amplify the voices of the oppressed in GBAO.

“Over the years, I have witnessed firsthand the grave human rights violations committed by the Tajik authorities in GBAO,” Safarov stated. “It is my duty to bring these atrocities to the attention of the international community and advocate for justice on behalf of the victims.”

Safarov’s activism has come at a high personal cost. Since leaving Tajikistan, he has been unable to return home or communicate freely with his family, who remain under constant surveillance. 

In February 2023, Safarov learned of an investigation against him under Article 307 (3) of the Criminal Code, accusing him of “public calls for a violent change in the constitutional order of the Republic of Tajikistan.” This investigation is linked to Twitter posts using the hashtag #GBAOresistance from the Central Asia Consulting account, founded by Safarov. Despite these threats, he continues to report on human rights violations in GBAO.

Similarly to Sultonzoda, Safarov faces the seizure of his property. He is unable to appoint an attorney on his behalf. Inability to hire a lawyer is a common problem in dozens of politically motivated and religious persecution cases in Tajikistan. Lawyers are afraid to take these cases. This underscores the regime’s systematic suppression of dissent and basic human rights.

“I refuse to be silenced in the face of tyranny,” Safarov declared. “The Tajik regime’s attempts to intimidate and silence dissent will not deter me from advocating for the rights of the oppressed.”

Activist Farhod Odinaev’s relatives also faced eviction and confiscation of their house. The government has cut off electricity supplies to his mother’s house as part of a pressure campaign officials are waging against regime critics. There are dozens of similar cases.

Freedom for Eurasia has previously reported on the persecution of Anora Sarkorova, an independent journalist in exile. On February 1, 2024, her elderly mother, Ms. Rizakhotun Nikadamova, was taken to a police department in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, where she was notified of a criminal case initiated against her daughter under Article 307(1) of the Criminal Code of Tajikistan, relating to public calls for extremist activities. Investigator Dilovar Mamadlatif compelled Ms. Nikadamova to provide personal data about her daughter’s children and took a photograph of her. After subjecting Ms. Nikadamova to intimidation and emotional abuse, the investigator strongly “recommended” that she convince Anora and her husband to return to Tajikistan, voluntarily surrender to authorities, and repent for the alleged offenses.

These cases show the authoritarian tactics employed by Rahmon’s regime to suppress dissent and intimidate opposition voices that reside outside of Tajikistan. The threats against the families of activists like Salim Sultonzoda and the eviction of his brother’s family highlight the regime’s readiness to target relatives as a means of instilling fear and silencing critics abroad. 

Furthermore, the use of legal maneuvers, such as the annulment of land allocation decisions, to justify confiscation and eviction demonstrates a disregard of due process and property ownership rights. Overall, these cases illustrate the lengths to which Rahmon’s regime will go to maintain its control of power.

Freedom for Eurasia urges democratic governments to take immediate action, to sanction and hold the Tajikistani government accountable for its decades-long blatant abuses of human rights and rule of law.

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