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Tajik dissident Sulaimon Dovlatov detained in Lithuania. Faces removal to Tajikistan

The Department of Migration Service of Lithuania intends to hold a hearing in the near future on the revocation of the residence permit and refugee status of Tajik activist Sulaimon Davlatov and his family, who was arrested by the Lithuanian authorities on April 5, 2024.

It is known that the hearing is scheduled for Monday, April 15, 2024. This was reported to the human rights organization “Freedom of Eurasia” by Sharofiddin Gadoev, chairman of the movement for reforms and development of Tajikistan. 

The human rights organization “Freedom of Eurasia” expresses concern over the arrest of Tajik political activist Sulaimon Davlatov and an attempt by Lithuanian authorities to swiftly annul his asylum status and calls on the Lithuanian authorities to conduct a transparent investigation of his case, in accordance with the requirements of Lithuanian law and compliance with international law.

We fear that if Davlatov is extradited to Tajikistan, the activist will be tortured and sentenced to a long prison term on trumped-up charges as we have seen happen numerous times to Tajik dissidents removed to Tajikistan from European Union, says Leila Seiitbek, the Chairwoman of Freedom for Eurasia.

Political activist Sulaimon Davlatov was detained by Lithuanian law enforcement agencies on April 5 in Vilnius. Davlatov was arrested by Lithuanian security officers as he and his 5-year-old son were leaving the mosque after Friday prayers. The wife of Sulaimon Davlatov, Khurmatbibi Rakhmatshoeva, said that 4 people took part in the detention of her husband.

“Two men approached him and called his name. They were wearing civilian clothes. Then two more men in military uniforms, wearing masks, grabbed him and pushed him into a car. This was told to me by my 5-year-old son, who witnessed the incident. In the evening, my son was brought home by the employees of the store that belonged to my husband. That evening, I went to police in Vilnius to find out what was going on. A few hours later, police officers confirmed that my husband had been detained by the Lithuanian security forces,” Khurmatbibi Rakhmatshoeva told Freedom of Eurasia.

The Lithuanian authorities have not yet commented on the reasons for the arrest of the Tajik activist, limiting itself to a statement that Davlatov’s arrest is related to “suspicions of committing actions that pose a threat to the national security of Lithuania.”

This was announced on April 9, 2024, in an official statement by the Prosecutor General’s Office of Lithuania on the National Radio and Television. The statement of the Prosecutor General’s Office of Lithuania, in particular, stated that “Davlatov poses a threat to the national security of Lithuania due to interaction with members and supporters of terrorist organizations, extremist movements and propaganda of extremism.”

Meanwhile, Sulaimon Davlatov himself categorically denies his involvement in any terrorist organizations and calls on human rights organizations and civil society not to stand aside and take part in the consideration of his case.

According to Davlatov’s wife, Khurmatbibi Rakhmatshoeva, her husband and family have not yet been told what exactly the activist is accused of. The security authorities refused to disclose the reason for the arrest to Sulaimon Davlatov’s lawyers, citing the secrecy of the investigation. It is known that the case of Sulaimon Davlatov has been classified as secret.

“I spoke to my husband immediately after the arrest and a couple of days ago. He does not know the reason for the arrest. So far, no charges have been brought against him. The lawyers were also not told what my husband was accused of,” Davlatov’s wife said.

According to Sharofiddin Gadoev, chairman of the Movement for Reform and Development of Tajikistan, Davlatov’s extradition to his homeland should not be allowed.

“Davlatov is a political opponent of Rahmon’s criminal regime. It is known what awaits Davlatov in the event of his extradition to the Tajik side. Torture, imprisonment, trumped-up charges, death. This is a standard set that hundreds of citizens of Tajikistan went through, whose fault was that they did not agree to silently accept the massive violations of human rights taking place in Tajikistan,” Sharofiddin Gadoev said.

Davlatov’s wife Khurmatbibi Rakhmatshoeva sent a letter to the Lithuanian authorities, in which she calls on official Vilnius not to extradite the activist to Tajikistan and in case of any allegations of wrongdoing to hold a trial in Lithuania. According to Khurmatbibi Rakhmatshoeva, Davlatov will be subjected to severe torture and sentenced to a long prison term in Tajikistan, as happened to all political opponents of the Tajik authorities. Khurmatbibi Rakhmatshoeva does not rule out that her husband could be killed in Tajikistan.

Sulaimon Davlatov, 38, was granted asylum in Lithuania in 2016. Since 2015, Tajik authorities have been persecuting the activist for his participation in Group 24 opposition political movement. In 2015, Davlatov was detained by Finland police on Interpol Red Notice issued by the Tajik authorities in Finland, where he fled from St. Petersburg, but was later released. Tajik authorities accused him of being a member of the outlawed Group 24 – and, without publicly presenting evidence, of sending citizens to fight in Syria.

For the past nine years, the activist has been living and working in Vilnius. He has three children. Sulaimon Davlatov actively expressed his position on religious issues on social networks and was an avid critic of the Tajik authorities.

“We still don’t know if he is detained due to an open criminal case against him in Lithuania or if it is within an administrative procedure of deportation or an extradition. Normally in criminal proceedings, a defendant is informed about the charges against him and is given all the rights of a defendant in the process. Administrative procedure provides authorities loopholes that allow them to forego these guarantees. Which seems to be what is happening. If Dovlatov and his lawyers are denied information citing national security as a pretext, he is left with no way of defending himself. Lithuanian authorities must ensure that Dovlatov has access to all mechanisms for the protection of his rights”, says Leila Seiitbek, Chairwoman of Freedom for Eurasia.

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