On the 20ht of February, Namunjon Sharipov, a senior leader of the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) was forcefully returned from Turkey to Tajikistan. Namunjon Sharipov, a senior leader of the IRPT fled Tajikistan to Turkey in August 2015. In Turkey, Sharipov’s opened a Tajik teahouse and worked as a businessman. Prior to the banning of the IRPT, he was chairman of the revision committee of the party in the Sughd region.
The forceful return of Namunjon Sharipov to Tajikistan suggests that his return was politically motivated. Before his arrest, Sharipov was visited daily by an employee of the State Committee for National Security of Tajikistan Firdavs Holikov, who worked under diplomatic cover in the Tajik consulate in Istanbul. It’s been reported that initially, Holikov offered Sharipov money to return to Tajikistan and denounce the IRPT, promising that in case of voluntary return, he will not be threatened with criminal liability. Yet in case of disobedience, should Sharipov not return to Tajikistan, he would face more aggressive consequences.
Holikov was true to his word, as on February 5th, Sharipov was detained by Turkish authorities on migration charges and held in Istanbul at the Kumkapi removal centre. It was here that Sharipov was told that the Tajik authorities were seeking to extradite him to face terrorism charges. On February 16th, Sharipov was informed via his lawyer that he would be allowed to make a one-way journey to a country of his choice that he did not require a visa to enter. This turned out to be a lie, as when his lawyer arrived to collect Sharipov on February 19th, Turkish authorities informed him that the Tajik consul and another Tajik official had arrived on the 16th, taken Sharipov in to custody and then forced him on to a flight to the capital of Tajikistan, Dushanbe.
Following this event, no documents were provided to Sharipov’s lawyer, neither confirming his removal from the Turkish detention Centre, or his extradition by Tajik authorities. No communication was heard from Sharipov until February 20th, when he made a call to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik service, in which he stated that he had “returned voluntarily” to Tajikistan and was “freely going about his affairs” (Human Rights Watch, 2018). It’s been strongly assumed that Sharipov has been forced to make such a statement under duress.
Since 2015, the authoritarian regime of Tajikistan has been pursuing its most severe crackdown of any opposition group parties daring to challenge the regime of Rahmon. Until 2015, the IRPT was the only meaningful opposition party. However in 2015, the situation rapidly deteriorated. After March 2015 elections Rahmon deprived the party of its parliament seats and declared the group as a “terrorist organisation” in September of that year. Since then, the government has continued its persecution of party members and especially members of its executive council. According to Human Rights Watch, it is estimated that Tajikistan has jailed nearly 200 IRPT activists as a result of the crackdown. Further The Central Asian Political Exile (CAPE) database at the University of Exeter, documents the highest increase in the persecution of political exiles in recent years by Central Asian governments as being from that of Tajikistan.
It seems unlikely that Sharipov would have returned to Tajikistan by his own free will. Especially considering the risk of torture and ill treatment that he is expected to face in Tajikistan. According to Human Rights Watch, Sharipov is currently held in detention centre in Tajikistan, in Dushanbe. His family have stated that he has no free access to a telephone. It can be strongly assumed, that Sharipov’s future wellbeing in detention is open to speculation.
The experience of Namunjon Sharipov’s is not unique and only adds to a growing number of individual cases of Tajik opposition members who fled their country and have been subject to extraterritorial persecutions by their home government.
We recall, in 2015, Umarali Kuvatov, the leader of the Group 24, which opposes President Rahmon’s administration and its autocratic ruling, was shot dead on the streets of Istanbul, shaking the Tajikistani exiled opposition community. Prior his dead, Kuvatov had told Amnesty International in 2015 that he and his family had received threats, as well as being told by sympathisers that there had been “orders” to harm them, allegedly by the highest levels of Tajikistan’s authorities.
Similarly, in 2012, Dodojon Atovulloev, the founder of the opposition movement of “Charogi Ruz”, one of Tajikistan’s first independent newspapers and critical of President Rahmon, was stabbed several times on the streets of Moscow, surviving these attacks. Atovulloev’s brother-in-law who also lives in Moscow had said that he Atovulloev had been “under constant threats and pressure” for years before the attack.
Despite the common assumption of the Central Asian regions isolation, the countries within it operate through a tangled web of transnational connections, allowing them to practice their extra-territorial repression and breach international laws and human rights.International action is needed to prevent the extradition of political exiles and refugees to Central Asian countries where they are likely to face torture, ill treatment and/ or death.