Tag Archives: Kuzov

excas.net: “Tajikistan Human rights abuse: the use of international system to target dissidents abroad (by Saipira Furstenberg and Elizabeth Talbott, Univeristy of Exeter)”

In early October of this year, after attending an OSCE human rights meeting in Warsaw, Poland, Mirzorakhim Kuzov, a senior leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), was detained by Greek police at passport control at Athens Airport. Kuzov was held under an Interpol ‘Red Notice’ warrant released by Tajik authorities, who accuse him of politically motivated extremism. On the 1st of December 2017, Kuzov was released from detention; the Greek court ruled out his extradition to Tajikistan on the grounds that charges against Kuzov were politically motivated[1].

 

 

Since 2015, the Tajik government, under the mantra of the “war against terrorism”, is pursuing its most intense human rights crackdown with the banning of the country’s main democratic opposition parties: IRPT and Group 24.  The Tajik government has labelled these opponents as “extremist” groups[2] in order to discredit them and legitimise security measures against their members. Further, the systematic jailing of political opponents and the country’s independent legal professionals, as well as the harassment of journalists and nongovernmental organizations, is rapidly becoming ‘normality’ in Tajikistan[3]. Moreover, retaliation and collective punishment against the relatives of perceived government critics, in and outside the country, has been a constant feature of the crackdown. The authorities have often targeted the relatives of activists who have fled abroad and continued their vocal activism in exile. Since 2015, as the Central Asia Political Exile (CAPE) Database demonstrates, the government is systematically targeting critics and dissents abroad, by seeking their detention and extradition back to Tajikistan. In September 2016 for instance, Dushanbe used tactics of collective punishment to retaliate against activists abroad who took part in a human rights conference set up by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe[4].

Another tactic employed by the government is the practice of enforced disappearance to silence opposition critics. In 2015, Maksud Ibragimov, the activist for the Youth for the Rebirth of Tajikistan movement was abducted in Russia and sentenced to 17 years’ imprisonment upon his forced repatriation to Tajikistan[5].

Further, as has been recently observed, increasingly autocratic dictators are using their formal and informal links between those ‘near and dear’ to them. Formal intelligence sharing arrangements through bilateral or multilateral agreements, such as the Collective Security Treaty Organisation and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation structures, facilitate the targeting of the individuals and opposition groups abroad.  In the light of the recent history of terrorist attacks in Russia, fighting terrorism has become a top priority for the Russian government[6]. Given the large number of migrants in Russia from Central Asia and particularly from Tajikistan, and growing concerns about their possible radicalisation, cooperation between the FSB and national security services from Central Asian countries has strengthened. Individual cases from the CAPE database demonstrate how Russian security services have proven willing to detain, kidnap and extradite targetted individuals requested by the governments of Central Asia. The CAPE data highlights that the highest amount of forcible returns and disappearance are from Tajikistan. The recent case of Khurshed Odinayev provides a clear illustration of these observations:

On the 29th of November,   the Supreme Court of Russian Federation decided to extradite Khurshed Odinayev, a citizen of Tajikistan, to his homeland despite the ban of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). It’s important to note that prior to this decision, the Tadjik citizen, was also kidnapped from Federal Penalty Service Belgorod region on, two weeks before his release date from detention.  Khurshed Odinayev was detained at the request of the Tajik authorities and placed in Belgorod City SIZO-3 (pre-trial detention centre) in the autumn of 2016. Back in his home country he is accused of supposedly engaging fellow citizens in military operations on the territory of other countries while staying in Russia[7].

Dictators around the world have embraced INTERPOL as a repressive tool to persecute dissidents beyond their home borders. In December 2017, the head of the national bureau of Interpol in Tajikistan, Abdugaffor Azizov[8] told in the media, that the government has put 2,528 citizens of Tajikistan on the list of internationally wanted fugitives. In recent years, as our data demonstrates, the Tajik government has tried to control and persecute dissidents and activists abroad by issuing politically motivated ‘Red Notices’ through INTERPOL. Bruno Min from the organisation Fair Trials also notes that authoritarian states have misused INTERPOL mechanisms of international cooperation to export human rights abuses[9]. The issue of politically motivated ‘Red Notices’ has led to the wrongful detention of many innocent victims, as in the case of Mirzorakhim Kuzov. The US government acknowledged Tajikistan of misusing terrorism allegations as a pretext to target independent voices, including dissidents living abroad[10]. On the 9th of November 2016 INTERPOL adopted a set of reforms to address these concerns. The reforms aim to strengthen the internal review process and make delisting decisions of the targeted individual binding on the organization rules and respect of human rights. Yet so far the implementation of these reforms to stop abusive requests from authoritarian states has been poor.  As the case of Mirzorakhim Kuzov demonstrates, the real challenge for INTERPOL is to effectively review and distinguish between genuine criminal cases and those that are politically motivated.

Tajikistan’s appalling records in human rights, torture, enforced detention and forced repatriation of dissidents and political activists in and outside the country raises serious concerns, yet the international outrage, particularly from the European Union (EU), is barely audible. The EU’s current Central Asia strategy, adopted in 2007, forms the political template between Brussels and Central Asia’s five former Soviet republics. Given the rapid deterioration of human rights and freedom of speech in Tajikistan but also in the other four Central Asian states as CAPE database demonstrates, it is increasingly important to address human rights abuses in the region. Clearly future bilateral and international agreements in the region should leverage economic and foreign aid support based on meaningful human rights progress in the region, anything short of that would likely to result in empty promises.

 

[1] Ferghana News 2017. ‘Greece refuses handover of Tajik political activist’. 1 December,2017.[Online].Available at: http://enews.fergananews.com/news.php?id=3629&mode=snews [Accessed: 10 December, 2017].

[2] Lemon, E. 2016. ‘The long arm of the despot’.Open Democracy. 24 February 2016. [Online]. Available at: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/edward-lemon/long-arm-of-despot [Accessed: 10 December, 2017].

[3] Human Rights Watch,2016. ‘Tajikistan: Severe Crackdown on Political Opposition US, EU Should Urgently Raise Abuses’. 17 Feb. 2016. [Online]. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/02/17/tajikistan-severe-crackdown-political-opposition [Accessed: 10 December, 2017].

[4] Putz C., 2016. ‘OSCE Manages to Irritate Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Human Rights Advocates, Too’. The Diplomat. September 27, 2016. [Online] Available at: https://thediplomat.com/2016/09/osce-manages-to-irritate-tajikistan-kyrgyzstan-and-human-rights-advocates-too/ [Accessed: 10 December, 2017].

[5] Human Rights Watch, 2017. ‘Moldova: Activist Faces Extradition to Tajikistan Forced Return Could Lead to Torture, Ill-Treatment’. 17 August, 2015. [Online]. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/10/10/how-eu-should-tackle-tajikistan-crackdown [Accessed: 10 December, 2017].

[6] Galeotti, M. 2016. ‘RepressIntern”: Russia’s security cooperation with fellow authoritarians’. 22 November, 2016. [Online]. Available at: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mark-galeotti/repressintern-russian-security-cooperation-with-fellow-authoritarians [Accessed: 10 December,2017].

[7] Ferghana News, 2017. ‘Supreme Court of Russia ignores European Court of Human Rights ban on extraditing Tajik citizen’. 29 November, 2017.[Online]. Available at: http://enews.fergananews.com/news.php?id=3625&mode=snews [Accessed: 10 December,2017].

[8]  Interfax, 2017. ‘Almost 1,900 Tajik terrorists wanted by Interpol – Dushanbe’. 23 November, 2017. [Online]. Available at: http://www.interfax.com/newsinf.asp?pg=8&id=792406 [Accessed: 10 December,2017].

[9] Min, B. 2017. ‘INTERPOL reforms and the challenges ahead for cross-border cooperation’. Foreign Policy Centre Report ‘Closing the Door: the challenge facing activists from the former Soviet Union seeking asylum or refuge’, December 4, 2017. [Online]. Available at: https://fpc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Closing-the-Door-publication-Dec-2017.pdf [Accessed: 10 December, 2017]

[10] United States Department of State, ‘Country Reports on Terrorism 2016 – Tajikistan’, 19 July 2017.[Online]. available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/5981e413c.html %5BAccessed 10 October 2017]

15 Jan.2018

Aljazeera: Tajikistan uses Interpol red notice on Mirzorahim Kuzov

A senior member of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), which was banned by the government in August 2015, could be forced to return to the Central Asian country as it makes use of Interpol’s “red notice” system.

On October 9, Greek border guards arrested Mirzorahim Kuzov at Athens International Airport as he was flying from Warsaw – where he had attended an Organization for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) in Europe conference on human rights – to Tehran, via Greece. 

He is now being held at a prison in Athens, having lived in hiding in a third country for the last two years.

His arrest was possible because of a red notice alert issued at Tajikistan’s request, a tool which allows Interpol – an international network of police forces – to pursue people fleeing jurisdiction around the world.

Tajikistan accused Kuzov of “extremism” and participating in an anti-government coup in September 2015 – allegations he denies.

“Everything Tajikistan’s government says about the IRPT or about me is a lie, slander. Interpol has become a weapon against the opposition and democratic forces,” Kuzov told Al Jazeera.

‘A bitter irony’

Countries including Russia, Uzbekistan and China have previously used the Interpol red notice system.

“These governments have ‘nominated’ individuals for so-called crimes under their national criminal codes and often these crimes are not consistent with international legally recognised offences, or are so over-broad and vague as to void their meaning,” Steve Swerdlow, Human Rights Watch (HRW) Central Asia researcher told Al Jazeera.

“Interpol has not instituted a system for vetting these cases in a way that would prevent real harm from being done to individuals,” he said.

Kuzov is one of hundreds of opposition figures who fled Tajikistan in fear of their lives in September 2015.

“It is a bitter irony that [Kuzov] was arrested on his way back from a human rights conference in Warsaw, Poland. Greek authorities have an obligation under international law not to return him to Tajikistan where he faces the real possibility of torture and imprisonment on trumped-up charges,” said Swerdlow.

Following the Tajik election of March 2015, the IRPT failed to reach the threshold for entering parliament, and was left out for the first time since the 1997 peace agreement which ended the civil war. 

Shortly afterwards, President Emomali Rahmon began a campaign against the opposition.

In September 2015, former Defence Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda was accused of – with the support of gunmen – attacking the main police station in Vahdat and the Ministry of Defence in Dushanbe. The authorities soon labelled the incident as a “terrorist” attack and accused the IRPT of plotting to overthrow the government.

Nazarzoda was soon killed in a shoot-out between rebels and government forces.

Although the party condemned the attacks and denied any connection with Nazarzoda, the government banned its operation and jailed all members who had not managed to leave the country.

‘I hope European countries will take necessary measures’

“[If I stayed in Tajikistan] I would share the fate of my fellow party men and my friends. I would be now facing a life sentence or 25 to 30 years in prison,” Kuzov said.

“Kuzov’s case is similar to other senior leaders of the IRPT who have been targeted on politically motivated charges of engaging in an attempted coup in September 2015,” said Swerdlow of HRW.

Kuzov said his family, who stayed in Tajikistan for a period after he fled, paid a high price for his political activity. They now live in Lithuania, where they have applied for refugee status.

“Their documents, including passports, were confiscated,” he said. “They were regularly harassed, intimidated and interrogated by the security services. They said to my wife that if I don’t return, they will arrest her, our children and our relatives.”

Interpol’s constitution obliges the organisation to respect individual freedom and rights. 

In an email to Al Jazeera, Interpol refused to comment on Kuzov’s case.

“If or when police in any of Interpol’s 192 member countries share information with the General Secretariat in Lyon, France, in relation to investigations and individuals, this information remains under the ownership of that member country,” the email read.

“Interpol does not, therefore, comment on specific cases or individuals except in special circumstances and with approval of the member country concerned.”

The organisation said that it considers all requests for the re-evaluation of individual cases. 

However, the review procedure can be long and daunting and in cases like Kuzov’s, there is no time for reassessment.

In November 2016, Interpol adopted a number of measures to improve its information processing mechanisms. For example, it began to remove names of people who have received refugee status from the red notice list.

However, Interpol has failed to apply sanctions against members who have violated its rules.

Kuzov will soon appear before the [Greek] Supreme Court which will make a decision on his extradition. 

He remains optimistic. 

“I hope that European countries and the OSCE will take all necessary measures not to allow for my deportation to Tajikistan,” he said.

Aljazeera

The Diplomat: Greek Court Denies Tajik Extradition Request for IRPT Member

Mirzorakhim Kuzov had been detained in Greece after Tajikistan submitted an Interpol red notice against him.

A court in Greece has denied an extradition request from Tajikistan for the return of Mirzorakhim Kuzov, a senior member of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), according to Human Rights Watch researcher Steve Swerdlow.

Kuzov (also known by the name Shohnaimi Karim) was detained in October by Greek authorities at the Athens airport while he was traveling to Tehran, Iran after attending an OSCE human rights meeting in Warsaw, Poland.

When Kuznov was arrested, HRW’s Swerdlow told Al Jazeera, “Greek authorities have an obligation under international law not to return him to Tajikistan where he faces the real possibility of torture and imprisonment on trumped-up charges.”

According to HRW, Kuznov had been detained under an Interpol “red notice” submitted by Tajikistan.

Interpol — the International Criminal Police Organization — was established in 1923 to facilitate cooperation between police forces around the world. Interpol’s 192 members can request that Interpol publish alerts to other members about persons wanted for extradition.

Kuzov had been living in exile since leaving Tajikistan in September 2015.

In 2015, Dushanbe turned sharply against the IRPT, which had been Central Asia’s only legal Islamist political party and until March 2015 had held two seats in the Tajik Parliament. As the year progressed, the state forced the closure of the party’s offices and then disbanded the party before declaring it an extremist group. While the party’s head, Muhiddin Kabiri, had already fled when the crackdown began in earnest, more than a dozen party leaders (and then their lawyers) were arrested, tried, and sentenced to lengthy jail terms. More were submitted, by Tajikistan, to Interpol’s “red notice” system.

As of today, there are 18 Tajik citizens listed in Interpol’s “red notice” database. This is a significant drop from August 2016, when the Tajik Interior Ministry said there were 342 Tajiks wanted by Interpol — RFE/RLchecked at the time and could only find 160.

HRW says that Tajikistan has a history of abusing the “red notice” system. Earlier this year, Kabiri was listed, although now he is not (the Wayback Machine has a cached version of the page from June 2017). Kuzov is also currently off the “red notice” list, though back in October when Greek authorities arrested him he was on it.

In December 2016, Edward Lemon wrote an article for Impakter about the abuse of the Interpol system by authoritarian governments. “Authoritarian governments around the world have been using Interpol to pursue their opponents abroad,” he wrote. Lemon identified two major problems with Interpol’s “red notice” system. First, Interpol “does not adequately review applications from requesting governments before issuing a Red Notice” and second, “Interpol has not established a sufficient appeal system through which those targeted can refute the charges against them.”

 

The Diplomat