MOSCOW – A Tajik opposition activist is in intensive care after being attacked in central Moscow and stabbed with a knife several times by an unidentified attacker late on January 12.
Dodojon Atovulloev, a 56-year-old Tajik dissident journalist in exile and outspoken critic of Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, has undergone surgery in Moscow’s Sklifosovsky Hospital.
A brother-in-law who lives in Moscow, Doro Zabehov, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that Atovulloev had been "under constant threats and pressures" for years.
"Even since he left Tajikistan, he has been persecuted," Zabehov said. "We knew there were constant risks to his life, but he would never talk about them. He wouldn't tell us who his enemies were, so I won't speculate."
Police discovered Atovulloev with two knife wounds on Komsomolsky Prospekt in central Moscow.
An unidentified police official told the Interfax news agency that the attack may have been contracted. The source said someone had arranged to meet Atovulloev on his own at the "Viadzhio" Italian restaurant near his house, where he was attacked.
Atovulloev's driver indicated that he last saw Atovulloev' when he dropped him off at home earlier that evening.
“We went to two places and then I took him home," he said. "He went in. Then I got a phone call last night and we all went to the hospital.”
The police have launched a criminal case under legislation covering the “premeditated infliction of grievous bodily harm.”
Police apprehended a man who was found with blood on his hands within hours of the attack but released him after concluding that he was not connected to the attack. Interfax quoted a Moscow police spokesman as saying that closed-circuit television footage had cleared the suspect of involvement.
There are no other known suspects at this time, police said.
Police are also analyzing CCTV footage and will question Atovulloev once his condition improves.
Atovulloev left Tajikistan in December 1992. He has since lived mainly in Moscow, but spent one year in Germany as well.
He has remained active as a journalist critical of the Tajik authorities throughout.
Atovulloev last visited Tajikistan in 2004, but left abruptly after three days under threat of arrest.
He is the owner of “Charogi Ruz,” one of Tajikistan’s first independent newspapers, which is critical of President Rahmon.
Daniil Kislov, editor in chief of Ferghana.ru, a Moscow-based independent Central Asian news website, told RFE/RL’s Russian Service that Atovulloev’s safe haven in Moscow has long been an irritant for the Tajik government.
"Dodojon Atovulloev has become a dissident who is inconvenient for the regime [in Tajikistan] and he remains one of Rahmon's uncompromising enemies in the information sphere," Kislov said. "He has always used the strongest terms and definitions with regard to the Tajik president, openly calling him a drug baron and an alcoholic."
Recently, he was one of the most outspoken critics of Rahmon during the spat between Russia and Tajikistan in November over the jailing of two pilots, one of them Russian, in Dushanbe.
Atovulloev was reportedly the first to suggest that the pilots were jailed because the son of a relative of the Tajik president had been arrested in Moscow.
Fierce rhetoric between the two countries followed and Moscow deported hundreds of Tajik migrant workers. Tajikistan eventually pardoned the two pilots, and the criminal case on charges of drug trafficking was subsequently dropped against the son of a Tajik official in Russia.
Dushanbe has requested Atovulloev's extradition numerous times, but Russia has refused.
Atovulloev is a colorful figure in the Tajik opposition and gained a reputation in the 1980s as a “breath of fresh air” for his articles in the periodical "Javononi Tojikiston" ("Tajikistan’s Youth"), which were critical of the authorities and stood out against the otherwise monochrome local Soviet press.
Contacted by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, Tajik lawmaker Suhrob Sharipov downplayed Dodojon's role and impact, calling him one of many opposition figures living in Russia.
"Dodojon Atovulloev doesn't have any weight as a political figure; he has no impact on Tajikistan's politics," Sharipov said. "He is an opposition figure, a journalist who left for Russia many years ago and has been working there since. I don't see any reason why [Tajikistan] would want to assassinate him."
with additional reporting by RFE/RL correspondent Farangis Najibullah and RFE/RL's Tajik, Russian, and Uzbek services