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Opposition Activist: 'I Was Kidnapped By The Tajik Government'
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AMSTERDAM -- A prominent opposition activist who claims to have been abducted and tortured by Tajik officials last month says he was pressed to back President Emomali Rahmon's eldest son in the presidential election scheduled for 2020.

Sharofiddin Gadoev, a member of the banned opposition movement Group 24, spoke in an interview with RFE/RL and a broader meeting with journalists in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where he has refugee status.

"Their plan for me included...leading the 17 members of Group 24 who have returned to Tajikistan and gradually supporting the policies of President Rahmon and Rustam Emomali," he told RFE/RL, referring to Rahmon's eldest son.

"They mentioned that 'Rustam Emomali will take part in the 2020 election will support him," the activist said. He told reporters that directive came from the chairman of the State Committee For National Security, Saimumin Yatimov.

Rahmon has ruled Tajikistan with an iron fist since 1992, suppressing dissent and persecuting political opponents.

Rustam Emomali
Rustam Emomali

Many Tajiks believe he may present his 31-year-old son, who was named mayor of Dushanbe at the age of 29, as his favored successor.

Rahmon, 66, has not announced whether he will seek another term and officials have not commented on whether his son will run.

Gadoev, who fled Tajikistan in 2012, resurfaced there in February after a trip to Russia.

He told RFE/RL that he was abducted in Moscow by Russian police officers who handcuffed him, taped his mouth shut, and placed a plastic bag over his head.

Gadoev said the men beat him inside a minivan before driving him to a Moscow airport and handing him over to Tajik officials. He said they took a Tajik-owned Somon Air flight to Dushanbe.

The activist claimed that he was also beaten inside the plane by two Tajik police officers and three alleged Somon Air crew members who also confiscated his documents, mobile phone, credit cards, and money "without any court decision or witness."

Gadoev showed the blood-stained shirt he said he was wearing when he arrived in Dushanbe.

Upon his arrival, Gadoev said he was taken to a "basement of the Interior Ministry," where he was beaten again.

Gadoev added that he was told to cooperate with Tajik authorities or face death or imprisonment.

"'You'll cooperate with us and we will let you be partly free.... You'll be following our orders,'" Gadoev said he was told.

Tajik authorities have claimed that Gadoev, 33, returned to the country voluntarily on February 15. They posted a video showing Gadoev criticizing the opposition and urging other activists to return to Tajikistan.

But Gadoev said the video was made under duress: “I was exhausted after…all the beatings, the long flight, lack of sleep. I was tired mentally and physically … and was just repeating to the camera what they were telling me to say.”

The activist added that he told the officials he would cooperate because “it was the only way” to let his colleagues in Europe know he had been abducted and taken to Tajikistan.

On February 19, the Europe-based opposition National Alliance of Tajikistan posted a video it said was recorded ahead of Gadoev’s trip to Russia.

In that undated footage, Gadoev warned that “if I suddenly appear on the Tajik television or some YouTube channel saying that I have returned of my own accord, you must not believe it.”

Gadoev told RFE/RL that he was invited to Moscow by high-ranking Russian officials who promised to “allow the Tajik opposition to engage in political activity” in Russia. He didn’t give any names.

His mother and sister have also appeared in several videos, which the activist said were also made under pressure from Tajik officials.

Gadoev thanked journalists, human right activists, as well as Western governments and diplomats for their efforts to secure his release and return to the Netherlands.

He urged them to continue to press the Tajik government to free “numerous political prisoners” held in the country.

Group 24 was labeled as “extremist” in October 2014 and banned after it called for antigovernment protests in Dushanbe and other cities.

The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), long an influential party with representatives in the government and parliament of the Central Asian country, was labeled a terrorist group and banned in 2015.

Dozens of IRPT officials and supporters have been prosecuted and many of them imprisoned, drawing criticism from human rights groups.

IRPT founder Umarali Quvatov was assassinated in Istanbul in March 2015.

Human Rights Watch says Ebrahim Raisi "should be investigated for grave crimes, rather than investigating them."

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has appointed a controversial hard-line cleric accused of gross human rights violations as head of the country's influential Judiciary.

In a decree issued on March 7, Khamenei appointed 58-year-old Ebrahim Raisi as the new chief of the advisory body.

Raisi is a senior cleric and longtime prosecutor who is also custodian and chairman of the Astan Quds Razavi, the organization that runs Iran's holiest Shi'ite religious sites.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the U.S. State Department blasted his appointment at the helm of the Judiciary, saying that he was involved in the "mass executions" of political prisoners in the 1980s.

Observers said that Raisi’s appointment could strengthen the hard-line camp and weaken the moderates, led by President Hassan Rohani.

The appointment "reflects the deteriorating human rights situation" in Iran, Human Rights Watch said in a statement, adding that Raisi "served on a four-person committee that ordered the execution of several thousand political prisoners in 1988.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at HRW, said: “It’s disturbing and frankly frightening that [Raisi] will be overseeing justice and accountability in Iran.”

He "should be investigated for grave crimes, rather than investigating them,” she said.

Raisi, "involved in mass executions of political prisoners, was chosen to lead Iran's judiciary. What a disgrace!" U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Palladino tweeted on March 5 before he was officially appointed.

The Iranian leadership “makes a mockery of the legal process by allowing unfair trials and inhumane prison conditions. Iranians deserve better!" he added.

Khamenei said Raisi has “faith, knowledge, and experience” and urged him to rejuvenate the Judiciary, fight corruption, restore public rights and legitimate freedoms, and supervise the implementation of laws.

Raisi succeeds Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani, a conservative cleric with close ties to Khamenei as well as the country's military and intelligence bodies.

In December, Larijani was appointed as the head of the Expediency Council, which is tasked with mediating disputes between parliament and the Guardians Council, Iran's constitutional watchdog.

Rumors had circulated for months that Raisi would be appointed Larijani's successor.

He has also been mentioned among the possible successors to the 79-year-old Khamenei, who underwent prostate surgery in 2014 amid long-standing rumors that he has prostate cancer.

Raisi lost the presidential election in 2017 to Rohani, who won a second term.

The head of the Judiciary is appointed by Khamenei for a five-year term.

The decision comes at a challenging time for Iran, which is dealing with the reimposition by the United States of tough economic sanctions following President Donald Trump's decision in May 2018 to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal.

Iran’s hard-liners have been highly critical of the landmark agreement aimed at curbing the country’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

With reporting by Fars and AP

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