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At least 15 Tajik anti-government activists have gone missing in Russia since 2015, including Amriddin Alovatshoev (above). Some of them have reappeared in Tajik prisons.

DUSHANBE -- A Tajik migrant community leader accused of inciting anti-government sentiment vanished in Russia earlier this month, raising suspicion in Tajikistan that he was secretly detained and extradited to Dushanbe.

Amriddin Alovatshoev’s family in the remote Gorno-Badakhshan region say they last heard from him on January 11, after which his phone went dead. The following day, Pamirdailynews -- a publication that focuses on Gorno-Badakhshan -- reported that Alovatshoev had been “abducted” in Russia.

“He will be sent to Dushanbe on the night on January 13,” the publication wrote, citing unnamed sources. Pamirdailynews claimed that Tajik security services had been pursuing Alovatshoev, 44, since the November anti-government rallies in Gorno-Badakhshan.

Tajik authorities have denied the claim. The Interior Ministry told RFE/RL that Alovatshoev wasn’t among the people sought by Tajik security forces.

Alovatshoev’s disappearance comes as prosecutors have reportedly launched a new probe into the four-day demonstrations in the volatile region that killed three people and injured at least 17 others.

The protests in the provincial capital, Khorugh, broke out on November 25 after security forces fatally wounded a local man wanted on charges of kidnapping. They demanded a probe into his death.

The rally turned violent when protesters tried to seize the local government building, prompting security forces to open fire on the crowd, eyewitnesses said.

On the same day, a group of Gorno-Badakhshan natives staged protests in front of the Tajik Embassy in Moscow with the same demands as the demonstrators in Khorugh. Alovatshoev was said to be at the rally.

During a government meeting in Khorugh on January 10, one official accused Alovatshoev of inciting anti-government sentiment among young people in Gorno-Badakhshan, “from abroad.”

Russian Police's Silence

Alovatshoev’s wife, Sofia Munimshoeva, said she has heard that her husband and several others -- presumably fellow Gorno-Badakhshan natives -- were briefly detained in the Russian city of Belgorod.

“Those who were with my husband told me that they were detained on January 11 and were all released two days later, but they haven’t seen my husband since then,” Munimshoeva said.

The protests in the provincial capital, Khorugh, broke out on November 25 after security forces fatally wounded a local man wanted on charges of kidnapping.
The protests in the provincial capital, Khorugh, broke out on November 25 after security forces fatally wounded a local man wanted on charges of kidnapping.

Munimshoeva added that she has asked Russian police about her husband’s alleged arrest, but the authorities haven’t yet responded.

Law enforcement agencies in Tajikistan insist they are not aware of Alovatshoev’s detention in Russia.

Oraz Vazirbekov, a native of Gorno-Badakhshan and a fellow migrant community leader in Moscow, told RFE/RL that he has information that Alovatshoev is “being held in the Agency Against Organized Crime in Dushanbe.” He didn’t elaborate.

Asked for comment by RFE/RL, the agency denied that Alovatshoev was in their custody. But Tajiks often don’t trust the government’s denial of the detention and extradition of Tajik citizens in Russia.

At least 15 Tajik anti-government activists and opposition supporters have disappeared in Russia since 2015, human rights defenders say. Some of them have reappeared in Tajikistan -- often in police custody, facing dubious charges ranging from fraud to extremism. The whereabouts of others remain unknown.

Tensions between the government in Dushanbe and residents of the linguistically and ethnically distinct region of Gorno-Badakhshan have simmered ever since a civil war broke out in Tajikistan shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Alovatshoev was among the so-called informal leaders in Gorno-Badakhshan in recent years. In October 2018, Alovatshoev and six other influential “leaders” were warned by the local government against getting involved in “criminal” actions.

The men reportedly signed a letter pledging not to "set up criminal groups, incite mass unrest and the seizure of government buildings and entities, insult government officials, smuggle weapons and drugs, or undermine the security of the state and society.”

Alovatshoev moved to Russia in 2019 and has since been known as a leader of the Gorno-Badakhshan natives working and studying there. He set up a group that promotes healthy living as well as maintaining close ties among the community members.

There has been no indication that Alovatshoev’s group has been involved in politics or anti-government activities.

Written by Farangis Najibullah in Prague based on reporting by Khursand Khurramov and Mirzonabi Kholiqzod in Tajikistan.
Narges Mohammadi (file photo)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemned a new prison sentence handed to prominent Iranian human rights defender Narges Mohammadi and called on Tehran to "immediately and unconditionally" release her.

"Iranian authorities' cruel detention and prosecution of Narges Mohmmadi only one year after she was released from an earlier prison term and then piling on more unfair prison sentences are clearly intended to crush her into silence at all costs," Tara Sepehrifar, senior Iran researcher at HRW, said in a statement released on January 28.

A court sentenced Mohammadi to six years in prison for "assembly and collusion to act against national security," and to two years in prison and 74 lashes for "acting against national security and disrupting public order," her husband, Taghi Rahmani, told HRW on January 27.

The sentence also included a two-year ban on membership in political parties and "activities in social and digital platforms," as well as two years of internal exile in Iran.

Rahmani said his wife's trial lasted no longer than five minutes and the judge specifically mentioned her recent nomination by two Norwegian parliament members for the Nobel Peace Prize and her efforts to shed light on Iran's use of prolonged solitary confinement against political prisoners.

In a letter published on January 27, Mohammadi said that the prosecutor informed her of the new accusations on November 22 and she was taken to the prosecutor's office on December 24 to be informed that she would be formally charged.

Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi condemned the "unjust" sentence against Mohammadi.

"Narges has not done anything against the law and the sentence against her must be dropped," Ebadi said in a January 28 interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

“International prizes shine light on the work of those who win these prizes and the Islamic republic fears the attention because it wants to continue its oppressive policies without the world watching," the exiled rights defender said.

Mohammadi was arrested in November 2021 after she attended the memorial for a man killed by Iranian security forces during nationwide protests in November 2019.

Last week, she was transferred from Tehran's Evin prison to the Gharchak women's prison near Tehran.

Before imprisonment, Mohammadi was the vice president of the banned Center for Human Rights Defenders in Iran.

She has been repeatedly jailed and harassed by the authorities.

In May 2021, a Tehran court sentenced her to 2 1/2 years in prison, 80 lashes, and two separate fines on charges that include "spreading propaganda against the system."

In 2016, she was sentenced to 16 years in prison on charges that rights groups said were solely related to her human rights activities.

Following her release from prison in October 2020 after her sentenced was reduced, she continued to criticize human rights abuses in Iran, and accused prison authorities of sexually harassing her and other female prisoners.

In March 2021, Mohammadi was among a group of activists who filed an official complaint against the use of solitary confinement against political detainees.

"People like Narges Mohammadi are the ones who work to bring Iranian civil society together," Sepehrifar said. "Governments that are engaging diplomatically with Iran should make sure to press the government to stop its relentless crackdown against human rights defenders," she added.

A journalist and an engineer, she has been awarded several prestigious prizes, including the American Physical Society's Andrei Sakharov Prize in 2018 for outstanding leadership in upholding human rights.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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