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.
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.