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Friday 6 May 2022

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Amriddin Alovatshoev

DUSHANBE -- The family of a prominent activist from Tajikistan’s volatile Gorno-Badakhshan region is demanding a retrial after he was sentenced to 18 years in prison on charges of hostage taking, depriving others of their freedom, and "other crimes" that his relatives call trumped-up.

Amriddin Alovatshoev, 44, was sentenced in a trial behind closed doors that lasted about five hours on April 29 in Dushanbe, according to court sources and family members.

Tajik officials provided no information about Alovatshoev's trial and the charges he faced.

But sources told RFE/RL that he was convicted of five charges, including inciting religious, ethnic, or racial hatred, setting up an extremist organization, and hostage taking.

Alovatshoev's relatives said he denied all charges and that he "was shocked" by the gravity and the length of the sentence.

His brother, Bakhtiyor Alovatshoev, told RFE/RL on May 5 that the family had filed a legal complaint at the Gorno-Badakhshan provincial court and asked for a retrial.

Alovatshoev is among the most influential figures in Gorno-Badakhshan, a remote, restive region in Tajikistan's east, where the central government has struggled to exert its full control.

Alovatshoev, who had been based in Russia since 2019, was extradited to Tajikistan earlier this year, according to Tajik officials. He went incommunicado on January 11 and his supporters said he was detained in the Russian city of Belgorod at the Tajik government's request.

His extradition coincided with a probe by Tajik authorities into the four-day anti-government demonstrations in the provincial capital, Khorugh, that killed three people and wounded at least 17 others in late November.

The protests were sparked by the fatal wounding by police of a local man wanted on kidnapping charges. The demonstrators 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.

The same day, a group of people from Gorno-Badakhshan staged demonstrations in front of the Tajik Embassy in Moscow with the same demands as the demonstrators in Khorugh. Alovatshoev was said to be at that 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."

Alovatshoev’s supporters say that in Russia he was known as a leader of those from Gorno-Badakhshan who are working and studying there. He set up a group that promoted 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.

Gorno-Badakhshan, which has a population of some 250,000, has been the scene of many protests and violent clashes.

The deadliest of them occurred in 2012, when dozens were reportedly killed and injured in fighting between government forces and local militants sparked by the fatal stabbing of a security official.

Sofia Sapega (left) attends a court hearing in Hrodno on May 6.

A court in Belarus has sentenced the girlfriend of a dissident blogger who was detained after their commercial flight was forced to land in Minsk to six years in prison for inciting social hatred.

Prosecutors said the regional court in the western city of Hrodno handed down the sentence against Sofia Sapega, a 24-year-old Russian citizen, on May 6.

The court issued the ruling after a six-week trial ordered held behind closed doors, saying that personal data of officials might be discussed in open court, according to the rights group Vyasna.

Sapega was accused of administering a channel on the Telegram messenger app that published the personal data of Belarusian security forces.

She and her boyfriend, Raman Pratasevich, were flying on a Ryanair commercial flight from Athens to Vilnius in May 2021 when it was diverted to Minsk by Belarusian authorities.

Belarus said it had ordered the plane to land after an anonymous bomb threat. Evidence later revealed Belarusian officials conspired to fake the bomb threat as a pretense for diverting the plane so they could detain Pratasevich and Sapega.

Pratasevich, who fled Belarus in 2019, worked as an editor at the Poland-based Nexta Live channel on Telegram. He has yet to go on trial and the status of the investigation against him is unclear.

The Telegram channel, which is openly hostile to authoritarian Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, played an important role in broadcasting opposition reports and coordinating mass protests against Lukashenka sparked by anger over an August 2020 election that he claimed to win but that opposition groups and Western governments said was rigged.

Lukashenka denied stealing the election and has since cracked down hard on the opposition, whose leading members were jailed or forced to flee the country.

With reporting by TASS

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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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