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Tajikistan: Opposition Leader Brought Home To Face Charges, Ex-Interior Minister Imprisoned For 15 Years

After nearly two weeks, the mystery of the whereabouts of the leader of the Tajikistan Democratic Party, Mahmudruzi Iskandarov, was solved yesterday as Dushanbe announced he has been brought back to Tajikistan under arrest. The future location of another well-known figure in Tajikistan, former Interior Minister Yakub Salimov, also became clear yesterday: He will likely be in a Tajik prison for the next 15 years.

Prague, 27 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The mystery of Mahmudruzi Iskandarov’s whereabouts began early this month when he was freed from jail in Moscow.

He had been in prison since December, when he was arrested on charges of committing terrorist acts and illegal possession of weapons. Those charges were filed by the Tajik prosecutor’s office and Russian authorities acted on the Tajik government’s warrant in detaining him.

But next, to some observers’ surprise, the Russian authorities refused to extradite Iskandarov to Tajikistan. Instead, they freed him on 3 April.

And then, a little over a week later, Iskandarov disappeared.

The first sounds of alarm over his fate came from his political supporters in Tajikistan. The Tajikistan Democratic Party released a statement late last week saying that he had disappeared in mysterious circumstances in Moscow late on 15 April.

Until yesterday, no one seemed to know where he was. But then, Tajik Prosecutor-General Bobojon Bobokhonov told a press conference in Dushanbe where the missing man was.

"Mahmudruzi Iskandarov has been detained," Bobokhonov said. "He is at a pretrial detention facility of the Ministry of National Security in Dushanbe. The investigation is under way."

Just how Iskandarov came to be in Tajikistan late last week remains unclear. Bobokhonov said only that Iskandarov was officially placed under arrest on 22 April.

The mysterious way in which Iskandarov’s case has proceeded has struck some legal experts as irregular.

Abdukayum Yusufov, the head of Tajikistan’s Association of Attorneys, says there seems to be some breeches of due process surrounding Iskandarov’s detention and extradition.

“The way they arrested him, according to existing norms (of the law) could be considered kidnapping, because no one identified themselves officially (as a law enforcement agent) and they did not produce any documents explaining why he should be arrested,” Yusufov said.
"I have never been involved in any terror [activities] during the whole civil war. How could I be involved in it in times of peace?" -- Iskandarov

Iskandarov has long been a controversial subject in Tajik politics.

He was a leader in the United Tajik Opposition, a coalition that fought against Tajik government forces during the country’s 1992-97 civil war. But he was amnestied at the end of the conflict and served in the government until he was sacked as head of the state electricity company in late 2003.

The charges of committing terrorist acts surfaced late last year as he campaigned for a seat in parliament.

At the start of this month, in one of his last interviews while free, Iskandarov denied the charges against him and gave his version of why the Tajik authorities wanted him in jail.

"It is ridiculous that they [Tajik authorities] are accusing me of terrorism," Iskandarov said. "I have never been involved in any terror [activities] during the whole civil war. How could I be involved in it in times of peace? I had bodyguards by order of the president. When I changed my political ambition [Ed. In May 2004 he announced his intention to run in the 2006 presidential election], they piled all the charges on me."

No trial date has been set for Iskandarov yet.

Another former government official, and former ally of Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov, learned of his fate yesterday.

Yakub Salimov was once Tajikistan’s interior minister, ambassador to Turkey, and chairman of the state customs committee. He was also a commander in the group called the Popular Front, a paramilitary group that fought on the government side during the civil war.

Salimov has claimed in interviews that it was he and other Popular Front commanders who brought Rakhmonov to power. Salimov has also said he saved Rakhmonov’s life when someone tried to kill the Tajik president in April 1997.

But after a five-month trial, Tajikistan’s Supreme Court yesterday found Salimov guilty of treason, banditry, and abuse of office.

Salimov, like Iskandarov, was detained in Moscow and eventually handed over to Tajik authorities.

(RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report.)

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