DUSHANBE -- Tajikistan's parliament has unanimously approved a Tajik-Chinese agreement on the mutual extradition of suspected and convicted felons.
Presenting the bilateral agreement to lawmakers before the debate, Tajik Prosecutor-General Yusuf Rahmonov urged passage in order to safeguard the rights of Tajik nationals in China and give them a chance to serve their terms in Tajik penitentiaries.
He said that 16 Tajik nationals, including seven women, were currently in Chinese detention. Four of those inmates, including one woman, are on death row and five more are serving life terms, he added.
Most were detained, arrested, or sentenced on drug-trafficking charges.
Rahmonov said three Chinese citizens are currently serving prison terms in Tajikistan, one for rape and two for endangering public health and drug trafficking.
Both Tajikistan and China are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which also includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Russia.
The extradition of suspects and convicts between Russia, former Soviet republics of Central Asia, and China has been under scrutiny by international and domestic human rights defenders for years.
In January, Kyrgyz authorities returned three Chinese citizens to China several days after detaining them for illegally crossing the Kyrgyz-Chinese border.
Two of the Chinese citizens turned to be ethnic Kyrgyz and the other was an ethnic Uyghur from China's northwestern region of Xinjiang, which borders with Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Kyrgyz officials said then that the three were returned to China on the basis of a local court's ruling.
The ethnically Turkic Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, routinely face discrimination in China.
Another Central Asian state, Kazakhstan, has repatriated several Chinese citizens of Uyghur origin who were seeking Kazakh asylum, earning criticism from domestic and international human rights organizations.
Uyghurs, China's Turkic-speaking, mainly Muslim minority, have long complained about their treatment under Chinese rule, and routinely receive lengthy sentences or are executed after Central Asian states send them back to China.
More than 100 people were killed in violence in Xinjiang in 2014, and scores of Uyghurs have been imprisoned or sentenced to death over those incidents.
China's ruling Communist Party tightly restricts access to the restive Xinjiang, and information is difficult to independently verify.
Along with Uyghurs, Xinjiang has indigenous populations of ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Tajiks who live mainly in districts bordering those three Central Asian countries.