Tajik and Russian officials have arbitrarily detained and forcibly returned to Tajikistan an opposition activist who resurfaced in Dushanbe earlier this month from self-imposed exile, human rights groups say.
The Association of Central Asian Migrants, the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, Human Rights Watch (HRW), and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee said in a February 24 statement that Sharofiddin Gadoev should be released from Tajik custody and allowed to return immediately to the Netherlands, where he is a recognized refugee.
Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher for HRW, said that Gadoev was facing "trumped-up charges in Tajikistan for his peaceful exercise of freedom of expression."
Gadoev, 33, is a member of the Europe-based oppositionist National Alliance of Tajikistan and co-founder of the banned Group-24 opposition political movement. He has lived in the Netherlands since 2015.
The government of President Emamoli Rahmon, who has ruled Tajikistan since 1992, has long been criticized for its crackdowns on dissent.
Sources investigating Gadoev’s case learned that Russian security services officers forced Gadoev into their car in Moscow on February 14 and drove him to Domodedovo Airport, where the activist was placed on a flight to Dushanbe, the human rights groups said in their statement.
HRW quoted relatives as saying that the officers beat Gadoev in the car.
On the flight, Gadoev was accompanied by officers from the Tajik security services, who beat him and placed a sack over his head, the statement said, adding that he was delivered in that condition to the Tajik Interior Ministry’s agency for the fight against organized crime on February 15.
Gadoev was reportedly transferred to house arrest on February 20, but officers from the Interior Ministry and special police force OMON remained with him, and the following day he was moved to an undisclosed location by Tajikistan’s security services, according to the human rights NGOs.
Meanwhile, the government issued a a series of "choreographed" videos in which Gadoev stated that he had voluntarily returned to Tajikistan and criticized the opposition, they also said.
On February 19, Gadoev’s colleagues published a video recorded earlier by Gadoev in which he said he was traveling to Moscow to meet with officials from Russia’s Security Council to discuss “some problems that have occurred in Tajikistan [and] the situation of Tajik labor migrants."
“if I suddenly appear on Tajik television or some YouTube channel, saying that I have returned of my own accord – you must not believe it," he warned in the footage.
"I am not planning to go to Tajikistan willingly. Never," he added.
The Interior Ministry announced initially that Gadoev has been charged with possession of contraband and forgery.
On February 21, the Dutch Foreign Ministry said that Tajik authorities had confirmed that Gadoev was arrested on charges of "criminal activities."
The ministry is investigating "whether and how it can assist Mr. Gadoev. We are following the case closely," a spokeswoman said in a statement sent to RFE/RL.
Marius Fossum, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee's regional representative in Central Asia, urged the Tajik authorities to "stop the smoke and mirrors," adding: "There are troubling questions that Tajik authorities may have ill-treated Sharofiddin Gadoev."
"Tajikistan’s international partners…should seek access to visit with Gadoev and call on the Tajik government to provide him with unimpeded access to an attorney of his choice and visits with family members," Fossum added.