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Tajik Interior Minister Calls Opposition Group 'Criminals'

Umarali Quvatov is the leader of the Group 24 opposition group.
Umarali Quvatov is the leader of the Group 24 opposition group.

DUSHANBE -- Tajikistan's top police official has called an opposition group that apparently planned an antigovernment demonstration in Dushanbe this week "criminals," while prosecutors have pressed for a ban on the organization and police detained relatives of one of its activists.

The moves follow the widespread blockage of Internet access in the Central Asian nation and seemed to herald a crackdown on Group 24, an opposition movement whose leader, Umarali Quvatov, left Tajikistan in 2012.

Speaking to the Russian news agency TASS on October 7, Interior Minister Ramazan Rahimzoda said the leaders of Group 24 were "criminals living abroad, who are wanted in Tajikistan for various crimes."

On the same day, a statement from the Tajik Prosecutor-General's Office said it had accused Quvatov's group of an attempt to overthrow the government and urged the Supreme Court to ban it as an extremist organization.

Media reports in Tajikistan said Group 24 was behind recent online calls for Tajiks to gather for a protest on October 10 in downtown Dushanbe, the capital.

Websites Blocked

The reports link the protest calls with the blockage of hundreds of websites including Facebook, YouTube, and popular Russian social networks in Tajikistan.

The sites have been inaccessible across the country since October 5.

Officials at the state Communications Service say they have nothing to do with the Internet blockage.

On October 7, police in the southern Farhor District detained relatives of Group 24 activist Sharofiddin Gadoev, a cousin and business associate of Quvatov who has been living in self-imposed exile in Spain since November 2013.

Gadoev's relatives told RFE/RL that police detained Gadoev’s parents, a sister and a brother-in-law.

Last year, Tajik authorities charged Quvatov with involvement in a $1.2 million fraud case in absentia.

Quvatov, a successful businessman, used to have close ties to the family of Tajik President Emomali Rahmon.

But he left Tajikistan for Moscow in 2012 and established Group 24 to oppose Rahmon.

Quvatov's current whereabouts are unknown.

With reporting by TASS

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