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Sex-Video Trap Aims To Defame Female Activist In Tajikistan

Social-media sites took down the video when it was posted.
Social-media sites took down the video when it was posted.

A sexually explicit video involving a Tajik female activist has been posted online in an apparent bid to defame her in Tajikistan’s religiously conservative society.

The activist and human rights campaigner, whose name is being withheld, says she doesn't know precisely who is responsible for recording and distributing the video.

Police say they're investigating the case after receiving a formal complaint from the woman.

YouTube and Facebook swiftly removed the video when it was posted on those social-media sites in early September. The footage, however, resurfaced again on Russian social media and some other sites.

"The video has been a heavy psychological blow. I want to know who has done it and why they have done it," the activist told RFE/RL's Tajik Service.

It’s not the first time the Dushanbe-based activist has come under attack on the Internet.

She was also targeted with degrading photoshopped images, insulting comments, and threats on Facebook in April after she took part in a citizens' initiative against an unpopular government plan to raise the price of Internet access in Tajikistan.

In a Facebook post, a group of Dushanbe activists urged people to gather near a city theater on April 22 to sign an open letter asking President Emomali Rahmon to scrap the plan.

The woman was among some 200 people who responded to the call and gathered to sign the letter in a rare event in a country that has little tolerance for unsanctioned gatherings and public initiatives. Some 400 others signed the letter the following day.

Rahmon eventually cancelled the Internet price hike, which had sparked outrage across the impoverished Central Asian country of some 9 million.

The online attacks against the activist, however, intensified. She said at the time that trolls would call her a "whore" or accuse her of "inciting violence."

The attacks culminated with the sex video, which the activist believes was recorded on August 16. The footage shows the activist's face, while the man's face is blurred out.

Without directly accusing anyone, the woman says she is "highly suspicious" of the man in the video, with whom she was engaged to be married at the time.

The activist said the man approached her in June, telling her he was a long-time admirer and supporter of her work.

He was "very polite," kind, and supportive, the activist recalls. She doesn’t want to give the man's name, citing legal reasons, and is also unsure of his real identity.

Introducing himself as an unmarried, successful businessman, the man soon asked the activist out on a date. Within days he proposed to her to marry him, which the woman says she happily said "yes" to.

'He Disappeared Soon Afterward'

On August 16, her fiance took her to a house that he said he had repossessed from one of his "creditors" in lieu of unpaid debts.

Several days later, when the sex video appeared online, the activist recognized the inside of the house as the same one she had gone to with her fiance.

The man took the news of the sex video "surprisingly calmly," she said. But "he disappeared soon afterward" and the woman has since been unable to reach him on his phone or at any of the other contacts or addresses she had for him during their three-month relationship.

Police say they are considering opening a criminal probe to potentially charge the perpetrators with illegally spreading material about a person's private life.

The video has risen concerns among right defenders, who see it as an attack and smear campaign to silence the woman and threaten other activists in Tajikistan.

"This is aimed at threatening people so they don't dare criticize the government or its officials," says Oinihol Bobonazarova, a leading human rights defender and former opposition presidential candidate.

"Such actions, however, will have an opposite effect for the government," Bobonazarova warns. "There is a limit to fear. If you keep trying to instill fear in people they will eventually lose all fear in the end."

Lawmaker Zainiddin Safarovs said he hoped "police will bring the perpetrators to justice and defend the citizen's rights."

Using sex videos to damage opponents' and critics' reputations is not new in Tajikistan.

Multiple sex videos purportedly showing mullahs and members of the now-banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan were posted in a smear campaign against the opposition party before it was outlawed in 2015.

With just a few exceptions, the majority of those videos targeted men.

The use of embarrassing sex videos has also been used frequently in neighboring Kyrgyzstan in recent years, with at least a half-dozen such cases known, including against the country's head mufti (which led to his resignation), leading opposition politician Omurbek Tekebaev, two opposition journalists, and one of former President Almazbek Atambaev's daughters.

In 2012, in another predominantly Muslim former Soviet republic, Azerbaijan, a similar tactic was used against prominent investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova.

Articles by Ismayilova -- who has worked for RFE/RL -- implicated Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's family in corrupt financial activities and arrangements resulting in the theft of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Another well-known case was the 2018 posting of a sex-tape video purportedly featuring the controversial, self-exiled former banker Mukhtar Ablyazov, a vocal critic of former President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

Written by Farangis Najibullah and based on reporting by Mumin Ahmadi of RFE/RL's Tajik Service
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    Mumin Ahmadi

    Mumin Ahmadi has been a correspondent for RFE/RL's Tajik Service since 2008. He graduated from Kulob State University and has worked with Anvori Donish, Millat, Khatlon-Press, and the Center for Journalistic Research of Tajikistan. He was also the editor in chief of Pajwok.

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