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Tajik Prosecutor-General Rejects Austria's Move To Invalidate Extradition Of Tajik Activist

Hizbullo Shovalizoda (file photo)
Hizbullo Shovalizoda (file photo)

DUSHANBE -- Tajikistan says an Austrian court's decision to invalidate the extradition of a Tajik asylum seeker who has already been sent home is "not valid" in the Central Asian nation.

"Hizbullo Shovalizoda was prosecuted on the basis of evidence gathered in the criminal case that proved his illegal actions inside Tajikistan," Tajik Prosecutor-General Yusuf Rahmon told reporters on July 14.

The statement comes a week after the Supreme Court of Austria invalidated an extradition order for Shovalizoda, 29, who was sent back to Tajikistan in March and sentenced to 20 years in prison on June 10 after a court in Dushanbe found him guilty on charges that included participating in the activities of an extremist organization and high treason.

According to the court ruling, Austria failed to secure the Tajik national's right to freely leave the country. It added that the decision on his extradition was based on outdated information about the current situation in the former Soviet republic.

Shovalizoda's lawyer in Vienna, Gregor Klammer, told RFE/RL last week that the Supreme Court had obliged Austria to bring his client back to Vienna.

Tajik authorities have said that Shovalizoda was suspected of being a member of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and of participating in an attempt to overthrow the government by force.

The IRPT, long an influential party with representatives in the government and parliament, was labeled a terrorist group and banned in 2015.

Dozens of IRPT officials and supporters have been prosecuted and many of them imprisoned, drawing criticism from human rights groups.

Shovalizoda arrived in Austria in early 2019 and asked for asylum but instead was placed under arrest in January.

Exiled Tajik opposition activists told RFE/RL that they had urged Austrian authorities not to extradite Shovalizoda, as he was not a member of any political opposition group or party.

The IRPT said at the time that Shovalizoda had never been one of its members.

"Shovalizoda is most likely to be subjected to torture, ill-treatment, and unfair trial. He, as in previous similar situations, may be forced to testify against himself and other people under torture," the party said in a statement at the time of the extradition hearing.

Tajik authorities have been criticized for cracking down on dissent for years.

In 2014, the opposition movement Group 24 was labeled as terrorist and extremist and banned. In March 2015, the movement's founder, Umarali Quvatov, was assassinated in Istanbul.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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