There appear to be no limits to the depths the authorities in Tajikistan will go in pursuit of those close to Muhiddin Kabiri -- even if it means confirming the virginity of a woman who had eyes for the banned Islamic party leader.
Since Kabiri fled the country, and his Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) was banned, Tajikistan has been relentless in its pursuit of his friends and relatives. Seven family members have been questioned; his 95-year-old father was prevented from traveling to Turkey for medical treatment; and a suspected lover was compelled to undergo a virginity test to clear her good name.
Tajik journalist Haramgul Qodir freely admits that she was in “love” with Kabiri, who faces charges of attempting to overthrow the government and has been branded a terrorist by Dushanbe. Her love, however, was unrequited, Qodir tells RFE/RL's Tajik Service.
"Anyone who asked me, including the authorities, I told that there was no relationship between us," Qodir said. "Yes, there was greetings and friendship, but that’s all. I have a good relationship with all officials. However, that doesn’t mean I have a personal relationship with all of them."
Nevertheless, she was subjected to months of harassment and questioning by Tajik authorities, who believed she had had an affair with Kabiri, a married man.
Her bank accounts frozen and feeling pressured by authorities, Qodir agreed to take a virginity test to protect her honor.
"I told them that if my personal life is a risk to national security, then I’m ready to undergo a test,” Qodir said in a Skype interview on January 5. "Of course, it was an insult, but I had to do it to prove my point."
Law-enforcement officials took Qodir up on her offer, and she was accompanied to a medical facility where she submitted herself to a virginity test.
Qodir, a former RFE/RL Tajik Service contributor, said that while the test proved she was telling the truth, her bank accounts remained frozen during her subsequent trip to Turkey for medical treatment.
Virginity tests usually consist of a vaginal examination, under the belief that an intact hymen is proof that a woman has not had sexual intercourse. The controversial practice violates international law, according to human rights groups, and is widely considered to have no medical validity in determining the subject's virginity.
The practice is common among some cultures, but seldom officially endorsed, and is considered rare in Tajikistan.
Kabiri’s current whereabouts are unknown, although he is rumored to be in Turkey. The 50-year-old was last seen publicly at an international conference in Iran, where he attended the International Conference of Islamic Unity on December 27 and was seated next to the head of Tajikistan's state-backed Council of Islamic Ulema and other members of the official delegation from Tajikistan.
Tajik authorities expressed “deep concern” over Kabiri's invitation to the conference.
Tajikistan has arrested more than 20 top IRPT officials since the party was suspended in late August and subsequently banned by the Supreme Court as an "extremist and terrorist organization."
The court decision came after the government blamed the party for organizing September 4 attacks on a police station and an arsenal near Dushanbe that killed 26 people.
Authorities say the attacks were carried out by an armed group led by Abduhalim Nazarzoda, a deputy defense minister who was later killed. IRPT officials have rejected connections to Nazarzoda or the insurrection and have called the arrests of party officials politically motivated.
Human rights groups have also condemned the crackdown as politically motivated.