The recent arrests of several Tajiks who returned to Tajikistan from abroad under an amnesty for those suspected of being involved in religious extremism has cast severe suspicion on Dushanbe's intentions and the sincerity of its offer.
Sadriddin Mulloev, a 34-year-old Kulob resident, returned from Turkey in February after authorities assured him that a criminal charge against him would be dropped, Mulloev’s family says.
Instead, Mulloev was arrested two months after coming home and is now facing new charges of terrorism, being a mercenary, and involvement in an extremist organization.
In 2017, Tajik authorities first charged him in absentia with involvement in religious extremism.
Mulloev’s father, Khairiddin Mulloev, told RFE/RL’s Tajik Service on October 2 that his son returned home because Tajik officials promised him the extremism charges would be dropped. The father insists his son is innocent.
Contacted by RFE/RL, court officials in Dushanbe said they are still studying Mulloev’s case.
In February, President Emomali Rahmon ordered the country’s law enforcement agencies to strengthen measures to get those who “went astray” -- a term authorities use to describe people who join Islamic extremist and terrorist organizations -- to return to Tajikistan.
Since 2014, Tajikistan has offered an amnesty to anyone who left the country to join such groups but are willing to repent for their actions and return home voluntarily.
A precondition to the amnesty is that the returnees must prove they haven’t committed other crimes and haven’t taken part in a military conflict abroad.
Under the amnesty, dozens of Tajiks who went to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State (IS) extremist group returned to Tajikistan between 2015 and early 2018.
The majority were pardoned and resumed normal lives, authorities say.
Unlike those who returned from Syria and Iraq, Umar Murodov, a migrant worker from the southern district of Muminobod, hasn’t been able to convince Tajik authorities he hasn’t committed a criminal offense.
Murodov came back to Tajikistan from Russia in 2018 after getting several phone calls with promises of an "amnesty" from Tajik law enforcement officials, his mother, Sharifamoh Rahimova, says.
In 2016, Tajik authorities accused Murodov of extremism, calling online for the subversion of the state and insulting the president. The allegations stemmed from Murodov's “like” of a social media video highly critical of Rahmon. Formal charges came the next year.
“My son came back because of the assurances he got from the Interior Ministry,” Rahimova told RFE/RL. “But he was arrested at the airport.”
Murodov has since been sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison. Rahimova has written a letter to Rahmon asking what happened to the promises of an amnesty.
In a similar case, Nasim Rajabov, a resident of the Qalai Nav area in Roghun City, was arrested upon his return from Russia earlier this year.
While he was a labor migrant in Russia in 2016, Tajik prosecutors charged Rajabov with having links to religious extremists, a claim he denied.
His family says Tajik authorities called Rajabov in Russia and convinced him to come home.
The government insists the amnesty is genuine.
One official at the Interior Ministry told RFE/RL the suspicions might have been caused by “a few exceptions.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorized to talk to the media.
One of the “exceptions,” he said, is the case of Ormonqul Ernazarov, who returned from Turkey telling Tajik authorities he regretted joining the banned Salafiya group.
“Ernazarov was questioned, then he was pardoned and released.
However, two months later, authorities found out he had fought in Syria but didn’t tell authorities about it, the official said.
Ernazarov was subsequently arrested and charged with being a mercenary.
Luring Opposition Members
Tajik authorities actively encourage their citizens, including opposition members in exile, to return and offer them assurances that they won’t face persecution at home.
Political opposition organizations -- the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and Group 24 -- say government officials have repeatedly contacted their members abroad to try to persuade them to come back and help build their country.
Both the IRPT and Group 24 have been banned in Tajikistan, where the government shows no tolerance for political opposition.
The returnees often appear on state television and attend government-sponsored meetings, promoting the president’s policies and expressing regret about having joined radical groups.
In an intriguing new case, a 25-year-old member of Group 24, Mustafo Hayotov, appeared on a social media video claiming he has “voluntarily” returned from Europe.
Footage that depicts Hayotov in downtown Dushanbe was posted on October 5, just days after he was deported from Poland, where his application for political asylum was rejected.
“I’m happy to be back in my own country,” Hayotov says in the video, adding he has been amnestied of any wrongdoing and is living freely.
The video sparked concerns among Group 24 members, who don’t rule out Hayotov was forced by Tajik authorities to release such a video and that he is, in fact, in detention.
The case drew parallels to the fate of Sharoffidin Gadoev, another Group 24 member, who mysteriously appeared on a video recorded in Dushanbe in February 2018.
It showed Gadoev denouncing the opposition and claiming he is happy to be back after many years of living in exile in Europe.
However, it was soon revealed that Gadoev was seized by government agents during a trip to Moscow.
Gadoev said he was beaten and forcibly taken to Tajikistan, where he faced more beatings and was forced to appear in that video.
He was later able to return to the Netherlands, where he has asylum, and tell a story of being kidnapped and forced to act against his will.
The Interior Ministry says more than 160 members of IS, Salafiya, the Ansarullah movements, and Group 24 returned home in 2018.