Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee have urged Tajik officials “to stop harassing” the family of exiled opposition activist Fakhruddin Saidmukhidinov.
In a joint statement issued in December 4, the rights watchdogs said Tajik authorities summoned, interrogated, and threatened Saidmukhidinov’s relatives in late-November, “apparently to force him to cease his online criticism of the government.”
“The Tajik government has severely curbed free speech in the country and left no space for any criticism by targeting opposition political figures and activists, lawyers, journalists, and relatives of peaceful dissidents,” said Hugh Williamson, HRW’s Europe and Central Asia director.
“The authorities should immediately stop harassing Saidmukhidinov’s relatives over his activism,” he added.
Saidmukhidinov, who has resided in an unspecified European Union country since 2016, is a supporter of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), an opposition party that was labeled a terrorist organization and banned by Tajik authorities in 2015.
Saidmukhidinov’s online articles have been critical of the Tajik government’s ongoing crackdown on dissent and political opposition.
The rights groups’ joint statement cites Saidmukhidinov as saying that Tajikistan’s State Committee for National Security summoned his brother and father on November 19, where they were interrogated and threatened for five hours.
The interrogators told the two men that Saidmukhidinov should cease all his online activities, shut down his social media accounts, and publicly apologize to Saimuddin Yatimov, the head of the country’s feared security services.
In addition, the security officials told Saidmukhidinov’s father and brother that the activist had taken part in two conferences with the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2016 and 2017, calling them “anti-state conferences” where Saidmukhidinov sat right next to “traitors.”
According to Saidmukhidinov, the officials told his father that “they will bring him back, but they [the family] will never see him again.”
Saidmukhidinov’s family members were threatened by officials in a similar way in December 2019.
“By targeting critical voices abroad, the Tajik regime is posing a tangible threat to freedom of expression in Europe and elsewhere,” said Gunnar Ekelove-Slydal, acting secretary general of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “The time is overdue for the European Union and others to implement meaningful measures to counter the Tajik human rights crisis.”
Many rights activists and opposition politicians have fled Tajikistan in recent years, fearing for their safety. Tajik government has targeted critics abroad by murdering, abducting, and extraditing them, as well as by imposing pressure on exiled critics’ relatives in Tajikistan.