On 15 June Tajik opposition activist Shabnam Kh... | Den norske Helsingforskomité

Belarus must not extradite Tajik activist to ill-treatment

Belarus must not extradite Tajik activist to ill-treatment

Recently, Tajik opposition activist Shabnam Khudoydodova was detained in Belarus shortly after crossing the border from Russia, where she had been residing the last years. She traveled to Belarus with the intent to apply for refugee status at the UNHCR office in Minsk and now risks extradition to Tajikistan, in breach of Belarus' international commitments.

On 15 June Tajik opposition activist Shabnam Khayrulloevna Khudoydodova, affiliated with the banned Tajik opposition group “Group 24”, was detained in Belarus shortly after crossing the border from Russia, where she had been residing the last years. She traveled to Belarus with the intent to apply for refugee status at the UNHCR office in Minsk.

Because of the Tajik government's track record of targeting opposition activists home and abroad, we believe she was detained on request from Dushanbe. Being charged under Article 37 of the Criminal Code of Tajikistan she potentially faces up to 20 years in prison. Ms. Khudoydodova's sister has confirmed to the Norwegian Helsinki Committee that on 8 July, more than three weeks after her detention, she was still being denied access to legal counsel.

-We strongly urge the government of Belarus to uphold its commitments as a signatory to the Refugee Convention and Protocol, and respect international customary law, and thus secure Ms. Khudoydodova from extradition to Tajikistan in line with the principle of non-refoulement, says Marius Fossum, NHC Regional Representative in Central Asia. We also encourage the UNHCR to intervene with relevant authorities to ensure that the principle of non-refoulement is not violated. The government of Belarus is further committed by the United Nations Convention against Torture, according to which, a person cannot be expelled to “another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture”. -Practices in Tajik detention facilities as well as recent events give us substantial grounds to fear that Ms. Khudoydodova risks torture and other ill-treatment if forcibly expelled to Tajikistan, Fossum said.

Due to severe government crackdowns on dissent and fundamental freedoms in Tajikistan, numerous Tajik opposition activists reside in Russia. Shabnam Khayrulloevna, born in 1986, had been living in Russia for the last few years. Being affiliated with the opposition group “Group 24”, that was declared extremist by a Dushanbe court and subsequently banned last year, she would not be safe in her home country. In Russia she was a supporter of labour rights for Tajik labour migrants. After voicing opinions critical of the regime in Tajikistan on social media, she heard that she was to be abducted in Russia, and decided to reach out to the UNHCR office in Minsk.

Most alarmingly, recent events substantiate Ms. Khudoydodova's fears of abduction in Russia. During the last year Tajik opposition activists based in Russia have faced abductions, extraditions and even violent attacks. The NHC has received credible information about more than ten people who have disappeared or who have been arrested and/or extradited on charges of extremism. The most prominent case is that of Maqsood Ibraqimov born in 1977. In October 2014 he established the Russia-based opposition group “Youth for the Revival of Tajikistan”. Tajik authorities immediately began targeting him and Russian police arrested him already in November the same year. Ibraqimov, however, was at the time a dual citizen of both Russia and Tajikistan. As a Russian national he could not be extradited to another state, and was soon released. Following his release he was attacked and stabbed six times on a Moscow street by two unknown assailants. Later he was reportedly forced to relinquish his Russian citizenship. Then, on 20 January 2015, he disappeared in Moscow. Six days after his disappearance, his relatives were informed that he had been delivered to Tajikistan. The circumstances around his physical extradition to Tajikistan remain unclear. Tajik authorities have later confirmed that he faces charges of extremism. Although little is known of his current situation, he is reportedly being held in full isolation and is in a bad physical condition. The NHC encourages the International Committee of the Red Cross regional Central Asia delegation in Tashkent to visit him.

Tajik dissidents find themselves in danger far beyond Russia however. On 5 March 2015 Tajik opposition leader in exile Umarali Kuvatov was assasinated with a gunshot to the head outside his home in Istanbul. Prior to this, Tajik authorities repeatedly requested his extradition from Turkey.