Tajikistan’s strongman President Emomali Rahmon has silenced the opposition at home without much of a fight. Abroad, his administration is employing help of Interpol – the avowedly non-political international police organization – to stifle dissident voices.
Acting on an Interpol all-points-bulletin, a so-called red notice, the Finnish authorities detained 31-year-old Sulaimon Davlatov on February 20. A long-time resident of St Petersburg, Russia, Davlatov was travelling to Lithuania when he was seized. The Tajik authorities accuse Davlatov of being a member of the outlawed Group 24 – and, without publicly presenting evidence, of sending citizens to fight in Syria.
Currently, the Interpol website lists 127 red notices for Tajik citizens. Their alleged crimes range from robbery and drug trafficking to terrorism.
Critics say the Interpol system is open to manipulation by authoritarians determined to track down their political rivals. The Warsaw-based Open Dialogue Foundation wrote in a February 24 report:
Non-democratic states are using more and more sophisticated methods of oppression, exploiting Interpol mechanisms in order to set ‘traps’ for their opponents abroad. Due to the shortcomings of its supervisory mechanisms, Interpol has become a ‘convenient’ tool used for harassment in a number of political cases.
At the same time, allegations relating to corruption and financial crimes have become the most widespread methods used by the authoritarian regimes against their political opponents. Numerous cases have been reported where refugees faced contrived terrorism charges, whilst it was they themselves who were the victims of political terror in their homelands.
Tajik prosecutors often charge critics, such as members of the exiled Group 24 movement – which is vocally anti-Rahmon but does not appear to be more than a collection of critics – with “extremism.” Because the country’s judicial system is so opaque, it is difficult to independently draw conclusions about the charges, but human rights activists say they are often politically motivated. The US government last year accused Tajikistan of misusing terrorism allegations to "suppress legitimate political opposition."
In December, Turkish police acting at Dushanbe’s behest snatched Group 24 leader Umarali Kuvatov from his Istanbul home. Kuvatov was once a tycoon close to the ruling Rahmon family, but fell out with the family in 2012. Though Turkish police later released Kuvatov, Tajikistan’s Interior Ministry is still seeking his extradition. He had earlier been detained for three months in Dubai on an Interpol warrant for embezzlement.
On March 4, a Dushanbe court sentenced Umedjon Solehov to over 17 years in jail for being a Group 24 member and for insulting the president. The Russian Security services arrested Solehov in Novosibirsk in December.
Tajikistan’s is not the only authoritarian Central Asian regime using international warrants and Interpol to pursue its enemies abroad. Kazakhstan has made numerous attempts to extradite associates of fugitive oligarchs Mukhtar Ablyazov and Rakhat Aliyev. On December 27, Spanish authorities acting on an Interpol red notice arrested former politician Muratbek Ketebayev. Astana accuses him of inciting “social discord.” He is awaiting an extradition hearing. Uzbek authorities have also tried to use Interpol to extradite prominent dissident Muhammad Solih and others who fled the country following the 2005 Andijan massacre.