The exiled opposition to President Emomali Rahmon’s rule in Tajikistan has enjoyed a rare reprieve with the news that Belarusian authorities have refused to extradite activist Shabnam Khudoydodova back to her home country.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, reported that Khudoydodova was released from custody on February 22.
Authorities in Tajikistan has successfully obliterated most political opposition to the government inside the country, but have latterly been attempting to silence critics based abroad.
Khudoydodova was living in St. Petersburg, in Russia, when she learned in July that her government might seek her extradition in reprisal for her online posts calling for democratic reforms. She fled into Belarus on the way to Poland, hoping to obtain asylum there. Instead, she was turned back by Polish border guards and was detained on July 15 by Belarusian police, who were acting on an international request for arrest filed by Tajikistan.
As Human Rights Watch researcher Steve Swerdlow told EurasiaNet.org in a recent interview, Khudoydodova “dabbled in what any normal young person who operates on social media does, which is vent about reflections about their own society, and not necessarily engage in any systematic platform.”
“That is enough in the current environment to incur the wrath of the authorities,” Swerdlow said.
Opponents of the government appear undeterred, however, and continue to organize protest rallies outside Tajik embassies in several countries.
The website Payom.net, which is banned inside Tajikistan, reported on February 22 that opposition activists are planning a series of pickets in countries including Germany, Turkey, Russia, the United States, Belgium and Poland in a bid to raise awareness about the wave of political repression enacted by Rahmon’s regime.
“All foreign-based groups opposed to Rahmon, as well as individuals unaffiliated to parties and movements, will take part in the meetings,” Payom.net reported.
A youth movement showing evident signs of being supported by the government has in turn been picketing embassies in Dushanbe and demanding that the countries in question hand over people they described as “traitors of the people.” The main target for extradition is Mukhiddin Kabiri, leader of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajiksitan.
A group numbering between 60 and 100 young people assembled outside the representative office of the European Union on February 22 chanting: “Give us back our traitors.” This is the same European Union that only days ago pledged to give cash-strapped Tajikistan 251 million euros ($279 million) in development funds for the period 2014-2020.
The crowd outside the building blocked traffic from flowing freely, but picket organizers pleaded with drivers not to sound their horns so that their chants could be heard inside.
Alas, none of the EU employees came out to speak with the young activists, so the group headed instead to the Turkish embassy.
The clearest evidence that the rally was sanctioned — not to say organized — by the authorities is the fact that police would never normally tolerate any such kind of political public event.
In 2013, when relatives of jailed former minister-turned-opposition figure Zaid Saidov released doves from the top of a five-story business center to mark his 100th day in detention, they were sentenced to five days in prison for disrupting public order.
Ahmadhudja Davlatov, a leader of the pro-government youth movement, said that unless Turkey responded to their pleas for Ankara to prevent Tajik opposition meetings taking place on their soil, the consequences would be dire.
“We will see tomorrow, if there is no response and these traitors hold their meetings in Turkey, this time we will go into the embassy itself,” Davlatov said.
And silence would mean that Turkey had made clear its position, that it desires to see instability in Tajikistan, Davlatov explained.
Police looked on impassively on this occasion, but it is difficult to believe even Rahmon’s government would want to engage itself in an unpredictable diplomatic dispute by sanctioning the assault of an embassy.
Then again, the pro-government youths look like they might be overdoing it with the bluster. One vowed that instead of 60 people, the next rally would bring together 3,000.
“There are many of us, but so as not to disturb public order, we asked for many people to keep away. But next time we will storm the embassy,” said one rally participant.