Proxy persecution in Tajikistan: Opposition journalist’s brother disappears after forced return from Russia

Tajik authorities must disclose the whereabouts of Asliddin Sharipov who disappeared after Russian authorities extradited him to Tajikistan earlier this fall, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee said in a statement today.

UPDATE: The relatives of Asliddin Sharipov have been able to locate him in a pre-trial detention facility in the city of Khujand, in northern Tajikistan. According to media reports, his relatives have not yet been able to see him. 

Sharipov is the brother of Shavkat Muhammadi, director of the independent media outlet “Payom TV”, operating out of Europe and known for its critical reporting on Tajik government policies and for coverage of the human rights crisis in the country.

On October 1, 2023, authorities of the Russian Federation forcibly returned Mr. Asliddin Sharipov to Tajikistan following an extradition request from the Tajik regime. According to information published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajikistan agency, Sharipov was wanted by Tajik authorities for crimes under article 307 of the Criminal Code – “organization of the activities of an extremist organization”, charges which carry punishment of up to five years’ imprisonment. His alleged crime is believed to be sharing posts by Tajikistan’s outlawed opposition on his Facebook account.

Since his forced return to Tajikistan, Sharipov’s relatives have not been able to locate him, despite considerable efforts to do so. Having inquired with Russian authorities, the relatives received official confirmation from the Russian Prosecutor General that Sharipov had been extradited. Sharipov’s brother, Shavkat Muhammadi, told the NHC that the relatives then went on to inquire with the Tajik Prosecutor’s Office and the Interior Ministry, as well as the Ombudsman’s Office. However, all their questions remain unanswered. Moreover, Muhammadi told the NHC, Tajik law enforcement personnel threatened some of the relatives with reprisals, such as criminal prosecution, if they would not cease efforts to locate Sharipov.

“Tajik authorities must disclose the location of Asliddin Sharipov and explain why his relatives have not heard of him since his extradition from Russia”, said Berit Lindeman, Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “If authorities hold Sharipov, they must also release him or otherwise credibly charge him”, she said.

Prior to his extradition, Sharipov had resided in Russia since 2016 where he worked as a construction worker. Russian authorities first detained him in September 2022, holding him in detention for more than a year before forcibly returning him to Tajikistan. Shavkat Muhammadi told the Norwegian Helsinki Committee that he is convinced that Tajik authorities are persecuting his brother as a means to put pressure on him in retaliation for the criticism voiced by, the Tajik independent media outlet he leads in exile.

The forced return and disappearance of Aslimiddin Sharipov follows a well-established pattern in which Tajik authorities target relatives and family members of exiled critics and dissidents. Earlier this month, the NHC reported on how Tajik authorities cut peaceful activists’ relatives off the power grid.

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Berit Lindeman

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