Tajik authorities have increased pressure on opponents of the government, both at home and abroad, in recent weeks. Several activists, government critics, and suspected supporters of banned opposition groups have been jailed.
By the government’s own admission, 10 people were arrested in January alone for allegedly “collaborating” with Tajik opposition groups based abroad.
Prosecutor-General Yusuf Rahmon said those detained had provided “deceitful” information to “agitators abroad” — information that he said was critical of the government and aimed at destabilizing the country.
The term “agitators” is often used by Tajik officials to describe members of two banned opposition movements — Group 24 and the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT).
Hundreds of opposition members and their supporters have sought asylum abroad since Dushanbe declared the two groups terrorist organizations in 2014 and 2015.
“We will continue to expose and bring to justice those who cooperate with the traitors and work against the national interests of Tajikistan,” the prosecutor said on February 2. He didn’t provide any further information about those detained.
Isloh, an independent news and analysis website, claims that the number of arrests in the crackdown is much higher. It reported that “dozens” of opposition supporters had been detained in recent weeks, including at least 25 people taken into custody in the capital, Dushanbe, alone.
The IRPT has condemned the arrests as an intimidation campaign intended to “create a climate of fear” in the country.
“Despite the IRPT’s repeated statements that the party currently is not active inside Tajikistan, the government is using IRPT supporters and members there as hostages,” party spokesman Bobojon Qayumzod told RFE/RL.
Qayumzod denied that self-exiled members of the opposition had been receiving political information from supporters in Tajikistan. “The foreign-based opposition’s contacts with those inside Tajikistan is strictly limited to private communications with family, relatives, and friends,” he said. “The party doesn’t have any organized and politically motivated interactions” with anyone inside Tajikistan.
A report last year by the U.S.-based human rights watchdog Freedom House declared that Tajikistan was among the world’s 10 most repressive countries. It said the Tajik government severely restricted people’s rights and civil liberties, and showed little tolerance for dissent.
Isloh said 25 Dushanbe residents were detained in January in connection with political graffiti that had been sprayed by unidentified people on the walls of a public school in Dushanbe.
The graffiti reportedly called for the resignation of President Emomali Rahmon, the authoritarian ruler in power since 1992.
Another set of graffiti appeared on concrete pavement and walls in the northern city of Khujand, Isloh reported. The website posted images of graffiti that read: “Rahmon resign,” “Rahmon must end brutality,” and “Revolution is near.”
RFE/RL could not independently verify the authenticity of the video, which Isloh said it was sent from Khujand.
Tajik officials have not commented about the graffiti and the reported arrests that followed.
The government sparked condemnation after a court in Dushanbe issued a 14-year prison sentence to opposition politician Mahmurod Odinaev, who was convicted on dubious charges of extremism and hooliganism on January 28.
His two sons were also taken into custody on charges of hooliganism.
Other relatives say the case was fabricated to punish Odinaev, a deputy head of the Social Democratic Party, for his political activities.
Odinaev’s sentencing came a month after 80-year-old former IRPT member Doniyor Nabiev was given a seven-year prison term in a trial held behind closed doors.
Nabiev’s supporters say he came under scrutiny for using his retirement fund to give food and modest financial support of no more than $30 to families of jailed IRPT members.
The Interior Ministry, however, said in January that Nabiev had purchased and disseminated extremist material with funds he received from unnamed foreign countries.
Dozens of IRTP officials, lawyers, and supporters are currently serving prison sentences on charges of extremism and terrorism as part of a government crackdown that began in 2015.
Precondition For Amnesty
Meanwhile, several European-based Tajik opposition activists say they have been contacted by government officials who have promised them an amnesty if they denounce the opposition and return to Tajikistan.
Ramazon Huseiniyon, a 30-year-old, self-exiled activist from the northern town of Isfara, has been charged in Tajikistan with inciting hatred and being involved in extremist activities. He is currently in Europe.
Huseiniyon says he was told by Tajik officials that the charges would be dropped if he signed a letter renouncing his political activism.
The letter — written on his behalf by the Tajik authorities — expresses “regret” for “going astray,” he told RFE/RL. It also pledges his support for President Rahmon’s policies.
Contacted by RFE/RL, regional authorities in Isfara confirmed they had had several phone conversations with Huseiniyon.
The officials called it a routine practice to help “disillusioned young Tajiks abroad” return to their homeland if they agree to express regret for their actions.
Huseiniyon said he didn’t trust the authorities and had no plans to return to Tajikistan.