Authorities Block Activists’ Relatives from Leaving the Country
(Berlin, August 7, 2018) – Tajik security services forced an activist’s 10-year-old daughter, elderly mother, and brother off an airplane at Tajikistan on August 4, 2018, seven human rights groups said today. They were on their way to Europe to reunite with the activist.
The Tajik government should immediately lift the politically motivated travel ban on the independent activist, Shabnam Khudoydodova’s, family and end its retaliation against relatives of government critics abroad, the groups said.
“The cruelty Tajik authorities have shown against this 10-year-old girl and her relatives simply for her mother’s peaceful criticism of the government is shocking,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “They should be allowed to leave Tajikistan immediately without any fear of retribution.”
The groups are Amnesty International, the Association of Central Asian Migrants, Freedom Now, Global Advocates Foundation, Human Rights Watch, the Human Rights Vision Foundation, and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.
Early on August 4, Tajik security service officers boarded the plane on which Fatima Davlyatova, Shabnam Khudoydodova’s daughter, Gulidzhamilamo Khudoydodova, her mother, and Komron Khudoydodov, her brother, were waiting to depart, removed them from the flight, and banned them from traveling to Europe to reunite with her. The three were interrogated for several hours and forced to sign documents acknowledging that all of them, including the girl, were on a “wanted list.”
The travel ban is the latest in a long series of retaliatory actions against Khudoydodova’s family members, including violent attacks.
Khudoydodova, a former member of the peaceful political movement Group 24, was detained in Belarus for nine months in 2015 and 2016 under a Tajik extradition request and Interpol warrant. Following pressure from human rights groups and various governments, she was released in February 2016, after which she ceased her political opposition work, and took up human rights activism in Poland on behalf of Tajik asylum seekers there.
In September 2016, Khudoydodova participated in the annual Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, an intergovernmental human rights conference in Warsaw. On September 20, a day after Khudoydodova spoke at the conference, Tajik authorities directed an angry mob to attack her daughter, Fatima Davlyatova, at her school and then to attack her relatives in the family’s home in the city of Kulob, Tajikistan.
On December 29, 2016, security services went to Khudoydodova’s family home and confiscated Fatima’s passport and birth certificate, and the passports of her grandmother and other relatives in the house. The authorities threatened to prosecute them and place Fatima in an orphanage if anyone attempted to travel abroad. The passports and other personal documents were returned to the family a year later.
“Tajikistan’s treatment of this young girl and her family for no other reason than her mother’s peaceful political activity is as shameful as it is inexcusable,” said Bjorn Engsland, secretary general of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “Tajik authorities should immediately stop these acts of retaliation.”
Tajik authorities have regularly detained, threatened, and banned from travel family members – including wives and young children – of opposition activists abroad in retaliation for their relatives’ peaceful exercise of their fundamental rights, the groups said. Tajik security services officers and local officials have also publicly shamed and threatened to confiscate the property of the activists’ relatives, and in one case threatened to rape an activist’s daughter.
“The Tajik government’s vicious campaign of intimidation against dissidents’ relatives, including young children, is widening and becoming ever more brazen,” said Thomas Klosowicz, president of the board of the Global Advocates Foundation. “Children should be allowed to be with their mother. This travel ban amounts to collective punishment sanctioned at the highest levels and should end immediately.”
On August 1, following an international outcry, the authorities allowed the four-year-old grandson of an exiled opposition leader to travel abroad for medical treatment.
Hundreds of political activists, including several human rights lawyers and journalists, such as Khayrullo Mirsaidov, have been jailed in Tajikistan as part of a widening crackdown on free expression. The US, the European Union, and other international entities should unequivocally call on the Tajik government to lift the politically motivated travel ban on Khudoydodova’s relatives and stop retaliating against relatives of perceived government critics, the groups said.
“Targeting dissidents’ families is a new low set by the government, and an especially despicable tactic,” said Maran Turner, executive director at Freedom Now. “Tajikistan’s international partners, including Brussels and Washington, must make a clear call for an end to this abuse.”