Authorities Arbitrarily Detain Son of Political Prisoner
(Berlin) – Tajik law enforcement authorities have arbitrarily detained the son of an imprisoned senior member of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, an outlawed opposition party, Human Rights Watch said today.
Asroriddin Rozikov, 38, has been in detention since June 25, 2020, but the Tajik authorities have not provided his relatives with information about his wellbeing, the grounds for his detention, or whether he has been charged with an offense. In June 2016, Tajikistan’s Supreme Court sentenced his father, Zubaidullohi Rozik, who was a member of the party’s political council and presidium, and served as head of its science department, to 25 years in prison on charges of attempting to overthrow the government.
“The arbitrary detention of Asroriddin Rozikov is part of intensified efforts by Tajik authorities to spread fear among perceived government critics and peaceful dissidents everywhere,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Tajik authorities should immediately release Rozikov, investigate his arbitrary detention, and hold those responsible to account.”
Since mid-2015, Tajik authorities have imprisoned more than 150 people on politically motivated charges, including lawyers, perceived critics, and members of the opposition party. The authorities closed down the party, declaring it a terrorist organization. The authorities have routinely harassed relatives of those locked up and of peaceful dissidents abroad with mob violence, threats of rape, arbitrary detention, confiscation of passports, and bans on travel outside of the country. A large number of other party leaders and senior staff members also received lengthy prison sentences, including life imprisonment.
Rozikov’s brother Khisomiddin, who lives in exile in Poland, said that Tajik law enforcement authorities detained Rozikov on the morning of June 25 in Dushanbe, when he was on his way to the market where he sells children’s wear. Khisomiddin and Rozikov’s wife were unable to reach Rozikov on his phone later that day.
His whereabouts were unknown until Rozikov’s mother and another brother went to the State Committee for National Security on June 26. A staff member confirmed that Rozikov was being held there and told them he would be released after questioning. Khisomiddin Rozikov told Human Rights Watch that his mother was also informed that his brother would be detained until June 29, and then would be released or transferred to a detention center.
On July 1, the State Committee for National Security told Rozikov’s relatives that he had been transferred to a detention center known as SIZO Number 1 in Dushanbe. On the following day, his mother and brother visited the detention center, intending to give Rozikov some clothes and food. They were told that he was not there, and the officials refused to accept the parcel, although they did the next day. But they have not allowed his mother to visit or provided information about any charges against him.
Khisomiddin Rozikov said that the authorities claim that “they won’t release Rozikov, they did nothing to him and everything’s fine.” He said he had received information before his brother was detained that the authorities had tried to coerce his father to give an interview on camera criticizing the Renaissance Party and its leadership and to “admit that they are all terrorists,” but he had refused. He said that his brother is not involved in any political activity, but that around 2003-2004, he worked as a layout designer for the party’s newspaper.
Humayra Bakhtiyar, a Europe-based journalist and human rights defender who closely follows the situation in Tajikistan, told Human Rights Watch that Tajik authorities have intensified harassment of dissidents’ relatives. She said that Tajik authorities have harassed, detained, questioned, and pressured 13 family members of Jannatullohi Komil, an exiled party member based in Germany, to testify on camera against the party. She said on July 7 that at least five of the family members were in detention, where they had been held for more than a week.
In another case, Farzona Sayfullozoda, daughter of Hikmatulloh Sayfullozoda, an editor of the now-banned party newspaper, Najot, denounced the party in a Tajik-language video. Her father was sentenced to 16 years in prison in June 2016. In the video, she said, she “urges people not to believe IRPT and its leadership” and says that “it is a terrorist party and she regrets everything that happened to her family.”
Bakhtiyar said that “Sayfullozoda asked two times to turn off the camera as she could not continue speaking” because of her emotions. Bakhtiyar said that “the video was posted by a suspicious account and whoever recorded her also published the video.” The original video, posted on Facebook, was later removed.
In June 2019, Tajik authorities also harassed Bakhtiyar’s family in Dushanbe in an attempt to pressure her to return to Tajikistan.
She said that on June 29, 2020 political prisoners’ relatives who live in Europe had published an appeal in which they called on Tajik authorities to stop harassing their relatives in Tajikistan and torturing relatives who are in prison.
“Tajikistan should immediately end its harassment of relatives of political prisoners or peaceful dissidents abroad,” Williamson said. “The Tajik government should allow its citizens to peacefully exercise their fundamental right to freedom of expression without fear of reprisal.”