DUSHANBE (TCA) — Eleven human rights groups have urged Belarus not to forcibly return an independent Tajik journalist and political opposition activist, Farhod Odinaev, to Tajikistan, where they say he “risks torture or other ill-treatment”.
“Tajikistan’s government is known for ‘transnational repression,’ routinely using politically motivated charges to reach beyond its borders to threaten and detain peaceful dissidents,” Steve Swerdlow, senior Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a statement on October 7.
Odinaev was detained by Belarusian migration authorities at Tajikistan’s request on September 25 while on his way to the Polish capital, Warsaw, to attend a human rights conference.
The activist, who holds Tajik and Russian passports, has since been held in the pretrial detention center in the western Belarusian city of Hrodna, pending possible extradition to Tajikistan.
Belarusian rights group Human Constanta has told RFE/RL that Tajik authorities want Odinaev for allegedly being a member of a banned organization.
The activist used to belong to the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and for several months in 2013 led Safo TV, an opposition television channel based in Moscow.
The channel was shut down by Russian authorities the same year.
The IRPT, long an influential party with representatives in the government and parliament, was labeled an extremist and terrorist group and banned in 2015 — moves the party and human rights groups say were unjustified and politically motivated.
Dozens of IRPT officials and supporters have been prosecuted and many of them imprisoned, drawing further criticism of Tajik President Emomali Rahmon’s government from rights groups.
Marius Fossum, regional representative of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee in Central Asia, said the United States, the European Union, “and all of Belarus’s international partners should press Minsk not to extradite Odinaev to a risk of torture and should publicly voice serious concern over Tajikistan’s crackdown on freedom of expression.”
“Odinaev faces a high risk of torture if returned to Tajikistan,” said Nadejda Atayeva, president of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA). “No technical assurances Dushanbe could provide to the contrary will suffice given its terrible record on torture.”
Along with HRW, AHRCA, and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, the 11 groups calling for Odinaev’s release also include Amnesty International, the Association for Central Asian Migrants, Civil Rights Defenders, Freedom House, Freedom Now, Human Constanta, Human Rights Center Viasna, and Reporters Without Borders.