DUSHANBE (TCA) — Several former members of the Tajik opposition movement Group 24 have called on the country’s Supreme Court to remove it from the list of banned extremist parties, saying “the group no longer poses a threat” to the government, RFE/RL’s Tajik Service reported.
The leader of Group 24 cried foul, however, suggesting the appeal was made under pressure and vowing that the organization would not drop its opposition to authoritarian President Emomali Rahmon’s government.
“Almost all group members who were active in Russia have returned home in recent years, and there is no one left in Russia to promote the movement’s policies,” Oyatullo Gilyaev, a former member of Group 24, told RFE/RL on February 26.
A source at the Supreme Court confirmed to RFE/RL that a letter signed by 15 former followers of Group 24 was submitted on February 25. The source was not authorized to discuss the matter on the record, and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The court has not commented publicly on the letter.
Group 24 leader Suhrob Zafar, who lives in self-imposed exile in Europe, said he believes that the letter was written under the “advice” of Tajik authorities seeking to weaken the opposition movement.
Speaking on February 26, Zafar said that “such action would inevitably have an impact on our activities as a political movement.”
“Group 24 won’t change its position toward the government,” he said.
A prominent Group 24 activist, Sharoffiddin Gadoev, recently resurfaced in Tajikistan after a period living in self-imposed exile in the Netherlands, sparking claims that he was abducted during a trip to Russia.
Tajik authorities insist Gadoev, 33, returned voluntarily on February 15. They shared a video that shows Gadoev criticizing the opposition and urging other activists to follow his suit and return to Tajikistan.
But on February 21, the Dutch Foreign Ministry said Gadoev was arrested on suspicion of “criminal activities,” an allegation linked to his business activities in the past.
Tajik authorities have not announced his arrest or commented on the Dutch statement.
Four leading human rights groups — Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, the Association of Central Asian Migrants, and the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, Human Rights Watch — said in a February 24 statement that Gadoev should be released from Tajik custody and allowed to return immediately to the Netherlands, where he is a recognized refugee.
Sources investigating Gadoev’s case learned that Russian security services officers forced Gadoev into their car in Moscow on February 14 and drove him to Domodedovo Airport, where the activist was placed on a flight to Dushanbe, the human rights groups said in their statement.
Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher for HRW, said that in Tajikistan Gadoev is facing “trumped-up charges for his peaceful exercise of freedom of expression.”
Group 24 was banned as an “extremist” movement in October 2014, after it called for antigovernment protests in Dushanbe and other cities.
The protests didn’t take place and most of the group members left Tajikistan shortly afterwards.
Some of them have since returned to Tajikistan and leaders of the group say that they were lured back by authorities.
The group’s founder Umarali Quvatov was shot dead in Turkey in 2015. President Rahmon’s opponents claim the killing was orchestrated by Tajik authorities.
Rahmon, who has ruled Tajikistan since 1992, has been repeatedly criticized for crackdowns on dissent.