On April 9th 2019, Naimjon Sameev, a former representative of the now banned Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), was sentenced to 15 years in prison on a number of charges ranging from illegal possession of weapons to membership in an extremist organization. Sameev’s case adds to the long list of former political opposition members who have been accused of extremism based on dubious evidence. The trial took place behind closed doors and the family was not allowed to attend. Sameev’s son and 90 years old have appealed to the authorities, requesting amnesty for him. They claim that Sameev was already living in Russia when the general Prosecutor of Tajikistan added the IRPT to the list of terrorist organizations.
When I conducted research in Khujand in 2010 and 2011, I met with Sameev on few occasions and remember a soft-spoken, intelligent man. In the IRPT’s Khujand office, Sameev set up lessons on human rights and language and a lesson on Koran. Sameev’s case is even more dramatic considering that he has been extradited from Grozny in Russia, where he had been living since 2014, to Tajikistan in December 2018. The extradition however, does not seem to have been in accordance with legal procedure since the Chechen authorities denied having arrested Sameev last year. This follows a worrisome trend of transnational authoritarian security practices that Tajikistan has implemented over the years, tracking down dissidents around the world. Hundreds of former members of the IRPT have been living in exile in different European countries, Russia and Turkey. However, it has become clear that they are no longer safe in Russia and Turkey. Recently in February 2019, another opposition leader from the (also banned) Group 24, Sharofiddin Gadoev, was kidnapped and taken from Russia to Tajikistan. The Tajik authorities claimed that he had returned to Tajikistan voluntarily. He spent 15 days in Tajikistan before being sent back to Germany on the second of March 2019. The decision to release him was allegedly the result of negotiations between the Tajik government and German diplomats. He has since returned to the Netherlands, where he received the status of political refugee in 2017.
This is not an isolated case. Following international pressure, a number of Tajik political prisoners have been released. In 2018, a widespread international campaign was successful in pressuring the Tajik government to release Khairullo Mirsaidov, a Tajik journalist who was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2018 for inciting national hatred after denouncing corruption schemes in the regional parliament in Sughd (the northern region of the country). Fearing for his safety, he went into exile where he remains to this day. Given those two recent cases, it is clear that international pressure is effective and can positively contribute to the release of victims of political persecution. Therefore, it is our responsibility as observers, scholars, and citizens, to share this information in order to stop unlawful repressive strategies of the Tajik government and fight for the release of Naimjon Sameev.
Helene Thibault, Nazarbayev University