Authorities in Tajikistan have resorted to a familiar trick from their playbook in their latest act of intimidation against a foreign-based regime opponent by targeting his mother.
On February 8, the Interior Ministry announced in a statement that it had detained Shohida Mahmadjonova on suspicion of coordinating an extremist organization.
Mahmadjonova is the mother of Sherzod Mamadjonov, a citizen journalist based in Germany. Mamadjonov’s medium is YouTube, a platform he uses to talk about the infringement of religious freedoms in Tajikistan. Issues he has addressed in the past include efforts by law enforcement personnel to compel women to cast off their hijabs, bans on children going to mosque, and the arbitrary arrest of pious believers.
As Mamadjonov explained in one video, his mother has been summoned for questioning by the police repeatedly over the past few months.
“Last month, my mother was twice summoned for interrogation at the Interior Ministry in Vakhdat. She was told that her son had one chance, that if he returned to Tajikistan, the president would grant him an amnesty. Otherwise, he would be returned by force, and would not be amnestied,” he said, relating his mother’s account of the interrogations.
Mamadjonov said relatives working in government departments have been fined and threatened with criminal prosecution because of their family ties to him.
His mother’s detention appears to have been effected by subterfuge. She had her phone confiscated during one summons to a police precinct last month and was later contacted with an invitation to collect the device.
“On February 2, she received a call asking her to come pick up the phone. She went to get her phone on February, and never came back,” Mamadjonov said.
Mahmadjonova was not heard from for five days after she went to the Interior Ministry headquarters in Vakhdat, a town around 45 minutes east of the capital, Dushanbe. It is unknown if she had access to legal representation over that period. Precedent strongly suggests she did not.
The Interior Ministry dismisses Mamadjonov’s description of himself as just a blogger and opposition activist. He has been made the object of an arrest warrant on suspicion of committing crimes of “an extremist-terrorist nature,” the ministry says.
RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radioi Ozodi, has cited Mahmadjonova’s relatives as saying that she is being accused of belonging to the banned opposition movement Group 24.
The Tajik government’s technique of intimidating people inside the country as a way to discourage relatives based abroad from pursuing opposition activities has been deployed for several years now.
Relatives are sometimes also deployed to dispel allegations of abuse against government critics already in custody.
In late January, a Russia-based Tajik national called Amriddin Alovatshoyev was snatched off the streets in Moscow and later resurfaced in Tajikistan. The Prosecutor General's Office on February 3 confirmed it had extradited Alovatshoyev, whom they accuse of belonging to an organized crime group. The man’s supporters say he was targeted because of his involvement in helping organize a protest picket outside the Tajik Embassy in Moscow in late November.
Alovatshoyev has not been seen in public since his disappearance and concerns are mounting about his physical safety. Europe-based activist Alim Sherzamonov alleged in a post on social media that Alovatshoyev, who is like him from the eastern Pamirs region, had been subjected to torture. He did not state the source of his information.
But on February 8, Alovatshoyev’s uncle, Jahvarsho, appeared in a self-filmed video stating that he had met his nephew in jail and insisted that he was being treated humanely.
“I want to tell Alim Sherzamonov not to upset people without having reliable information. Because of your false information, we have not slept for a day,” he said.