The family members of an exiled opposition politician from Tajikistan have said the country’s authorities are denying his three-year-old grandson necessary paperwork to travel abroad for cancer treatment.
Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan leader Muhiddin Kabiri’s son, Muhammad Tillozoda, wrote on Facebook on February 16 that they believe the child is currently undergoing tests at an oncology center in the capital, Dushanbe, but that they are wary of seeking more information for fear of exposing him to more trouble.
The policy of punishing people for perceived offenses committed by relatives has become standard practice for the Tajik government in recent years.
Several of Kabiri’s close relatives have had travel documents confiscated and have been unable to leave the country since late 2015, when the authorities embarked on a wave of arrests of senior IRPT members. In September that year, the party was declared illegal and later designated a terrorist group following flimsy claims it was linked to an attempted coup attempt.
Two of the Europe-based politician’s daughter-in-laws have said they are afraid to leave the country as they are afraid their parents may face criminal prosecutions in reprisal.
Rights groups have repeatedly sounded the alarm over what they say is the Tajik government’s practice of using its opponents’ relatives as something tantamount to hostages.
“The Tajik government’s vicious campaign of intimidation against dissidents’ relatives is widening and becoming ever more brazen,” Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement in July.
Acts of intimidation against relatives routinely occur after Tajik activist groups based abroad mount pickets at public events attended by Tajik officials. On some occasions, groups of young men have reportedly gathered outside relatives’ homes and pelted them with stones, eggs and tomatoes. Police generally do not intervene.
Writing last month, Shukhrat Rahmatullo, the son of politician Rahmatullo Rajab, who is serving a 28-year jailed term, said that every time he makes a public pronouncement, security services in Tajikistan threaten to torture his father. Rahmatullo, who runs the IRPT’s video production unit, also said that a local imam in the Dushanbe neighborhood where his mother still lives recently visited his family home and threatened to ensure the building was confiscated.
“The imam told my mother that when her property is taken away from her, she would truly understand what life is,” Rahmatullo wrote.
Tajikistan’s government rarely bothers to comment on or deny such allegations.