Tajikistan: Opposition Leader Detained in Turkey
An exiled Tajik opposition leader who heads a group Dushanbe classifies as “extremist” has reportedly been detained in Turkey.
Umarali Quvvatov’s wife told RFE/RL’s Tajik service December 20 of a raid on the family’s Istanbul home the day before. She said his passport and computers were confiscated and a group of guests was also detained. Turkish officials have not commented.
Quvvatov is a former oil trader and business partner of Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon’s son-in-law. He now heads the anti-government and social media-savvy Gruppa 24. Though it appears to have little popular following at home in Tajikistan, the group of exiles has made authorities edgy in recent months.
This is the second time Quvvatov has been nabbed by a foreign government, likely at Dushanbe’s request. In December 2012 he was arrested in Dubai on accusations of mass fraud raised by the Rakhmon regime before being released without explanation in September 2013. Quvvatov calls the charges politically motivated.
Quvvatov has applied for asylum in Turkey. Nadejda Atayeva, France-based leader of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, has called on Ankara to respect the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (CRSR). Steve Swerdlow of Human Rights Watch told EurasiaNet.org that HRW “is closely following the situation.”
Quvvatov “faces a serious risk of politically motivated persecution, including torture or other forms of ill-treatment” if returned to Tajikistan, Swerdlow said.
In October, shortly after Quvvatov and his associates called for an anti-government rally in central Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s general prosecutor said that membership of Gruppa 24 would be considered treason and labeled the group “extremist.” Security forces then held a none-too-subtle anti-riot simulation in one of the capital’s main squares. On the day the demonstration was supposed to take place – October 10 – nobody showed up.
While Quvvatov cited Turkish democracy as a model for his group in a Skype conversation with EurasiaNet.org earlier this year, Gruppa 24 has been shy to tell ordinary Tajiks what it would offer in place of the venal Rakhmon clan.
When not calling for revolution, Gruppa 24’s online presence consists mostly of cheap shots directed at the ruling family: Currently their page on the Russian social network Vkontakte displays a photoshopped image of Rakhmon posing as a street beggar in female national dress. Sitting next to his wife and cradling a likeness of his hated son, Rustam, the caption reads: “My children, I shouldn’t have sold our lands off. Where will we ourselves now live?”
Chris Rickleton is a journalist based in Almaty.