Numerous Russian news outlets reported on December 8 that authorities had arrested internationally wanted Tajikistani terrorist Abdulvosit Latipov in the Urals town of Chelyabinsk.The Russian Federal Security Service’s (FSB) charge sheet is breathtaking.It claims that along with a number of associates, Latipov was responsible for 43 killings, including 19 Russian servicemen, a Tajikistani prosecutor-general, an industry minister, and four investigators of the Interior Directorate in the town of Vakhdat.Curiously, the very sparse Interpol wanted notice, issued at Dushanbe’s behest, lists his offences as just kidnapping and theft. Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda says that after training at militant Islamist camps in Iran and Afghanistan in the 1990s, he served as protection for drug traffickers supplying heroin to St. Petersburg in 1996-97. In 1998, his gang kidnapped the deputy chairman of Tajikistan’s National Bank and kept him hostage in Dushanbe for 40 days before releasing him in exchange for $800,000.Since 2004, he has been living in Chelyabinsk working as a vegetable trader under an assumed identity, the paper says. That life history is almost certainly identical to any number of Tajik former fighters, but for one detail. From 1997 to 2001, Latipov worked as the bodyguard to United Tajik Opposition leader Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda when he served as deputy prime minister.And that is where the story gets ugly.Speaking to RFE/RL, Turajonzoda -- who is widely respected at home -- insisted that Latipov was no criminal, but one of the United Tajik Opposition 5,000 fighters amnestied by President Emomali Rakhmon in 1999.The arrest, Turajonzoda says, appears part an official campaign against him in retaliation for his increasing criticism of the government.In an interview with Tajik-language newspaper Farazh early last year, Turajonzoda broke an unspoken rule by vigorously criticizing the ruling regime, reports Ferghana.ru (which also reproduces Latipov’s letter of amnesty). The criticism appears to have incited a full-blown smear campaign in the domestic press.For example, this is a segment from an article about Latipov published last month in Tajik-language newspaper Tojikiston (as translated into Russian by Ferghana.ru):
“Every brick, every table, every slat, every rug in the mosques of Tajikistan were bought with money earned through criminal means. ... The Islamism and religiosity of these people is connected more with worldly temptations than with faith. If it were not so, the disciples of Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda would not be murderers, terrorists and criminals. … These are the disciples that surrounded this teacher and earned his appreciation and admiration."
The article was signed by Jamshed Hasan, who Ferghana.ru can't find and says is most likely a figment of the Tajikistani security services’ imagination. The newspaper’s editors have reportedly refused to provide any further details about the author’s identity.In a fiery reply published in the same newspaper, Turajonzoda plaintively defended himself against the charges, refuting the allegation that Latipov was ever his disciple:
“This is the fifth slanderous article about me that you have published in recent years. I have repeatedly stressed that you have no cause to be afraid, I will not return to politics. I am not a member of any party and do not support any political movements. I only beg you to let me and my brothers live in peace in their homeland, because we too have a right to live on this earth.”
In short, the picture that emerges here is of Tajikistan’s authorities exercising yet another channel of harassment against the utterly marginalized opposition. The struggle for authority in Tajikistan is evolving ever more surely into a zero-sum game where there can be only unchallenged power and a totally vanquished opposition.