An opposition politician from Tajikistan has reportedly been forcibly handed over to the government in his home country by Turkish authorities in what his supporters say is a violation of international law.
Numonjon Sharipov, a senior representative of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, or IRPT, was allegedly spirited out of Istanbul by Tajik diplomatic staff on February 16.
If confirmed, the episode represents another alarming deployment of extraterritorial justice by Tajikistan’s authorities, who have regularly declined to abide by basic legal norms in their campaign to hunt down foreign-based critics of President Emomali Rahmon’s regime.
IRPT’s official website, Payom, reported that Sharipov was detained on February 4 by Turkish law enforcement officers on suspicion of violating migration laws. Sharipov’s lawyers said that they were told by migration officials on February 16 that their client would be allowed to leave for a third country some days later. But on February 19, they were informed that Sharipov had already left the country.
Payom cited an unnamed witness as saying that Sharipov was taken to the airport in a car belonging to the Tajik consulate. The politician’s associates say Turkish authorities have not presented any evidence of a legitimate deportation order.
Reacting to the reports of the deportation, Human Rights Watch Central Asia researcher Steve Swerdlow wrote on Twitter of concern that Sharipov could face torture in Tajikistan.
Sharipov is a native of Isfara, in northern Tajikistan, where a particularly large number of IRPT faced prosecution. He fled the country before arrest and later opened a Tajik cafe in Istanbul.
Similar extralegal detentions of Tajik political activists have occurred frequently with the connivance of Russian authorities, but this marks something of a precedent for Turkey. Ankara has, however, at times displayed willingness to play along with Dushanbe.
After being forced into exile in 2012 following a business dispute with Rahmon’s son-in-law, an entrepreneur called Umarali Quvvatov founded an opposition group called Group 24. In March 2015, Quvvatov was shot dead by a gunman on the streets of Istanbul. Turkish media initially linked the killing to one Shamsullo Sohibov, a relative of Rahmon’s. It was widely presumed the killing was politically motivated although definitive evidence of this scenario is mostly circumstantial.
When authorities back in Tajikistan began to clamp down on schools and business owned by members of a religious group of Turkish origin run by Fethullah Gulen — who has now become Ankara’s most-wanted — all mention of Sohibov ceased. The scenario suggested Turkey may have traded acquiescence over the Quvvatov case for action against the Gulen movement.
Russia has a well-established track record of enabling illegal extraditions. Among the most notorious cases was that of Maqsood Ibragimov, the now-imprisoned founder of Youth for the Revival of Tajikistan. Ibragimov, a Russian citizenship who had lived in Moscow since the mid-2000s, was grabbed off the streets of Moscow in January 2015, forced onto a plane and flown to Dushanbe, where he was arrested on arrival. He was later sentenced to 17 years in jail on extremism charges.