HRW, Norwegian NGO urge Turkey not to return Tajik dissidents

Turkish FM Hakan Fidan shaking hands with his Tajik counterpart Sirojiddin Muhriddin in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, Jan 2024 (Photo: AA)

Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee on Tuesday released a statement expressing concern over the recent disappearance of several people linked to Group 24, a political opposition movement banned in Tajikistan, calling on Turkey, along with Poland and Lithuania, not to return dissidents to the Central Asian country.

“Tajikistan has for the last decade sought the extradition of exiled activists in other countries, some of whom also have been killed or forcibly disappeared,” the statement read. “Host governments should not deport the people concerned to Tajikistan because of the risk of torture and should respect Tajik asylum seekers’ full due process rights, including not arbitrarily detaining them at the behest of unfounded and politically motivated requests by the Tajik government.”

Two senior figures in Group 24, Nasimjon Sharifov and Sukhrob Zafar, disappeared in Turkey in February and March, respectively, according to the statement.

“Both had previously been detained by the Turkish police in March 2018 at the request of Tajik authorities and threatened with extradition but were eventually released.

“They had recently told family and colleagues that they were receiving regular threats from Tajik intelligence services,” the statement said. “Neither man’s whereabouts is currently known. Friends and colleagues are concerned that they may have been forcibly disappeared by either or both Tajik and Turkish authorities and extrajudicially removed to Tajikistan.”

Due to a geographical limitation Turkey previously imposed on the Geneva Convention on refugees, people from Asian and Middle Eastern countries are unable to enjoy refugee status in the country.

While asylum seekers from Syria are granted a provisional status called “temporary protection,” other nationals often find themselves in an even more precarious situation.

In recently published reports on transnational repression, Turkey has been described as the scene of transnational repression carried out by countries like Iran and China, in addition to being a prolific perpetrator.

In these reports, the name of Tajikistan has come up in the context of allegations that Turkey had deported to Tajikistan a Uyghur woman named Zinnetgul Tursun and her two children who later ended up in China where the Turkic Muslim minority group has for years been suffering from Beijing’s genocidal repression.

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