A prominent Tajik opposition activist says he was abducted, tortured, and forced to appear in propaganda videos before being released amid international pressure on Dushanbe over his case.
Sharoffidin Gadoev made the remarks in a videotaped statement released on March 5, three days after he arrived safely in Europe following what rights groups say was a harrowing ordeal in his home country.
“I was kidnapped in Moscow. I was kidnapped illegally by the Tajik government,” Gadoev, a member of the banned Group 24 opposition movement, said in the video posted on YouTube:
He thanked journalists, human rights groups, and Western governments and diplomats for their efforts to secure his release and return to the Netherlands, where he has refugee status.
“If it hadn’t been for your efforts, I would still be there in captivity,” Gadoev said in the video, shared by the Europe-based opposition National Alliance of Tajikistan.
He said he would reveal more details about his treatment on March 7.
Gadoev, who fled Tajikistan in 2012, resurfaced there in February after a trip to Russia.
Human Rights Watch researcher Steve Swerdlow said on March 4 that Gadoev told him he had been seized by Russian police and handed over to Tajik authorities, who brought him to Dushanbe by plane.
"Now, we know that there was so much violence used against him that when he arrived in Dushanbe [from Moscow], his clothes were soaked with blood," Swerdlow told RFE/RL.
Swerdlow said Gadoev told him that when he tried to call for help at a Moscow airport, Tajik security officers severely beat him and taped his mouth so that he could not shout.
In an interview published on March 6 by the Prague-based Akhbor news agency, Gadoev said that he was given a stark ultimatum by the Tajik authorities in Dushanbe.
“The Tajik security services gave me three choices: They would kill me, or jail me for some 25 years, or I would cooperate with them. To save my own life, I chose the third option,” Gadoev told Akhbor.
And in an interview published on the Eurasianet website on March 6, Gadoev said that he met with the head of the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) “several times” and was told that “we should reinstitute Group 24 inside Tajikistan.”
“I was to become the leader of this group and to create the illusion of an opposition inside the country. We were to be under the direct control of the authorities and we were not to criticize the president or his family,” he said.
Another task for him was to “support” Rustam Emomali, President Emomali Rahmon’s eldest son and mayor of Dushanbe, in the presidential elections scheduled for 2020.
Tajik authorities have claimed that Gadoev, 33, returned to the country voluntarily on February 15. They posted a video that shows Gadoev criticizing the opposition and urging other activists to follow suit and return to Tajikistan.
But Gadoev told Akhbor that the video was made under duress.
“All those videos and photos [issued by Tajik authorities] were staged. I was surrounded by officials at all times and was doing what they instructed me to do,” he said.
“One of their conditions was for me to relocate from Europe," the activist said, adding that he was offered $2 million to keep silent "about what did they do to me in Dushanbe.”
On February 19, the National Alliance posted a video it said was recorded ahead of his trip to Russia:
In that undated footage, Gadoev warned that “if I suddenly appear on the Tajik television or some YouTube channel saying that I have returned of my own accord, you must not believe it.”
He also said in the video that he was traveling to Moscow to meet with officials from Russia’s Security Council to discuss “some problems that have occurred in Tajikistan [and] the situation of Tajik labor migrants."
In his interview with Eurasianet, Gadoev said he was invited by “a person close to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.”
He did not name that person.
On February 21, the Dutch Foreign Ministry said Gadoev had been arrested in Tajikistan on suspicion of “criminal activities,” an allegation linked to his past business activities. Tajik authorities never announced his arrest and have not commented on the Dutch statement.
Tajik officials have also not commented publicly about Gadoev’s return to Europe, which was announced by the National Alliance on March 2 with a video showing him at the Frankfurt airport alongside Muhiddin Kabiri, the leader of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT).
Rahmon, who has ruled Tajikistan since 1992, has long been criticized for his government's crackdown on dissent.
Group 24 was labeled as “extremist” in October 2014 and banned after it called for antigovernment protests in Dushanbe and other cities.
The IRPT, long an influential party with representatives in the government and parliament of the Central Asian country, was labeled a terrorist group and banned in 2015.
Dozens of IRPT officials and supporters have been prosecuted and many of them imprisoned, drawing criticism from human rights groups.
IRPT founder Umarali Quvatov was assassinated in Istanbul in March 2015.