Human Rights Watch says a prominent Tajik opposition activist was kidnapped, beaten, and tortured in Russia and Tajikistan before he was allowed to return to the Netherlands, where he has refugee status.
HRW's Central Asia researcher, Steve Swerdlow, told RFE/RL on February 4 that Sharofiddin Gadoev, a leading member of the opposition Group 24 movement, was kidnapped in Moscow last month by police and members of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) and handed over to Tajik authorities, who flew him to Tajikistan's capital, Dushanbe.
"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 said, adding that Gadoev also 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.
Gadoev resurfaced in Dushanbe last month from self-imposed exile in the Netherlands and Tajik authorities announced that he returned in Tajikistan on his own will, a claim that Gadoev's colleagues and supporters abroad rejected, saying he was kidnapped.
On March 2, Gadoev appeared on a video live-streamed on a Europe-based Tajik opposition group’s Facebook account and said that he was back in Europe.
The National Alliance of Tajikistan that shared the video said it was live-streamed from Germany's Frankfurt Airport.
Tajik authorities insist Gadoev, 33, returned voluntarily on February 15. They shared a video that shows Gadoev criticizing the opposition and urging other activists to follow suit and return to Tajikistan.
But on February 19, Gadoev’s colleagues published a video recorded earlier by Gadoev in which he said 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."
“If I suddenly appear on the Tajik television or some YouTube channel, saying that I have returned on my own accord -- you must not believe it,” he warned in the footage.
"I am not planning to go to Tajikistan willingly. Never," he added.
The Interior Ministry announced initially that Gadoev has been charged with possession of contraband and forgery.
Swerdlow said that HRW "is happy that Gadoev managed to get back to his loved ones in the Netherlands," adding that it became possible thanks to "timely efforts" by human rights groups, Gadoev's colleagues in exile, the German Embassy in Dushanbe, and the Dutch Foreign Ministry.
According to Swerdlow, Gadoev's release from Tajik custody and safe return to the Netherlands also became possible most likely because he has refugee status in the European Union member state.
"This story, these two crazy weeks in the life of Sharofiddin Gadoev, will continue to resonate. We continue to investigate what happened to him. His rights were violated by different entities, namely by the FSB, GRU (Russian military intelligence), and Interior Ministry in Russia, as well as Alfa (special security forces), OMON (police special forces), and the Interior Ministry in Tajikistan," Swerdlow said.
President Emomali Rahmon, who has ruled Tajikistan since 1992, has been repeatedly criticized for cracking down on dissenters.
Group 24 was labeled as “extremist” in October 2014 and banned after it called for antigovernment protests in Dushanbe and other cities.
Its founder, Umarali Quvatov, was assassinated in Istanbul in March, 2015.