Austria Extradites Tajik Asylum Seeker, Ignoring Activists’ Warnings

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DUSHANBE -- Austrian authorities have extradited a Tajik asylum seeker to Tajikistan on Dushanbe's request despite warnings from activists that the man may face torture and an unfair judicial process there.

The Tajik Prosecutor-General's Office said in a March 5 statement that Hizbullo Shovalizoda was arrested upon arrival at Dushanbe's airport following his extradition.

According to the statement, Shovalizoda is suspected of being a member of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and participating in an attempt to overthrow the government by force.

The IRPT, long an influential party with representatives in the government and parliament, 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.

The IRPT said on March 6 that Shovalizoda had never been one of its members.

"Shovalizoda is most likely to be subjected to torture, ill-treatment, and unfair trial. He, as in previous similar situations, may be forced to testify against himself and other people under torture," the party said in a statement.

Exiled Tajik opposition activists told RFE/RL that they had urged Austrian authorities not to extradite Shovalizoda, as he was not a member of any political opposition group or party.

Shovalizoda has not commented on his case but Vaisaiddin Odinaev, a Tajik political activist abroad, told RFE/RL on February 27 that the 29-year-old arrived in Austria a year ago but was not granted asylum as he sought, but instead was placed under arrest on January 22.

According to Odinaev, although Shovalizoda is not a member of any political party, he used to be a supporter of the United Tajik opposition and openly supports the National Alliance of Tajikistan (PMT), which unites several Tajik opposition political parties and movements in exile.

In October, Tajikistan's Supreme Court labeled PMT a terrorist and extremist organization.

The PMT was established in Warsaw in September 2018 at a gathering of Tajik opposition activists living in various countries of the European Union.

Tajik authorities have been criticized for cracking down on dissent for years.

In 2014, the opposition movement Group 24 was labeled as terrorist and extremist and banned. In March 2015, the movement's founder, Umarali Quvatov, was assassinated in Istanbul, Turkey

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