Tajik Activist Says He Was Pressed To Back President’s Son In 2020 Election
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AMSTERDAM -- A prominent opposition activist who claimed to have been abducted and tortured by Tajik officials last month says he was pressed to back President Emomali Rahmon's eldest son in the presidential election scheduled for 2020.
Sharofiddin Gadoev, a member of the banned Group 24 opposition movement, was speaking on March 7 at a press conference in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where he has refugee status.
The activist told reporters that the chairman of the State Committee for National Security, Saimumin Yatimov, had told him that "there are 17 former members of Group 24 who returned to Tajikistan. You will lead this group and support Rustam Emomali in the 2020 presidential election."
Rahmon has ruled Tajikistan with an iron fist since 1992, suppressing dissent and persecuting political opponents.
Many Tajiks believe he may present his 31-year-old son, who was named mayor of Dushanbe at the age of 29, as his favored successor.
Rahmon, 66, has not announced whether he will seek another term and officials have not commented on whether his son will run.
Gadoev, who fled Tajikistan in 2012, resurfaced there in February after a trip to Russia.
He told RFE/RL that he was abducted in Moscow by Russian police officers who handcuffed him, taped his mouth shut, and placed a plastic bag over his head.
Gadoev said the men beat him inside a minivan before driving him to a Moscow airport and handing him over to Tajik officials. He said they took a Tajik-owned Somon Air flight to Dushanbe.
The activist claimed that he was also beaten inside the plane by two Tajik police officers and three alleged Somon Air crew members who also confiscated his documents, mobile phone, credit cards, and money "without any court decision or witness."
Gadoev showed the blood-stained shirt he said he was wearing when he arrived in Dushanbe.
Upon his arrival, Gadoev said he was taken to a "basement of the Interior Ministry," where he was beaten again. Gadoev added that he was told to cooperate with Tajik authorities or face death or imprisonment.
"'You'll cooperate with us and we will let you be partly free.... You'll be following our orders,'" Gadoev said he was told.
Tajik authorities have claimed that Gadoev, 33, returned to the country voluntarily on February 15. They posted a video showing Gadoev criticizing the opposition and urging other activists to return to Tajikistan.
But Gadoev said the video was made under duress: I was exhausted afterall the beatings, the long flight, lack of sleep. I was tired mentally and physically and was just repeating to the camera what they were telling me to say.
The activist added that he told the officials he would cooperate because it was the only way to let his colleagues in Europe know he had been abducted and taken to Tajikistan.
On February 19, the Europe-based opposition National Alliance of Tajikistan posted a video it said was recorded ahead of Gadoev's 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.
Gadoev told RFE/RL that he was invited to Moscow by high-ranking Russian officials who promised to allow the Tajik opposition to engage in political activity in Russia. He didn't give any names.
His mother and sister have also appeared in several videos, which the activist said were also made under pressure from Tajik officials.
Gadoev thanked journalists, human right activists, as well as Western governments and diplomats for their efforts to secure his release and return to the Netherlands.
He urged them to continue to press the Tajik government to free numerous political prisoners held in the country.
Group 24 was labeled as extremist in October 2014 and banned after it called for antigovernment protests in Dushanbe and other cities.
The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (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.
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.