Don't Send Activist Back to Tajikistan in Belarus

Human Rights Watch

(Berlin, March 21, 2023) - The government of Belarus should not forcibly return Nizomiddin Nasriddinov, a Tajik political activist with refugee status in Germany, to Tajikistan, nine organizations including Human Rights Watch said in a statement today.

Nasriddinov is an outspoken activist in Group 24, an opposition political movement established in 2011 that promotes democratic reforms in Tajikistan. Since 2011, the group's members have used social media to criticize government policies and advocate for change. In late 2014, Tajikistan's Supreme Court designated Group 24 a terrorist organization, making membership or association with the movement a criminal offense.

"In Tajikistan, Nasriddinov faces a serious risk of arbitrary detention and torture on the basis of his political beliefs," said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "His extradition would violate Belarus's international obligations prohibiting anyone's return to a country where they face a real risk of torture."

In October 2015, Nasriddinov and his family moved to Germany, where they were recognized as refugees in April 2017, and have been living ever since. Nasriddinov has appeared publicly in several international forums, raising awareness of and criticizing the human rights record and political situation in Tajikistan.

In November 2017, Tajik authorities put Nasriddinov on an international wanted list after opening a criminal case against him under Article 307-1 of the Tajikistan Criminal Code ("public calls for extremist activities"). The case cites Nasriddinov's Facebook reposts of content from Group 24 and the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, another opposition party banned in 2015, as well as a YouTube video in which Nasriddinov criticizes Tajikistan's president and government.

On January 8, 2023, Belarusian authorities detained Nasriddinov at the request of Tajikistan's authorities as he attempted to cross the border from Lithuania to Belarus for personal travel.

On February 21, the Belarus Prosecutor General's Office decided to extradite Nasriddinov to Tajikistan. The decision states that Article 307-1 of Tajikistan's Criminal Code corresponds to Article 361 of the Belarus Criminal Code ("public calls for actions aimed at harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus"). The existence of the same offense in both countries' laws provides a formal ground for extradition based on a multilateral agreement on legal cooperation that includes Tajikistan and Belarus.

On March 1, Nasriddinov filed an appeal, which is expected to be considered in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, Nasriddinov is detained in Prison N1 in Hrodna.

When making the initial decision to extradite Nasriddinov, the Prosecutor General's Office did not take into consideration his refugee status in Germany, nor the serious risk of torture, unfair trial, and politically motivated persecution in Tajikistan. In his appeal, Nasriddinov also stated that after one of his relatives was forcibly returned to Tajikistan in 2017, he was sentenced to long-term imprisonment on politically motivated grounds.

Belarus is a party to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which prohibits the expulsion, return (refoulment), or extradition of a person to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing that they would be in danger of torture. This principle is also incorporated into Belarusian law.

Research and reporting by independent international organizations, including Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International, draw attention to the increasing persecution of human rights defenders and activists in Tajikistan, as well as the cruel and inhumane conditions of their detention and numerous cases of torture.

In December 2022, after her visit to Tajikistan, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, highlighted the extreme vulnerability of human rights defenders in the country. They are harshly persecuted for carrying out legitimate activities to promote human rights, sentenced to long-term imprisonment in unfair trials, and subjected to unbearable conditions of imprisonment.

"Belarus authorities should abide by their international legal obligations with respect to the absolute prohibition on torture, and reverse their decision on Nasriddinov's extradition to Tajikistan where he would face real risk of persecution and ill-treatment," Williamson said. "Nasriddinov should be immediately released so he can return to Germany."

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