Human rights watchdogs have called on several European Union (EU) countries and Turkiye top refrain from sending Tajik dissidents taking shelter in their countries back to Tajikistan.

Several people based in Lithuania, Poland, and Turkiye, linked to a banned Tajik opposition movement, Group 24, have in recent months disappeared or have been arrested and threatened with extradition to Tajikistan, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) said in a statement on April 16. 

“Tajikistan should unequivocally end its decade-long hunt of perceived critics abroad, especially those related to Group 24 and other banned groups,” said Syinat Sultanaliyeva, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.  “The EU and Turkiye should protect opposition activists and refrain from returning them to Tajikistan, a country known for engaging in transnational repression, where they risk being tortured.”

HRW has recently published a report on transnational repression – targeting of critics abroad by repressive governments – that includes several cases of members of Group 24, both former and active, who had fled the country only to be targeted by the Tajik government,  seeking their arrest and extradition to Tajikistan on charges of terrorism or extremism-related activities.

In addition to Lithuania and Poland, other European Union members, such as Austria, Germany, and Slovakia, have in recent years returned or threatened to return Tajik asylum seekers to Tajikistan despite credible evidence of their risk of being tortured. Upon their arrival in Tajikistan, those deported from the EU member states have been jailed, according to the statement.

The statement emphasizes that the United Nations Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 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 being tortured.  The European Convention on Human Rights reportedly also incorporates this ban as an element of the prohibition on torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.  All EU member countries and Turkiye are party to both treaties. This principle is also incorporated into Lithuanian, Polish, and Turkish domestic law, according to the statement.