Nine human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, issued a joint statement calling on the government of Belarus to stop forcibly returning Nizomiddin Nasriddinov, a Tajik political activist with refugee status in Germany, to Tajikistan.
Nasriddinov is a Tajik activist from Group 24, an opposition political movement formed in 2011 that advocates democratic reforms in Tajikistan. Since 2011, members of the group have been using social media to criticize the government and demand change. At the end of 2014, the Supreme Court of Tajikistan recognized the “Group 24” as a terrorist organization and since then, membership or any connection with the movement has been qualified as a crime.
“Given Nasriddinov’s political beliefs, he faces a serious threat of arbitrary detention and torture in Tajikistan,” Hugh Williamson , Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “His extradition will be a violation of Belarus’ international obligations, which prohibit the return of someone to the country if a person faces a real threat of torture in this country.
In October 2015, Nasriddinov and his family moved to Germany, where they received refugee status in April 2017 and have been living there ever since. Nasriddinov has spoken publicly at several international forums, speaking about human rights violations and criticizing the political situation in Tajikistan.
After initiating a criminal case against Nasriddinov under article 307-1 of the Criminal Code of Tajikistan (“public calls for extremist activity”) in November 2017, the authorities put him on the international wanted list. He is charged with reposting on Facebook the content of the Group 24 and the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan banned in 2015, as well as a YouTube video in which Nasriddinov criticizes the president and government of Tajikistan.
Belarusian authorities detained Nasriddinov at the request of the Tajik authorities on January 8, 2023, when he was crossing the border from Lithuania to Belarus.
On February 21, 2023, the Prosecutor General’s Office of Belarus decided to extradite Nasriddinov to Tajikistan. The decision states that Article 307-1 of the Criminal Code of Tajikistan corresponds to Article 361 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (“public calls for actions aimed at causing harm to the national security of the Republic of Belarus”). Based on a multilateral legal cooperation agreement between Tajikistan and Belarus, the presence of the same offense in the legislation of both countries is a formal condition for extradition.
Nasriddinov filed an appeal on March 1, 2023, which is expected to be considered in the coming weeks. Until the trial, Nasriddinov is being held in SIZO No. 1 in Grodno.
In his appeal, Nasriddinov said that the Prosecutor General’s Office, when deciding on his extradition, did not take into account either his refugee status in Germany or the serious risks of torture, unfair trial and politically motivated persecution in Tajikistan. In particular, his relative was sentenced to a long prison term for political reasons after he was extradited to Tajikistan in 2017.
Belarus is a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Convention prohibits the expulsion, return or extradition of a person to another state if there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she would be in danger of being subjected to torture. This principle is also contained in Belarusian legislation.
Studies and reports from independent international organizations, including Freedom House , Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International , draw attention to the increased persecution of human rights defenders in Tajikistan, numerous cases of torture, and cruel and inhuman conditions of detention.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, after her visit to Tajikistan in December 2022, stressed that human rights defenders in the country are extremely vulnerable. They are severely persecuted for their legitimate activities to promote human rights, sentenced to lengthy prison terms in unfair trials and held in intolerable conditions of detention.
“Belarusian authorities must respect their international commitments to the absolute prohibition of torture and reverse their decision to extradite Nasriddinov, where he will face a real risk of persecution and ill-treatment,” Williamson says. Nasriddinov must be released immediately so that he can return to Germany.”