A year ago Germany deported to Tajikistan an activist from that country’s exiled opposition movement who had been living in Dortmund since 2009. What happened next is a shocking example of what can occur when Germany fails to uphold safeguards in its increased efforts to deport unsuccessful asylum seekers. The Bundestag this month gave police greater powers to carry out deportations.
The activist, Abdullohi Shamsiddin, 33, was deported to Tajikistan on January 18 2023. He was detained on arrival by the security services. Two months later he was convicted of trying to overthrow the constitution and jailed for seven years. No credible evidence was presented in an unfair trial.
Tajikistan, a predominantly Musim country of 9.7m people in Central Asia is ruled by one the world’s longest serving autocrats. President Emomali Rahmon has been in power since 1992. He has led a severe crackdown on human rights, especially since 2015, when the main opposition party, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and Group 24, another opposition group, were banned. The European Parliament this month expressed concern over “state repression against independent media” in the country.
Since 2021 the government has brutally suppressed protests in the region of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast, leading to many deaths.
The German government acknowledged the human rights crisis in Tajikistan last year in response to a parliamentary question on Shamsiddin’s case. “Basic freedoms for citizens, especially freedom of speech and freedom of religion are severely restricted in Tajikistan” it said. Members of the IRPT are regularly “jailed and given long prison terms”, the government added.
Shamsiddin’s father, a refugee in Germany, is a senior IRPT member. This made Shamsiddin’s forced return a particularly precious gift for Tajikistan’s authoritarian leaders.
After his detention Shamsiddin was held for over two months in a darkened isolation cell and has been mistreated, according to family members. He has lost weight and has been denied medical care. When a German embassy official visited him, eight prison guards were present.
Dozens of his friends and relatives in Tajikistan have been questioned based on contacts the Tajik authorities retrieved from Shamsiddin’s mobile phone, a device they obtained because German police officials gave it to them. A cousin of Shamsiddin, Saidumar Saidov was jailed last July for six years for a short social media post about Shamsiddin’s case.
Shamsiddin should never have been deported because international law, including multiple treaties to which Germany is bound, prohibits “refoulement”, returning a person to a country where they are at risk of torture or cruel or inhumane treatment.
Shamsiddin, who is married and has two small children, made three unsuccessful asylum applications in Germany. His case is complex. He changed his name after arriving in Germany and has several convictions. Apparently for these reasons local authorities and courts chose not to accept experts on Tajikistan who said it was highly likely he would be detained and mistreated if returned.
German authorities were aware of Shamsiddin’s true identity before he was deported, as officials from the Tajik embassy in Berlin had confirmed this in June 2022. Shamsiddin’s wife, a Tajik citizen, has refugee status in the European Union.
Germany’s decision to deport Shamsiddin had severe consequences as Tajikistan is infamous for pursuing its opponents abroad. Many opposition supporters moved abroad after the crackdown in 2015.
In 2016 HRW published findings pointing to Dushanbe’s strategy of assaulting or kidnapping activists living abroad or seeking their deportation. Since then, deportations to Tajikistan of opposition figures have occurred from many countries including Austria as well as Germany.
The Tajik government regularly interrogates Tajikistan-based relatives of exiled activists, to pressure those activists to halt their campaigns. Last September a group of Tajik activists protested in Berlin at the visit there of president Rahmon. In the following days authorities in Tajikistan questioned around 50 relatives of the protesters in Berlin, detaining some for several days.
Several members of the Bundestag are following Shamsiddin’s case. The German government should urge Tajikistan to end its human rights violations, to release Shamsiddin and allow him to leave the country. Tajikistan is currently seeking closer ties with Europe, so Germany has leverage in its negotiations with Dushanbe, if it is willing to use it.
Berlin should also investigate how Shamsiddin was deported to face a known risk of torture or inhuman treatment, to ensure such incidents do not happen again.
This is urgent. In November another Tajik opposition activist was deported from Germany. Bilal Qurbanaliev was one of the protesters against Rahmon last September. He is now in detention in Tajikistan. And in December a Tajik man was arrested in Germany on terrorism charges. The allegations are serious and should be investigated. But he should not be deported to Tajikistan if there is a danger he could face torture there.
Source: Human Rights Watch