On June 16th Alexander Sodiqov, 31, who is a researcher currently working with University of Exeter, was arrested by Tajikistan’s secret services after his interview with a local oppositionist Alim Sherzamonov. Tajik-born Sodiqov, who is also a PhD student at University of Toronto, went to Tajikistan to work on his research titled “Rising powers and conflict resolution in Central Asia” focusing more specifically on peaceful conflict resolution. His arrest has generated a global outrage, as Tajikistan is not making any public statements regarding Sodiqov’s detention and he is being held incommunicado. It still remains unclear whether Alexander is being accused of espionage or high treason.
On 27 of June SOAS University of London hosted a panel discussion on the subject of Sodiqov’s arrest. Panel speakers included Dr John Heathershaw, who is Alexander’s research supervisor and Saule Mukhametrakhimova, Central Asia editor at IWPR. Dr Heathwershaw was also in Tajikistan when Sodiqov was arrested and he is now trying to attract as much public attention as possible while trying to reach out to Tajik authorities. “There haven’t been any public announcements from the Tajik government, so we are not even sure what Alexander is being accused of. Rumours are that he has been accused of high treason. At University of Exeter where Alexander was doing his research, we are collecting documents that will hopefully convince Tajik authorities of the purely academic nature of Sodiqov’s research”, said Dr Heathershaw. It is easy for the Tajik government to keep Sodiqov arrested without making any explanations to the global community, as he is a Tajik citizen. The only somewhat public announcement was a short and heavily edited video of Alexander’s interrogation that was broadcasted in Tajikistan.
“We’ve been doing all we could to make sure that Alexander has a legal representative and gets a fair treatment. We do know that he now has a lawyer and is in good health”, said Dr Heathershaw.
Saule Mukhametrakhimova pointed out that Tajikistan has lately been subject to increased influence from Russia- Tajikistan is planning to join the Eurasian Customs Union which is led by Moscow. “There have recently been so-called “anti-Western” sentiments in Central Asia, especially in Tajikistan. The state is now putting anyone with a faintest connection to the west under intense scrutiny. Academic researchers and journalists have been greatly limited in their freedom to work there. Tajik government is extremely concerned with what happened in Ukraine and they are trying their best to prevent similar events from happening in their country”, said Saule Mukhametrakhimova. The government’s anxiety was triggered by occasional violent outburst in Khorugh that happened in the summer of 2012 and in May of 2014. The outbursts left the authorities of Tajikistan troubled as they see a trace of Western involvement in them. To secure the country from “outside threats” the government is tightening its policies regarding foreigners and people working for foreign companies. These preventive strategies are also a cover-up for Tajikistan’s authoritarian government trying to block its political opponents and securing its power.
“We have all the necessary proof that Alexander’s work in Tajikistan was purely academic. Luckily, there are some sensible people who among the Tajik authorities who understand that Sodiqov’s work was not at all subversive, but there only a few of them. We need more people to take action in order to get our message to the Tajik government”, added John Heathershaw. “We have notified Amnesty International and several other human rights organisations are collecting signatures to send the petition to Tajikistan.”
To get involved, you can sign a petition here or here. To get updates on Alexander’s case and see more resources please visit www.freesodiqov.org , www.scholarsforsodiqov.blogspot.co.uk and http://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/excas/ .