Civil society calls on Tajikistan to immediately release Alexander Sodiqov

The Civic Solidarity Platform, a coalition of more than 60 human rights NGOs across the OSCE region, expresses its strongest concern about the arrest of and allegations against Mr. Alexander Sodiqov in Tajikistan and urges authorities of Tajikistan to immediately release Mr. Sodiqov and refrain from bringing charges against him.

Mr. Sodiqov, a scholar affiliated with the Universities of Toronto and Exeter, was detained while carrying out research for an academic project in the town of Khorog, Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Republic in the southeast of Tajikistan on 16 June 2014. Alexander Sodiqov is a citizen of Tajikistan, and a promising academic currently pursuing his doctoral degree.

Following his arrest by the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) of Tajikistan, Mr. Sodiqov was transferred to the Tajik capital Dushanbe, where he is currently held in the custody of the security services on Tursunzade Street 140. A criminal investigation has been opened against him, the GKNB citing suspicions of espionage/treason as the basis for the case. These allegations imply prison sentences from 12 to 20 years in Tajikistan.

The remote Gorno-Badakhshan region holds a particular status in Tajikistan, requiring foreign visitors to obtain a permit from the security services before travelling to the area. However, international organizations and research institutes have long been established in the regional capital Khorog. As such, the region sees more foreign visitors than many other parts of Tajikistan.

Tragically, the area became the object of increased international attention following violent clashes in July 2012. These events were investigated and described in a report published by the Civic Solidarity Platform in October 2013.

As an academic researcher, Mr. Sodiqov was carrying out sociological surveys and interviews in Khorog on the request of fellow academics at the University of Exeter, UK. The University of Exeter is considered one of the top universities in the world, ranking as number 153 internationally, and serving almost 16,000 students. Academic research on this level demands broad objectivity, which easily explains why Mr. Sodiqov included persons known to be in opposition to the central government in his list of interviewees while carrying out his research in Khorog. It does not indicate any affiliation to opposition groups, armed or otherwise, by Mr. Sodiqov himself.

Mr. Sodiqov has received vast support from colleagues and friends in the international academic community across the world, many of whom know Mr. Sodiqov personally and who are familiar with his research. Following Mr. Sodiqov’s arrest, gatherings in his support have taken place at European, American, Australian and Central Asian universities, including London, Canberra, Washington DC, Exeter, Toronto, Paris, Freiburg, Astana, Bishkek, Heidelberg and Ankara.

There is a relatively small circle of academics who specialize on Central Asia and who regularly publish scientific papers and books on subjects relating to the specifics of the region – typically issues such as border disputes, armed conflicts and the particular role of the five Central Asian republics on the global map, but also poverty, health and democratic development.

While the security services of Tajikistan may not be the immediate target group of such publications, they are widely read by stakeholders in the international community, including the United Nations, who rely on academic publications like those produced by Mr. Sodiqov and his colleagues for context and background when allocating development aid, of which Tajikistan is a major recipient.

Members of the Civic Solidarity Platform have raised human rights violations with the government of Tajikistan for years – including issues such as freedom of speech, women’s rights, freedom of religion or belief, as well as the widespread use of torture, to name but a few of the most pressing current concerns.

Considering the funds that have been provided by the international community to develop Tajikistan’s educational system and its other pressing needs, the country’s government would be ill-advised to include academic freedom to this growing list of human rights concerns. Indeed, academic freedom is one the core elements of freedom of expression and falls under protection of major international human rights treaties that Tajikistan is a party to and has obligations under.

The Civic Solidarity Platform calls on the government of Tajikistan to immediately release Alexander Sodiqov, drop all charges against him, let him continue his academic research unhindered, and reunite with his family.