Belarus frees Tajik opposition activist, grants asylum

By bne IntelliNews February 23, 2016

Belarusian authorities have freed Shabnam Khudoidodova, a Tajik activist of an opposition group called Group 24, and granted her asylum, representatives of a Belarusian human rights activist group, Vyasna, told Radio Ozodi on February 22. Belarus turned down Tajikistan’s requests to extradite her back to her home country.

Khudoidodova’s release was prompted by Vyasna’s online petition as well as due to a prior request by the European Union, calling the Belarusian authorities to turn down Tajikistan’s request. Khudoidodova was arrested by Belarusian authorities in June 2015, when she tried to illegally cross the Russian-Belarusian border, fleeing from Russia after learning that Tajik authorities were planning to capture and extradite her back to Tajikistan for her vocal online activism and calls for democratic reforms in Tajikistan.

Group 24 is an opposition movement, made up of Tajiks in exile, known for calling for a protest in Dushanbe through social media and internet websites in October 2014, forcing the authorities to limit internet and mobile telecommunications to prevent protests. The protest eventually failed and Group 24 was officially labelled as an “extremist” organisation.

Casualties to the movement followed shortly - leader of Group 24, Umarali Quvatov, was shot dead in Istanbul in March. The authorities continued hunting down members of other opposition movements in exile, including Maksud Ibragimov, leader of the Youth for the Revival of Tajikistan movement, who was secretly captured in Russia and brought back to Tajikistan where he is facing 17 years in prison. Khudoidodova learnt that she was next in line after Ibragimov, which forced her to flee Russia.    

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