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Tajikistan: Dissident Flees Russia

In 2003, Georgia had its Rose Revolution. In 2004, Ukraine had its Orange Revolution. And in 2005 Kyrgyzstan had its Tulip Revolution.

These “revolutions” managed to shift the politics of their respective countries, and many democracy activists believed the pattern might be extended to other countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In the end, the new political forces fell into familiar tracks, and the rest of the Central Asian leaders took the lesson that they should crack down on democracy movements before they start (the worst example being the massacre in Andijon, Uzbekistan.)

That didn't stop Dodojon Atovulloev/Atoullo, a Tajik journalist who has published a Tajik-language newspaper in Russia since the 1990s, from declaring in 2007 that he was forming a new movement called “Vatandor” (“Patriot”) which he hoped would would eventually result in a “Violet Revolution.” He claimed he would be able to challenge the Rahmon government by appealing to the thousands of Tajiks living and working in Russia. Those expat Tajiks contribute a significant portion of the economy of Tajikistan through their remittances.

The state prosecutor of Tajikistan recently announced charges of slander and “destabilizing the country,” and there was speculation that the charges would become a pretext to request Atovulloev's extradition from Russia.

Atovolloev, who had resided in Moscow but possessed a residency permit for Germany, fled Moscow on a plane to Paris. In an interview with Darius at A Dervish [tj], he explains that he chose a flight to Paris because he thought that the Russian government might be expecting him to fly to Germany. Western press agencies were also invited to videotape his departure, in the hope that their presence would prevent his arrest or detention.

The journalist has had his ups and downs with the government of Tajikistan. In 1992, the government sought to prosecute him for meetings with the opposition coalition that fought against Rahmon in the Tajik civil war of the 1990s. In 1998, the prosecutor charged him with libeling the president. In 2001, Atovulloev was arrested at the airport in Moscow, although he was later released.

Then, in 2002, as part of a general amnesty, the Tajik government pardoned Atovulloev and invited him back to Tajikistan as part of an effort to promote reconciliation and garner international credibility. He cut his first visit back to Tajikistan short, claiming that he had been followed and threatened. He returned to Moscow and continued to publish his newspaper, “Charogh-i Ruz” (“Daily Beacon”).

In his most recent interview, Atovulloev says that the Tajik government tried to woo him back to Tajikistan, but that he refused:

Atovullo revealed that representatives of the Rahmon administration approached him in 2007 to explore a political deal. “Last year, Rahmon’s closest aids negotiated with me almost for six months,” he said. “They tried to convince me to return to Tajikistan, to get a portfolio or pocket a huge sum of money in exchange for my silence. After I gave them cold shoulder they resumed my criminal case.”

Also in his interview with Darius, he asserts that democratic voices are the only thing that can restrain a religious backlash:

Another misfortune is that if the remaining democratic forces in Tajikistan are defeated, there's a 100% chance of a Tajik Taliban entering the political arena, or that they would win a victory. Today we see that the youth of Tajikistan don't have anywhere to go but to the mosque to sit at the foot of demagogic mullahs. This is a lost generation.

As of today, there is little evidence of a wide-scale Islamic political movement in Tajikistan, mostly because of the strict measures the Rahmon regime has applied to the religious establishment. How accurate Atovulloev's assessment is, and how influential his voice is, is hard to gauge. But the Rahmon government clearly sees him as a large enough threat to direct so much public attention at him.

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