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Regime Critic Goes Missing in Tajikistan

Over the last ten days, journalists and internet users in Tajikistan have actively discussed the ‘disappearance’ of a Tajik opposition leader from a Dubai-based detention center. Meanwhile, they have largely ignored another recent disappearance of an outspoken critic of the regime within the country itself. Salim Shamsiddinov, 58, has been missing since he left his house in the southern city of Qurghonteppa early in the morning on March 15.

Critic of the regime

Shamsiddinov has served as the leader of the local Uzbek community in Khatlon province, southern Tajikistan, and as deputy leader of the countrywide Uzbek community since 2004. A lawyer by profession, he was largely unknown to people in the country before he alleged, in early 2012, that the Tajik government was no less responsible than neighboring Uzbekistan for straining relationships between the two Central Asian republics. The authorities in Tajikistan always blame the neighboring republic for the rift in bilateral relations. Shamsiddinov also criticized the Tajik government for pursuing the controversial Roghun Dam project and discriminating against Uzbeks, the largest ethnic minority in the country.

Salim Shamsiddinov (Image courtesy of RFE/RL, 2012).

Salim Shamsiddinov (Image courtesy of RFE/RL, 2012).

Following these statement, Shamsiddinov was beaten up severely in May 2012. The authorities have not been able to identify the individuals who attacked him although the beatings took place across the road from the provincial office of the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) in Qurghonteppa. Shamsiddinov himself alleged that the attack must have been ordered by “important people” as an attempt to silence him.

In early 2013, Shamsiddinov joined a number of opposition politicians in demanding that the country's Election Law be amended in order to make the electoral competition fair. Moreover, he urged the country's ethnic Uzbeks to vote for Rahmatillo Zoirov, the leader of the opposition Social-Democratic Party (SDPT), in the upcoming presidential elections. Effectively, this meant urging his ethnic kin to vote against Tajikistan's veteran president Emomali Rahmon who would be seeking reelection for another term during the contest in November.

Several days after Shamsiddinov went missing, the authorities announced that they did not know his whereabouts. The police announced they could not find any signs of kidnapping. Zoirov, however, has alleged [tj] that Shamsiddinov was detained by the Tajik security services because of his political statements. On March 25, Amnesty International announced that Shamsiddinov's disappearance might have been “a politically motivated abduction”. The authorities have denied any role in the disappearance.

Rare reactions

Internet users in Tajikistan have largely missed the disappearance of Shamsiddinov. There have been no reactions among the country's bloggers, and very little discussion on Facebook. Of those few people who have noticed the disappearance, most seem to have little concern for Shamsiddinov.

In a comment under the initial report about the incident on Radio Ozodi's website, ‘Spitamen’ wrote [tj]:

Чи даркор хамин кадар вохимахо.. як бори дигар ба назарам ин шахс нопадид шуда буд ва боз ёфт шуд.. “Аз МАГАС фил назозед” Мумкин ба ягон чой ба мехмони рафтааст..

Stop this hysteria… I think this person had gone missing before and was found. Don't make a mountain out of a molehill. Maybe he is just visiting some friends…

Another person, under the name ‘Folbin', added [tj]:

Дар арафаи Навруз ба сахро гулчини рафтаги. Меведе хушру биков, яке гург нахурда боша ин узбаки бечорара

He must have gone to the field to gather some flowers for Nowruz. Search better and you will find him, unless a wolf has eaten the poor Uzbek.

Many other comments under the article are openly nationalistic and critical of Shamsiddinov, the ethnic ‘other'. Sarboz wrote [tj], for example:

Кор ба чое расидааст, ки узбак дар даруни Точикистон зидди идеяхои милли (сохтани гесси Рогун) шудааст.ки гуе ин ба фоидаи Узбакистон набудааст. Агар дар Узбакистон як точик чунин чуръат кунад.уро чи кор мекунанд? Пусташро мекананд

We've come to a point where an Uzbek in Tajikistan speaks against national ideas (such as the Roghun Dam). He says the project is harmful to Uzbekistan. If a Tajik acted in such a bold way in Uzbekistan, what would happen to him? They would take his skin off.

Another person, ‘Rustam', chipped in [tj]:

Нопадид шудааст такдираш будаст чи чои бахс аст… Ин Ватан сохиб дорад ва сохибаш Точик аст

He's gone missing, it was his fate, no doubt about it… This country has a master, and the master is the Tajik.

‘Haqiqai Talkh’ added [tj]:

Шамсиддинов аз меъёр зиёд мухолифи кишвари мо буд ва Узбакистонро, ки боре надидааст таъриф мекарду ҷонибдори аз Каримов мекард.

Shamsiddinov was too critical of our country; he praised Uzbekistan which he had never seen and supported [Uzbek President Islam] Karimov.

Several other readers, however, urged their fellow Tajiks to be more tolerant of the ethnic minority. An anonymous user asked [tj]:

Ajoib, charo in qadar dar borai in odam va umuman uzbekhoi Tojikiston badbin hasted?

I wonder why you all are so hateful of this person and of Tajikistan's Uzbeks in general.

‘Bemakon’ wrote [tj]:

Ин посуххоро мехонаму нафратам нисбати миллати худ зиёд мегардад! Хой, мардум, наход ки мо то ин андоза миллатчи бошем? Узбак хаст вай, точик ва ё гайра, чи фарк дорад? Шахрванди Точикистон хаст ва асосаш ИНСОН хаст! Агар акидаву андешахои шахс нисбати дигарон фарк кунад, пас уро якумра хабс бояд кард, ё несту нобуд? Бояд эхтиром нисбати ШАХСИЯТРО омузем ва шояд он гох ба хурмату иззати бегонагон сазовор гардем…

I read these comments and I begin to hate my own nation! Hey, people, are we really so nationalistic? Why does it matter whether he is an Uzbek or a Tajik? He is a citizen of Tajikistan, but most importantly he is a HUMAN BEING! Do you think we should imprison a person for voicing personal opinions? Or eliminate the person? No, we should learn to respect people because of their PERSONALITY; this will earn us respect from other people…

And Tojikbacha added [tj]:

Ин тавр нагуед мардум, охир у ба хеч кадоми шумо бадие накардааст. У пеш аз хама ба касе падар, шавхар е бародар аст ва баъд сиесатмадор. Онхо мутмаинам об аз гулуашон намегузарад. Худованд саломат бошаду ба назди оилааш баргардад.

People, stop writing [hateful] comments; the person didn't do any harm to any of you. He is, first of all, somebody's father, husband, or brother, and only then is he a politician. I am sure his family is suffering now. I pray that he returns to his family healthy.

The responses show that xenophobic attitudes run deep within Tajik society. Bloggers have recently criticized the rise of religious intolerance and negative attitudes towards ethnic minorities among social media users in Tajikistan.

The disappearance that wasn't

Meanwhile, Umarali Quvvatov, the exiled Tajik opposition politician who had allegedly “disappeared” from a detention center in Dubai ten days ago, has been “found”. His lawyer Nikolay Nikolaev posted [ru] on Twitter on March 26:

@NikoDN Умарали Кувватов- ЖИВ!

@NikoDN Umarali Quvvatov is ALIVE!

He added [ru]:

@NikoDN Только что вышел со мной на связь.По его словам сидит в зиндане в полной информационной блокаде.Считает что [власти Дубая] это сделали в угоду тадж.властям.

@NikoDN He has just been in touch with me. He says he is held in a solitary cell, deprived of any communication with the outside world. He believes the Dubai authorities did this at the request of the Tajik authorities.

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