Tajik authorities are cracking down on the autonomous region of Gorno-Badakhshan (GBAO) this month as fallout from the region’s widespread protests in November 2021 continues to impact the already-tumultuous regional situation.
In recent weeks, a number of GBAO residents—including informal local leader Mahmadboqir Mahmadboqirov—have been arrested and charged with “inciting ethnic hatred” in addition to other crimes. These charges are being met with a shared sense of “unease and uncertainty” among GBAO natives, also known as Pamiris, who anxiously await the Tajik government’s “next step against [them].”
Gorno-Badakhshan is a remote Eastern region of Tajikistan home to the ethnically and religiously distinct Pamiri people. Tensions between Pamiris and Tajiks have existed since 1992 when GBAO leaders attempted to gain independence from Tajikistan during the Tajik Civil War. There have been several clashes since, including deadly skirmishes in 2012 and 2014.
In November 2021, anti-government protests broke out again in the GBAO capital, Khorog, following a local man’s death at the hands of regional policemen. In response to the rallies, which left several dead, the Tajik government shut down internet access (both mobile and fixed-line) to the entire region, a move strongly condemned by human rights groups worldwide.
Internet access has remained unavailable since then and the recent arrests have only intensified regional hostilities. In early January, Amriddin Alovatshoev, a GBAO migrant leader living in Russia, was detained by Russian authorities after allegedly organizing protests in Moscow and was held secretly for several weeks.
Although Tajikistan’s Prosecutor General confirmed on February 2 that Alovatshoev was moved into a Tajik holding center, experts and Alovatshoev’s lawyer are calling the three weeks of unaccounted detention a “forced disappearance” on the part of the Tajik government.
Alovatshoev’s family, in coordination with lawyers from the Civil Society Coalition against Torture and Impunity in Tajikistan, have repeatedly requested information on Alovatshoev’s current location since that February 2 announcement but have received none. Without knowing Alovatshoev’s whereabouts, the charges against him, or even his physical condition, some fear Alovatshoev is being mistreated or tortured.