Radio Free Europe

RFE/RL journalists report the news in 22 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established, including Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Russia.

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Jailed Tajik Activist's Relative Arrested, Accused Of Financing Protests In Volatile Region.

Oraz Vazirbekov and his brother were abducted from Moscow in July amid a crackdown on activists from their native region.

Oraz Vazirbekov and his brother were abducted from Moscow in July amid a crackdown on activists from their native region.

KHORUGH, Tajikistan -- Tajik authorities have arrested a relative of jailed activist Oraz Vazirbekov on suspicion of financially supporting protests in the volatile Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region.

Vazirbekov's relatives told RFE/RL on November 21 that the activist's son-in-law, Tohir Abdolbekov, had been arrested last week. They added that he had nothing to do with the protests, and had not played any financial role in them.
A regional official confirmed to RFE/RL that Abdolbekov had been arrested but refused to give any further details. Vazirbekov and his brother, Ramzi Vazirbekov, were sentenced to 16 years and 13 years in prison, respectively, earlier this month on charges of calling for the forcible change of the constitutional order and being members of an extremist group. The Vazirbekov brothers, who reject the charges, were forcibly taken to Tajikistan from Moscow in July amid a crackdown on activists from their native region that started after mass protests in the volatile region in May were violently dispersed by police and security forces. Tajik authorities have said 10 people were killed and 27 injured during the clashes between protesters and police. Residents of the remote region's Rushon district, however, have told RFE/RL 21 bodies were found at the sites where the clashes took place.

Deep tensions between the government and residents of the restive region have simmered ever since a five-year civil war broke out shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Still, protests are rare in the tightly controlled country of 9.5 million, where President Emomali Rahmon has ruled with an iron fist for nearly three decades.
The latest protests were sparked in mid-May by anger over the authorities' failure to investigate the death last year of an activist while in police custody and the refusal by regional authorities to consider the resignation of regional Governor Alisher Mirzonabot and of Rizo Nazarzoda, the mayor of the regional capital, Khorugh. The protests intensified after one of the participants, 29-year-old local resident Zamir Nazrishoev, was killed by police on May 16, prompting the authorities to launch what they called an "counterterrorist operation." The escalating violence in the region has sparked a call for restraint from the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Western diplomatic missions in Tajikistan, and human rights groups.


Gorno-Badakhshan, a linguistically and ethnically distinct region, has been home to rebels who opposed government forces during the conflict in the 1990s. While it occupies almost half of the entire country, its population is a mere 250,000. The region is difficult to travel around because of the mountainous terrain, while its economy is wracked by unemployment, difficult living conditions, and high food prices.

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