A senior member of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), which was banned by the government in August 2015, could be forced to return to the Central Asian country as it makes use of Interpol’s “red notice” system.
On October 9, Greek border guards arrested Mirzorahim Kuzov at Athens International Airport as he was flying from Warsaw – where he had attended an Organization for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) in Europe conference on human rights – to Tehran, via Greece.
He is now being held at a prison in Athens, having lived in hiding in a third country for the last two years.
His arrest was possible because of a red notice alert issued at Tajikistan’s request, a tool which allows Interpol – an international network of police forces – to pursue people fleeing jurisdiction around the world.
Tajikistan accused Kuzov of “extremism” and participating in an anti-government coup in September 2015 – allegations he denies.
“Everything Tajikistan’s government says about the IRPT or about me is a lie, slander. Interpol has become a weapon against the opposition and democratic forces,” Kuzov told Al Jazeera.
‘A bitter irony’
Countries including Russia, Uzbekistan and China have previously used the Interpol red notice system.
“These governments have ‘nominated’ individuals for so-called crimes under their national criminal codes and often these crimes are not consistent with international legally recognised offences, or are so over-broad and vague as to void their meaning,” Steve Swerdlow, Human Rights Watch (HRW) Central Asia researcher told Al Jazeera.
“Interpol has not instituted a system for vetting these cases in a way that would prevent real harm from being done to individuals,” he said.
Kuzov is one of hundreds of opposition figures who fled Tajikistan in fear of their lives in September 2015.
“It is a bitter irony that [Kuzov] was arrested on his way back from a human rights conference in Warsaw, Poland. Greek authorities have an obligation under international law not to return him to Tajikistan where he faces the real possibility of torture and imprisonment on trumped-up charges,” said Swerdlow.
Following the Tajik election of March 2015, the IRPT failed to reach the threshold for entering parliament, and was left out for the first time since the 1997 peace agreement which ended the civil war.
Shortly afterwards, President Emomali Rahmon began a campaign against the opposition.
In September 2015, former Defence Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda was accused of – with the support of gunmen – attacking the main police station in Vahdat and the Ministry of Defence in Dushanbe. The authorities soon labelled the incident as a “terrorist” attack and accused the IRPT of plotting to overthrow the government.
Nazarzoda was soon killed in a shoot-out between rebels and government forces.
Although the party condemned the attacks and denied any connection with Nazarzoda, the government banned its operation and jailed all members who had not managed to leave the country.
‘I hope European countries will take necessary measures’
“[If I stayed in Tajikistan] I would share the fate of my fellow party men and my friends. I would be now facing a life sentence or 25 to 30 years in prison,” Kuzov said.
“Kuzov’s case is similar to other senior leaders of the IRPT who have been targeted on politically motivated charges of engaging in an attempted coup in September 2015,” said Swerdlow of HRW.
Kuzov said his family, who stayed in Tajikistan for a period after he fled, paid a high price for his political activity. They now live in Lithuania, where they have applied for refugee status.
“Their documents, including passports, were confiscated,” he said. “They were regularly harassed, intimidated and interrogated by the security services. They said to my wife that if I don’t return, they will arrest her, our children and our relatives.”
Interpol’s constitution obliges the organisation to respect individual freedom and rights.
In an email to Al Jazeera, Interpol refused to comment on Kuzov’s case.
“If or when police in any of Interpol’s 192 member countries share information with the General Secretariat in Lyon, France, in relation to investigations and individuals, this information remains under the ownership of that member country,” the email read.
“Interpol does not, therefore, comment on specific cases or individuals except in special circumstances and with approval of the member country concerned.”
The organisation said that it considers all requests for the re-evaluation of individual cases.
However, the review procedure can be long and daunting and in cases like Kuzov’s, there is no time for reassessment.
In November 2016, Interpol adopted a number of measures to improve its information processing mechanisms. For example, it began to remove names of people who have received refugee status from the red notice list.
However, Interpol has failed to apply sanctions against members who have violated its rules.
Kuzov will soon appear before the [Greek] Supreme Court which will make a decision on his extradition.
He remains optimistic.
“I hope that European countries and the OSCE will take all necessary measures not to allow for my deportation to Tajikistan,” he said.