A University of Toronto student who was arrested four days ago by security forces while doing fieldwork in Tajikistan will be charged with high treason, according to a source close to the family.
Alexander Sodiqov, a PhD candidate in political science, was detained Monday in the town of Khorog after he interviewed Alim Sherzamonov, a prominent figure in the opposition movement, for a research project on conflict resolution in Tajikistan.
The source said on Friday afternoon that charges of treason were forthcoming, according to Human Rights Watch.
“If true, this is highly troubling information. Nothing that we know of the underlying facts points to any legal or unlawful activities,” Steven Swerdlow, Human Rights Watch’s Central Asia researcher, told Torstar News Service. “What we do know is that Sodiqov is a well-known blogger and academic researcher whose writings are very respected who was conducting research (…) on a politically sensitive topic.”
Since his detention, friends and colleagues have launched an online campaign urging Tajik government officials to release him. The appeal was echoed by human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, which denounced Tajikistan for failing to uphold its obligations under international law.
“So far what we’ve seen in this case is an egregious violation of international law. When you disappear someone for days, without informing the family where they are and without confirming where they are, you’re committing one of the classic, most condemned human rights violations in international law,” Swerdlow said. “It harkens back to what we saw in Argentina in the 1970s.”
News of the charge, which has not yet been confirmed by authorities, comes two days after authorities aired a video of his interrogation by the State Committee for National Security, on local television. The footage showed the 31-year-old responding to questions from Tajik authorities on his whereabouts prior to his arrest.
In an excerpt obtained by Radio Free Europe, Sodiquov looks poised as he tells officials that he met with Sherzamonov at a nearby park for his interview.
“I suppose he looked a little bit tired,” Edward Schatz, Sodiqov’s PhD supervisor, said. “Like a more tired version of the Alexander I know.”
The excerpt, Schatz says, differs significantly from the longer, and heavily edited, version that was broadcast in Tajikistan. An independent news agency in the country reported Wednesday that images of Sodiqov, appearing confused, were shown on television. That version of the video was reportedly tampered with to tarnish Sherzamonov’s reputation.
Radio Free Europe reported Friday morning that Sodiqov had already been charged. If true, it would signal a “hugely concerning” development, Schatz said.
The State Committee for National Security released a statement confirming that Sodiqov was being held at a detention centre in Dushanbe, the country’s capital.
The Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development said they are aware that a citizen from Tajikistan, studying in Canada, has been arrested in Tajikistan.