U of T student accused of spying, detained in Tajikistan
University of Toronto PhD student Alexander Sodiqov, who has been detained in Tajikistan, is seen in this image from Twitter. (Twitter / asodiqov)
Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, June 19, 2014 2:43PM EDT
Human Rights Watch is calling for the “immediate release” of a young man from Tajikistan studying for his PhD in Canada who was detained during a trip home earlier this week.
Alexander Sodiqov was detained on June 16 following a meeting with local activist Alim Sherzamonov, the human rights organization said in a statement.
Sodiqov was detained in Khorog, capital of Gorno-Badakhshan, an autonomous Tajik republic, “on suspicion of spying for an unnamed country,” the statement said.
Tajik authorities have not confirmed that Sodiqov is in custody, and it is unclear where he is being held. However, the statement noted that Sodiqov was arrested by two men who identified themselves in a local news report as officers with the State Committee for National Security.
“An academic researcher has apparently been ‘disappeared’ in Tajikistan, where authorities have failed to account for his whereabouts or well-being for three days,” Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in the statement.
“The Tajik government should immediately release or credibly charge Alexander Sodiqov, provide him access to a lawyer and his family, and stop this agonizing ordeal.”
Sodiqov is studying for his PhD in political science at the University of Toronto, according to his bio at Global Voices, where he serves as Central Asia Editor. He also runs the Tajikistan Monitor, a website that contains news and analysis about events in his native country and the surrounding region.
The university confirmed in a statement that Sodiqov is a student at the school, and was in Tajikistan “under a research contract with the University of Exeter.
“Sodiqov is married with a young child. The University of Toronto is deeply concerned about the safety of Mr. Sodiqov and his family. The University encourages the authorities in Tajikistan to ensure full protection of Mr. Sodiqov’s rights.”
Tajikistan is a landlocked country in central Asia that was a Soviet republic from the 1920s until it gained independence in 1991. Anti-government protesters have demonstrated in recent months.
According to Human Rights Watch, Sherzamonov told reporters that around noon on the day of his meeting with Sodiqov, two people in plain clothes who identified themselves as security services officers attempted to arrest both men. Sherzamonov protested, and only Sodiqov was taken away.
After initially confirming Sodiqov’s arrest, the State Committee for National Security later rescinded the statement and has offered no further details about the case.
Human Rights Watch says no one has heard from Sodiqov since June 16 at 9:30 p.m. local time, when he called his wife. He did not tell her where or by whom he was being held.
The agency says sources close to the family have confirmed that authorities searched Sodiqov’s mother’s house in Dushanbe on June 17, and took away flash drives and computers. The next day, state television in Khorog broadcast footage of Sodiqov speaking alongside local law enforcement, but few other details were evident.
The agency fears that Sodiqov is at risk of “torture or other ill-treatment.”
Canadian consular officials would not comment Thursday on whether the Canadian government can or would get involved in such a situation. Without confirming Sodiqov’s identity, consular affairs told CTV’s Mercedes Stephenson that it is “aware of reports that a citizen of Tajikistan, studying in Canada, has been detained in Tajikistan.”