This week, two men attacked and injured a Tajik activist living in exile in Lithuania, the latest in a long line of what appear to be politically-motivated attacks on critics of the Tajikistan government.
The victim, Ilhomjon Yakubov, is the former head of the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) in the Sughd Region, banned in 2015. He received political asylum in Lithuania the same year.
Around 9:30 a.m. on March 16, in the city of Kaunas, an old friend and business partner visiting from Tajikistan picked Yakubov up in his car. The two had previously met to exchange information about political prisoners in Tajikistan and the authoritarian regime of President Emomali Rahmon.
Another man was already in the car and after they had driven a short distance Yakubov, sensing danger, asked to be let out. His friend refused, locked the doors, and speeded ahead. The unidentified man started shouting that he would kill Yakubov and punched him in the face. Yakubov fought him off, opened the door, and fell onto the ground.
“Both of them got out of the car and proceeded with beatings while I was laying on the ground. I thought they would put me back to the car, but a police car approached us,” said Yakubov.
The police detained the unidentified man and placed him in custody, but Yakubov’s former friend escaped. Yakubov was taken to hospital and diagnosed with a concussion and an injured nose and rib. The police opened a criminal investigation into the beating, according to Yakubov. The police spokesperson in Kaunas was not available for comment.
On March 18, the police also questioned Yakubov’s former friend.
In the last three years, Yakubov received dozens of threats on messenger services and social media, including to “destroy him as his whereabouts are known” and to abduct, return, and imprison him in Tajikistan. Dozens of articles attacking Yukubov have been published on a website of a state-run newspaper Khakikati Sugd (Sughd Truth). Some of these messages and articles have been reviewed by Human Rights Watch. All this substantiates claims the attack was politically motivated.
Since 2015, the Tajik government has harassed and even forcibly returned to Tajikistan opposition figures and others living outside the country, many in the European Union. Lithuanian authorities should ensure Yakubov’s safety, bring the two perpetrators to justice, and determine who ordered the attack.