ALMATY (Reuters) - Authorities in Tajikistan have threatened to confiscate the property of people linked to opposition activists living in exile, a leading opposition politician said on Friday.
Muhiddin Kabiri, leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), said the relatives of at least 10 activists who had taken part in a conference in Germany on July 9 marking the 20th anniversary of a peace accord had been targeted.
The government said it had received no complaints of intimidation.
The mostly Muslim former Soviet republic banned the IRPT in 2015, accusing it of being linked to a failed coup and prompting a number of party leaders and activists, including Kabiri, to leave the country.
The IRPT denies being involved in attempts to topple the government, but, according to Kabiri, its aim is to stop President Imomali Rakhmon passing power to family members.
Human Rights Watch separately said this week that authorities, including police and security officers, visited the relatives of the activists both ahead and after the conference.
“They use them (the relatives of activists) as hostages”, Kabiri said. “Many activists have already given up the fight (because of threats to their relatives).”
His comments echoed those of the New York-based rights group.
“The Tajik government’s vicious campaign of intimidation against dissidents’ relatives is widening and becoming ever more brazen,” Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher for HRW, said.
“The simultaneous actions by security services and local officials across numerous cities suggest a policy of collective punishment sanctioned at the highest levels, which should end immediately.”
The Dortmund conference marked the 20th anniversary of a peace accord which ended a devastating civil war in Tajikistan.
IRPT founders had been among those fighting the government of Rakhmon and later, in 2000, accused him of violating the agreement in order to boost his powers.
Asked whether the authorities were intimidating the relatives of opposition activists, who are wanted in Tajikistan on charges of extremism and terrorism, Tajik Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda said on Friday his ministry had received no such complaints.
“If they have been questioned as witnesses about the whereabouts of their relatives, this does not equal persecution or humiliation,” he said.
Kabiri said there may have been more cases of intimidation which went unreported because the families chose not to tell activists living abroad about them. Kabiri said he had no direct contacts with his own relatives living in Tajikistan.
Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Additional reporting by Nazarali Pirnazarov in Dushanbe; Editing by Alison Williams