An Extrajudicial Execution in Tajikistan (On the First Anniversary of Ali Bedaki’s Killing)

One year ago, authorities in Tajikistan announced the death of the militant Alovuddin Davlatov, aka Ali Bedaki. Despite evidence suggesting that Bedaki was captured alive in January 2011, interrogated and then executed extrajudicially, local media and human rights groups as well as the international community have mostly been silent and reluctant to address this case.

Bedaki was a mid-level opposition field commander during the 1992-1997 Tajik civil war. He later joined the police force, presumably as part of the 1997 peace accord where some former United Tajik Opposition (UTO) fighters were incorporated into Tajikistan’s security forces. He soon left the police and supposedly became a farmer. Following the September 19, 2010, attack on a government military convoy in the Rasht valley in eastern Tajikistan where 28 conscripts were killed, security agencies placed the blame on Bedaki and another former UTO commander, Abdullo Rahimov, aka ‘Mullo Abdullo’, killed in April 2011. Immediately after the attack, Bedaki’s brother, Husniddin Davlatov, was detained and alleged in a televised ‘confession’ that the convoy assault was led by his brother. Consequently, Bedaki became a key target of a security operation in the Rasht valley. His brother and father were convicted and sent to prison.

On January 4, 2011, the authorities announced that Bedaki had been killed in a shootout with government troops in the village of Runob, one kilometer south of the Rasht district center. The official narrative claimed that he and a number of his men were spotted by police and were subsequently killed in a four-hour gun battle. In February, however, the official narrative was challenged by a YouTube video. The footage showed an exhausted and humiliated bearded man, stripped to his underpants but with no apparent wounds, which relatives and former UTO fighters recognized as Bedaki. He was being questioned in the back seat of a parked car by what appeared to be members of the Tajik security agencies. Soon after, the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) said they saw the footage but refused to comment, while the police denounced the video as “an ordinary fake.” A modified account of Bedaki’s death was offered in April when Amirqul Azimov, then head of Tajikistan’s National Security Council, announced that Bedaki had been captured alive, but died due to gunshot wounds on the way to hospital.

Despite government denials, evidence pointing to the authenticity of the video appears indisputable. Observers have acknowledged the identical features of the still alive Bedaki as shown on YouTube and the body of a man broadcast on state television. On the YouTube video, a mustached, beret-wearing supposed security officer is at times seen holding a pistol at Bedaki’s forehead. The same man is also seen in the government-broadcast footage, posing with Bedaki’s dead body.

According to Tajik journalist Umed Babakhanov, unofficial sources have indicated that the security agents seen on the video were consequently tried by a military tribunal. A mid-level government official also told one of this article’s authors that the individuals in the video were rebuked for their actions. Still, no official announcement of repercussions against those who may have been responsible for Bedaki’s probable extrajudicial execution have been made.

The public has tacitly approved of the execution given Bedaki’s alleged involvement in anti-governmental activity and terrorist acts, which resulted in many deaths and threatened to destabilize Tajikistan. Local human rights groups were, in turn, largely silent likely due to both fear and professional incompetence. According to Babakhanov, “pure pragmatism” was the reason behind the media not raising the issue of Bedaki’s death as “nobody wants to harm the already difficult relations with the Government of Tajikistan because of the strange death of a militant linked to the Islamic opposition.” Independent analyst Parviz Mullojanov suggests that the Tajik opposition has been unwilling to raise the case because Bedaki did not have the support of other ex-UTO commanders and was not an influential figure to begin with. According to Mullojanov, preserving the fragile stability of Tajikistan and the Rasht valley has been much more important for all stakeholders than the truth about Bedaki’s death.

Key diplomatic missions in Tajikistan, such as the U.S., have prioritized hard security in their relationship with the Tajik government. During U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s two-day visit to Tajikistan in October 2011, cooperation with Tajikistan on the issues of Afghanistan and the ongoing ‘war on terror’ were highest on the agenda. Despite the fact that the U.S. Ambassador, Ken Gross, has been vocal on a few human rights cases involving journalists, the embassy has appeared to have a tacit policy of not criticizing Tajikistan in cases of torture or extrajudicial executions of alleged Islamist extremists.

International groups working in Tajikistan, such as the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), have also been silent on this case. They have opted to curry favor with the authorities with ongoing projects involving security assistance, trainings of government bureaucrats and focusing on legislative reform. In May, the OSCE mission head, Ambassador Ivar Vikki of Norway, sided uncritically with the government’s narrative on Bedaki’s death during his annual address to the OSCE’s 56 member states in Vienna. Vikki made no mention of the mysterious circumstances surrounding the killings, having instead told that the deaths of Bedaki and his seven comrades occurred “during military operations.” According to Mullojonov, the silence of international organizations on this issue is “influenced by Bedaki’s image as an extremist and terrorist.” If he was “an ordinary citizen, an activist or journalist, their reaction would be completely different.”

The Economist Intelligence Unit reported in June that Bedaki’s death was not the result of a mere government raid or combat, but he was likely “captured, tortured and executed.” A few local actors also spoke out about the case. In a July speech in Dushanbe, Qayyum Yusuf, a prominent Tajik attorney, stated that the video of Bedaki being abused by government agents is “solid proof of a violation of human rights,” which adds to the “lowering of [Tajikistan’s] reputation in the international arena.”

(By Alexander Sodiqov and Payam Foroughi, originally published in the CACI Analyst on January 11, 2012)

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Filed under Human Rights, Justice, Security, Tajik-American relations, Tajikistan

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