Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tajikistan: Tajik PhD Candidate at Univ. of Toronoto Alexander Sodiqov, 31, Held for 36 Days on Espionage, Tips Follow

Citing, Alexander Sodiqov, 31, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto working for the University of Exeter, has been held under what amounts to house arrest in Tajikistan on espionage charges.

Mr. Sodiqov was freed from jail on July 22 after spending 36 days in pretrial detention of the State Committee for National Security (SCNS) in Dushanbe.
British Dr. John Heathershaw, a senior lecturer in International Relations at the university, was forced to flee the former Soviet state after his assistant was arrested on June 16.

Sodiqov, a 31-year-old Tajik national who lives in Canada but was employed by Exeter, was released after a campaign conducted by Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders. 

Dr. Heathershaw, who was also in the country working on the research project with Sodiqov, spent the night at the British Embassy before being escorted to the airport where he boarded a return flight to the UK.
COMMENT: One reason that I chose this incident to cover in today's reporting is that misunderstandings frequently occur in former states who at one juncture in the past were affiliated with the old Soviet Union, in China, leftist governments in Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, etc.

Mr. Sodiqov was detained in Khorog on suspicion of spying for an unnamed country after he met with local civil society activist Alim Sherzamonov.

Despite concerns that he could be mistreated in custody, he said: “Conditions in the pretrial detention facility were very good: there is good food there, wardens treated me well...Investigation into my case was carried out without bias,” he added. “I hope it will be so in the future as well."

A spokesperson at the University of Exeter said, “We welcome the release from detention in Tajikistan of Alexander Sodiqov, a researcher contracted by the University of Exeter...We look forward to the case being formally concluded so Alexander can return to his studies in Canada."

“A Tajik national, Alexander was in Tajikistan conducting research on the topic of "Rising Powers and Conflict Management in Central Asia...The project is funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council," the Exeter spokesperson emphasized.

Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw added: "I'm pleased that Alex is out of custody and back with his family and am grateful to the Tajik authorities for listening to our representations...However, I know Exeter University still has some concerns about the case and I am pursuing those with the Foreign Office."

Although academics invariably view their research efforts as innocuous, the security services of many Marxist, Leninist and former Socialist political systems often look at things much, much differently until they are "convinced through interrogation."

Therefore, I would like to caution all academics to do the following in order to head off any suspicion:

1. The chairperson of the department authorizing the research effort should always provide a signed letter in both the university's native tongue as well as in the tongue spoken in Tajikistan [Tajik, Tajik Persian, or Tajiki];

2. Actually, if the chairperson had described the University of Exeter project at the time the visas for Dr. Heathershaw and Mr. Sodiqov were requested and sent the aformentioned letters in both English and Tajiki to the  Embassy for processing, potentially, at least, Sodiqov's detention might very well have been alleviated; and

3. To resolve any further problems, I would suggest that Dr. Heathershaw and Mr. Sodiqov visit the nearest Tajiki Embassy [in Washington, DC] which can be reached via email: