Alexander Sodiqov, a Tajik citizen working towards a Ph.D at the University of Toronto, has been detained in the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan.
Sodiqov was arrested Monday while conducting research in Gorno-Badakhshan, a mountainous province near the Afghan border that has been at odds with Tajikistan's authoritarian central government. Plainclothes security service officers detained the 31-year-old academic while he was interviewing Alim Sherzamonov, an opposition leader who organized protests against the government in May, Sherzamonov said.
Tajikistan's security service initially confirmed Sodiqov's arrest and alleged that he was spying for a foreign government, but then kept silent about the researcher's whereabouts, Eurasianet reported. On Friday the security service said Sodiqov was being held in the capital, Dushanbe, and would face criminal charges, the local Asia-Plus news agency reported.
Sodiqov is married and the father of a young daughter. His wife last heard from him at 9:30 p.m. local time on Monday, according to Human Rights Watch.
On Wednesday, Sodiqov reportedly appeared on state television in what may have been a stunt coerced by the security service to discredit Sherzamonov.
John Heathershaw, an academic at the University of Exeter who was working with Sodiqov, denied the allegations of espionage.
"It is true that Alexander had previously worked for international organizations and was known by the UK Ambassador," Heathershaw said in a statement. "He took part in an informal reception at the UK Ambassador's residence on 11 June. However, he was not paid by or working for the British government."
Sodiqov blogged about Tajikistan at his site Tajikistan Monitor and for Global Voices. Human rights groups and Sodiqov's friends in the tight-knit community of Central Asia scholars are calling for his release.
"The Tajik government appears to be taking a 'detain first, ask questions later' approach," said Hugh Williamson, director of the Europe and Central Asia division at Human RIghts Watch. "This is a violation of Tajikistan's obligations under international law."