Jun 29

Researchers at Risk in Central Asia- Academics Show Support in London

Between 26 June and 1 July a series of  academic events are taking place around the world to discuss the case of imprisoned Tajik researcher Alexander Sodiqov. Events are are taking place Canberra, Exeter, Toronto, Paris, Freiburg, Astana, Bishkek and Heidelberg.

Over 30 academics met at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London on 27 June to discuss the case. The discussion centred on the details of Alexander’s arrest, the context within which a researcher could be accused of “spying” and the implications for research in Central Asia.

Chaired by Professor Jonathan Goodhand, Chair of Centre of Contemporary Central Asia and the Caucasus, (CCCAC) at SOAS, the panelists included Dr John Heathershaw from the University of Exeter and Saule Mukhametrakhimova, the Central Asia Editor at the Institute of War and Peace Reporting.

Dr Heathershaw gave a brief overview of the circumstances of Alexander’s arrest and offered a first hand account of his departure from Tajikistan on 17 June. Dr Heathershaw stressed that Alexander is an academic with a public profile: “He is very experienced and well-connected in the international community. He is a strong person and a capable person. He is one of the best social science, and particularly political science, mind in Tajikistan.”

Dr Heathershaw gave the audience some positive news, announcing that “he [Alexander] has a lawyer. He has met with his wife yesterday (26th June) and she reports that he is in a good condition. He has been well fed. He has not been harmed, and he is actually in quite good spirits.”

Saule Mukhametrakhimova placed Alexander’s arrest within the context of growing anti-western sentiment in Tajikistan since the Ukrainian crisis began in November 2013.

“In December 2013 the CSTO organised a meeting where they discussed how to prevent coloured revolutions. They discussed how to counter the impact of foreign NGOs. They also discussed the online campaigns that may threaten the governments in these countries. Along with talking about civil society as a threat, they also mentioned terrorism and Islamic militancy. This is worrying because they equated the two; both became an external threat.”

The panelists also considered the implications that the arrest have for research in Central Asia more generally. A clear message was presented to those present: conducting research in Tajikistan is growing riskier and those planning fieldwork should think it through very carefully.