‘Tajikistan is Not Ukraine': Leading Academics in London Discuss Alexander Sodiqov's Arrest

At SOAS, in London, academics meet to discuss the context surrounding and implications of Alexander Sodiqov's arrest.

At SOAS, in London, academics meet to discuss the context surrounding, and implications of, Alexander Sodiqov's arrest. Photo taken by Edward Lemon.

Alexander Sodiqov was arrested whilst conducting research in Tajikistan on June 16. Although a PhD student at the University of Toronto at the time of his arrest, Alexander was working for UK's University of Exeter on an Economic and Social Research Council project focusing on ‘Rising Powers and Conflict Management’.

In response to his arrest, the academic community organised a global campaign for his release. This includes a petition (with almost 3,000 signatures as of June 28), and a series of academic events around the world to discuss the case. Events were held in Washington, Canberra, Exeter, Toronto, Paris, Freiburg, Astana, Bishkek and Heidelberg. A meeting of solidarity for Alexander was held by the  Ankara Segmenler Forumu, a Turkish civil society group.  

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

As with the other events connected to Alexander Sodiqov, the meeting was titled ‘Researchers at Risk in Central Asia: The Detention of Alexander Sodiqov’.


Professor Jonathan Goodhand, Chair of Centre of Contemporary Central Asia and the Caucasus, (CCCAC), SOAS: This situation is significant for Alexander and for the project. But it is also significant well beyond this, in relation to academic freedom and the ability to be able to do research on sensitive topics in Central Asia. […] The centre (CCCAC) believes that academics should be able to do this kind of research. The wider world knows what is going on in these countries, both the good sides and the bad sides. And the ability to conduct research on these topics is very important.



Dr. John Heathershaw. Image taken from exeter.ac.uk

John Heathershaw, University of Exeter: [Alexander Sodiqov] 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, minds in Tajikistan. The aim of [global academic and civil society campaign campaign to free Sodiqov] is to provide him with legal services, ensure he is not mistreated and ultimately push for his release.

He has a lawyer. He has met with his wife on June 26 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. He is an academic researcher. He has a contract as an academic researcher. He has a public profile as an academic researcher and he has the support of the global academic community.

There are different levels going on here. One could explain the arrest in the context of larger geopolitical struggles. And that may well be the case. There is a lot of thinking of that kind, which I witnessed in the month I just spent there. There is a lesson here for anyone considering fieldwork in Tajikistan. Hopefully they are now reconsidering the feasibility of their projects […] Clearly there is a particular problem in Badakhshan.


Saule Mukhametrakhimova, Editor of Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR): Although the arrest of a government opponent is nothing new, Alex’s arrest is exceptional. It signifies a growing anti-western sentiment in Tajikistan.

There are signs of a growing anti-western sentiment in Tajikistan. There is a fear that events like those taking place in Ukraine may spread to Tajikistan. Of course Tajikistan is not Ukraine. But this is the way in which the Tajik authorities see things. Tajikistan is also getting closer to Russia; the influence of Russia is growing stronger. This is due to Moscow’s policy in the near abroad, in the face of international isolation […] Russia is not only content with stirring up anti-western sentiments. There are signs that it is co-ordinating the anti-western response of the government.

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.

Rising anti-western tendencies are not unique to Tajikistan. Similar processes are taking place in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The Kyrgyz parliament is discussing a bill that will restrict the activities of foreign funded NGOs. They are talking about a bill on espionage and a bill on foreign agents. So anti-western sentiments are nothing new, but what has happened in 2014 is that these have come to the fore. […] Anyone associated with western funding is now considered an enemy.

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