I have a new article for Al Jazeera English about how the government of Uzbekistan punishes exiles abroad by persecuting their relatives at home. Two weeks ago, Hasan Choriyev, the father of Uzbek activist Bahodir Choriyev, was unlawfully detained:
It was not the first time Hasan had been targeted. In recent years, the Uzbek government had confiscated his property and interrogated him over his son’s activities. But this was the first time Hasan had been sent to jail.
His crime? Being part of a family of political dissidents, safe in the US but vulnerable in Uzbekistan.
The plight of the Choriyev family speaks to the modern version of an old authoritarian tactic: punishing activists abroad by persecuting their relatives at home. In the digital age, exile has gone from a sentence of silence to a source of strength. Formerly isolated activists use the internet to communicate with other activists around the world and lend financial and moral support to their countrymen. With diasporas playing a greater role in facilitating political movements, dictatorships are struggling with how to control citizens who live beyond their legal purview.
One answer is to attack the loved ones they were forced to leave behind. Under the perverse dictates of authoritarianism, love becomes a liability. Loyalty becomes a lure. For families targeted, the consequences are devastating.
The political movement run by Choriyev, Birdamlik, held a demonstration last week in DC to protest the unlawful detention of their father and others. Choriyev and his six brothers, all based in St. Louis and working in the trucking business, covered their semi-trailer trucks with banners detailing the crimes of the Uzbek government, and drove them across the country. You can see pictures of the protest here.