Last month, Shohin Talbakzoda, a representative of the Prosecutor General’s office, expressed his concern over the fact that international organisations, European nations and even CSTO member-countries have not yet included the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and Group 24 into so-called “blacklists.” The Tajik authorities have announced the two political groups terroristic and extremist organisations. Furthermore, some countries actually “support them and consider them as political opposition of Tajikistan.”
“Muhiddin Kabiri, chairman of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, is in the Interpol list and is to be arrested immediately. But some European countries are providing asylum to criminals instead of arresting and extraditing them to Tajikistan,” Mr. Talbakzoda has said.
Apparently, Tajikistan’s authorities are alarmed by news that IRPT leader has recently been granted political asylum in a European country. Before Mr. Kabiri, several activists of the Group 24, an opposition group, who were accused of various grave crimes in Tajikistan, were also granted asylum.
For 16 years, until September 2015, the IRPT was the only officially registered Islamic party in the former Soviet Union. But in August 2015, the ministry of justice of Tajikistan demanded the IRPT cease activities. Later in September, the IRPT’s leaders, including Mr. Kabiri, were charged with participation in alleged mutiny by the ex-Deputy Defence Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda. The Supreme Court declared the party a terrorist organisation, leading to the arrest of its high-ranking members. In June 2016, 14 members of the political bureau of the IRPT were sentenced to various imprisonment terms, including two life sentences.
IRPT’s chairman Muhiddin Kabiri departed from Tajikistan immediately after the parliamentary elections on March 1, 2015, i.e. exactly six months prior to dramatic events. For the first time, the party secured not even a single seat in the parliament. Mr. Kabiri later stated he was concerned that a trumped-up charge could be pressed and criminal investigation would be launched. Mr. Kabiri, on the other hand, refutes all allegations against his party, and states the September allegedly military mutiny was an excuse to ban the IRPT’s activities.
The Tajik authorities declared Mr. Kabiri internationally wanted; Mr Kabiri’s name were posted on the Interpol website later in September. Nonetheless, Mr Kabiri stated the party would continue its activities in exile. The relatives of the IRPT leader as well as family members of many other party activists, were subjected to extreme pressures on the part of power-wielding bodies after the party was outlawed. Some of such people, including Mr Kabiri’s cousin Jamshed Nazrulloyev, his brother-in-law Mahmadulloh Rahmatulloyev along with driver were convicted for allegedly failing to report preparations of a crime. Others were followed and repeatedly taken away for “conversations” by secret services. Tillo Kabiri, Mr Kabiri’s 95-year-old father, was also invited for such a “conversation” and asked to urge his son to return to Tajikistan. In January 2016, Kabiri Senior was removed at the Dushanbe airport from a flight to Istanbul. Tillo Kabiri was traveling to Turkey for medical treatment; he deceased late October the same year.
Despite all persecutions by the Tajik authorities, Mr. Kabiri continues political activities in exile: he speaks at various events, issues statements and gives interviews in attempts to draw the international community’s attention to the political situation in Tajikistan.
Fergana Editor-in-Chief Daniil Kislov interviewed the IRPT leader over the Internet. Mr. Kabiri spoke about his current status, and how the IRPT was a legal organisation and became “terrorist” overnight and why many of his supporters have not left Tajikistan even though they were aware of impending arrests. The interlocutor also spoke of the exiled Tajik opposition’s plans.
You were granted asylum in a European country? Is that true? Please confirm.
Yes, it is true. However, with your permission, I will not name the country. The only criterion for choosing this particular country was its closeness with Tajik migrants.
You are in the Interpol’s wanted lists. Can you travel anywhere, leave the country you are in now?
Yes, I do travel, as I used to do before. However, the span of my trips is somewhat limited now because it is now risky to travel to those countries, which do not necessarily respect laws and human rights. Regarding Interpol, after the Tajik prosecutor general’s office announced they inquired them about me, I have officially addressed the Interpol by means of my lawyers—they at that time responded that there is an inquiry, but I am not included into lists yet. It turns out the Interpol is also a bureaucratic police organisation albeit a much larger one. The subjects of this organisation are governments. The Interpol did include me into a wanted persons list later. The country that has granted me political asylum will now look into this situation. By the way, the majority of opposition activists from our region either were or still are in that list but that is not preventing them, or me for that matter, from traveling the world.
Do I understand the situation correctly: You have Europe in mind. In other words, you can travel within Europe, but you cannot travel to Russia, Kyrgyzstan or Belarus?
I will not identify any country by name. As I said, there is a number of countries where there is no tradition of observing international law or respecting human rights, where corrupted authorities rule. But I don’t need to visit those countries at this time anyway.
The official Dushanbe must have some grounds and evidence to submit information about you to the Interpol. Your party and you personally have been declared terrorists in your homeland. But is there any court verdict to that effect?
I possess no documents or verified information that a verdict was issued against me specifically. To consider our party a terrorist has no factual basis. That was a political decision, not a judicial one. I would like to mention that only two days after the September 2015 events, the political establishment first declared the party “terrorist organisation” and then publicly urged the party to the maximum extent possible. When the first person in the state openly instructs the power-wielding bodies like this, it is no longer possible to consider any judicial verdict to be lawful or just.
Those who followed reports around the case, would remember that, in early October 2015, Supreme Court Chairman Shermuhammad Shohiyon hosted a news conference in early October 2015. The journalists asked how that court was able to so swiftly adopt a decision and issue a verdict when the matter was very complex, large and important—after all, the matter at hand was banning a political party. The Prosecutor General’s office motioned to force the IRPT to cease activities late September. So there was a necessity to look into a very big case, flip through many documents, question a big number of eyewitnesses and then only issue a verdict. Normally cases of such magnitude take several months if not a whole year. Shermuhammad Shohiyon provided very important details in his answer and has essentially admitted that the authorities have thoroughly prepared for the case and they only had to come up with an excuse. Of course, he was not conscientious of his response’s content and essence, because he only needed to quell the journalists’ doubts and questions regarding the rapidity of the decision-making process in this case. This was his response: “And why do you think we adopted a decision very quickly? The case has been prepared very thoroughly, even before those [mutiny] events, and we have been studying the matter of closing the party for a long time.”
Thus, the chairman of the Supreme Court has himself laid out the entire scenario according to which the authorities acted how to close our party. The only unresolved matter was the language of prohibition: must the party have been shut down as “disbanded,” “failing to meet legal requirements,” or “extremist and terrorist” one. Because the authorities were not necessarily concealing their plans and were actually preparing for this, many observers, including international observers, do not really trust and believe what the [Tajik] government says. By the way, a serious claim was advanced against the Interpol at an international forum recently, claiming this international policing organisation was turned into a convenient tool of persecuting and even neutralising opposition figures from the “third world.” The dictatorial regimes are using the Interpol for their purposes more often lately. Among the CIS countries, Tajikistan provided the longest list of wanted persons.
The Tajik authorities declared you a “terrorist” for your alleged connections with “terrorist” Nazarzoda; the cases of General Nazarzoda and the IRPT were in “one cart.” The Tajik authorities are saying via all mass media outlets, in their speeches at the OSCE and UN that “terrorists” Nazarzoda and IRPT are two sides of one coin. Can you explain what is your connection with “terrorist” Nazarzoda?
Yes, of course, I will. By the way, the word “terrorist” came out of your mouth several times…
It’s a term the authorities are labelling you with, not me.
I understand. They consider any dissent a terrorist or a potential terrorist. Unfortunately, the term is being misused and abused throughout the whole world. There is no unified approach to this phenomenon. It is perhaps the time to adopt a document at the international level—perhaps the UN General Assembly, which would identify actions to be characterised as “terrorism” and those that cannot be, so the global community know who is a terrorist to be fought. One group can be for someone a terrorist and for others a hero. For some, they are fighters for freedom, for others—separatists, mutineers or simply criminals. In other words, everybody chooses who they label a “terrorist” based on their own interests.
By the way, the opposition forces, too, have been using the term “terrorism” to characterise the government bodies’ actions over the last several years; not without grounds, I must say. Because the goal of any terror is instilling fear in people and cause the feeling of fear and helplessness in people. To that end, dictatorial and totalitarian regimes have far exceeded many commonly known terrorists organisations in terms of violence and instilling fear in their own citizens. For instance, many actions committed by the current Tajik government can be characterised as “terrorist activity,” because they are aimed at making the population scared. Therefore, it is necessary to avoid using this term perpetually and ubiquitously because otherwise the entire will be “fighting terrorism” and it wouldn’t clear who opposes whom and why.
About relations between General Nazarzoda and our party. To discuss this, we must revisit the year 2010, when we have long won the parliamentary elections and both local and international observers confirmed our victory. However, we were only given two parliamentary seats at the time. Everyone knew the votes were stolen and our party activists were very upset emotionally. Everyone was waiting for our party’s reaction: were we going to rally in protest or not.
The situation was very difficult. I remember that election results were announced on Sunday, and by Wednesday, we gathered an extended session of activists to decide what to do with the announced results. There were nearly 1,000 activists in that assembly hall and some hotheads took to the streets immediately from there. The situation was very tense; youth were insisting on protests. I was informed that vans loaded with men in military fatigues and plainclothes showed up near the office and on neighbouring streets. Nazarzoda called me at that moment. By the way, we were not only good neighbours, but also good friends. He was not general at the time and was the head of some department under the defence ministry. I cannot quote him to you right now, but the gist of his ideas was that he was in his minister’s office with representatives of other power-wielding bodies, who were observing the situation in the assembly hall I was in via the Internet. He added that everyone there realised the unjustness of announced election outcomes and was sorry. However, nothing could be done anymore, since the outcome has been already announced. He added with sorrow that the first circle surrounding our building was police officers, the second circle was security forces, and the third circle was the army, military personnel.
Did he mean that was the formation of power-wielders surrounding your office?
Exactly. Of course, I would not have believed that if I was not reported about the situation earlier. I was already aware that the building was surrounded.
In other words, your friend Nazarzoda, not general at the time, has thusly warned you that you needed to be quiet?
Let’s say, he asked me as a friend and was fulfilling his duty as an officer. I could hear they were using the loudspeaker and he was tasked with calling me to deescalate the situation. I could hear voices, saying they were ready for an even larger number of victims than in Andijan [May 2015 in Uzbekistan] not to allow a protest action to take place. They were talking about the Andijan events, when human rights advocates say over 700 people died. They were saying they had orders to shoot and kill.
The situation was dramatic. On the one hand, the party is obligated to defend the voices it received and protest injustice. On the other hand, there was a risk of new bloodshed and big number of human victims. And the most important part is this: Islam, Muslims and our party were again accused of escalating the situation and starting a new conflict. And they continue doing so to date. That was a situation where any choice would lead to failure and I have chosen the most unfavourable one for me personally, which was the least unfavourable one for the people and party at the same time. But, returning to General Nazarzoda: given that not taking to the streets was the right decision we adopted, there is his share in that decision.
I have immediately sent two letters—in the capacities of an MP and a party leader—to the country’s president following that situation, asking for a meeting with him. However, apparently, he thought a dialogue with the opposition was no longer necessary. And maybe he simply had no more arguments. He had an idea what I would be talking about, since I clearly indicated in the aforementioned letters the issues I wanted to discuss. Apparently, he simply had no answers to those questions. People avoid direct contact when they have no arguments.
According to official information, your party secured less than 8% of votes in the parliamentary elections in 2010. Where did you get your data that suggest otherwise?
Yes, officially, we did get the support of less than 8% of voters and two parliamentary seats subsequently. However, the protocols of polling stations, we received several times more votes. I am basing this on [presumably: common sense] that political forces must always be realistic about their possibilities and strengths: They can belittle them, but certainly not exaggerate them. For instance, during the parliamentary elections in 2015, we received less votes compared to the elections in 2010. I am perfectly aware that the situation was different; the authorities’ propaganda efforts were more effective thanks to using the entire administrative resources and harshly preventing opposition parties’ rallies. Well, back in 2010, we had a team of young men and women, and the situation in the country was more democratic than five years later. We had the protocols of polling stations—we had the facts that we won, and experts’ analyses and observers’ reports only confirmed that we secured more votes. We presented these documents to court but not even court listened to our arguments. By the way, we hired the best lawyers but even they were unable to secure the registration of even one motion regarding the election outcomes.
We have gone through all judicial levels and then realised that there simply was no use in seeking justice in this matter. By the way, we have copies of all documents and protocols in our archives.
And how many votes did you receive?
Our estimate is up to 60%.
So, the majority of votes.
Yes; more in certain places and less in other places. But, we secured the majority of votes cast throughout the country. It is possible that 15-20% of votes were simply protests. In other words, some people voted for us not because they supported, but because they disliked us less than the government, so they did not want to give their votes to support the government. But I can state with certainty that 35-40% of votes were conscientiously cast in our favour. That fact was, in my opinion, the reason why the powers-that-be got so scared. You may have heard about the secret Protocol No. 32-20 signed by the president. The document clearly instructs the government agencies and bodies to take certain actions against our party, and agencies responsible for doing so.
When that document was leaked to press, I have sent an official inquiry in the capacity of an MP to the Prosecutor General’s office to show me—an MP and party chairman—the original or a copy of the protocol the Security Council has adopted. I have added in the inquiry that I was ready to sign a document on non-disclosure of a state secret, as it was classified. The Prosecutor General’s office responded thusly: yes, the Council did have a session to discuss this; there is a protocol under so and so number, but the published variant was redacted. I said we had a copy [presumably: from press reports], you show me the original so we can compare to identify the redacted portions of the protocol. Then I would be able to tell the public that the society was being purposefully misled. But since you are not doing it, then I have the right to believe [in the authenticity of] the publicised document.
There was no more reply from the Prosecutor General’s office. I was unofficially told that they were prohibited from corresponding with me on this matter and any more contacts with me were prohibited now. I sent an official inquiry to the administration of the President in the capacity of an MP. No replies. But I did later receive a different response in the form of pressure and harassment of our party. In other words, after that document was adopted, they started to purposefully and systematically pressure the party at all levels in order to neutralise the IRPT as the main opponent in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Coming back to Nazarzoda: He was a general, who was executing the authorities’ wishes and could shoot people if ordered to avoid civil war. Why did this person specifically, the deputy defence minister by then mind you, would incite mutiny? What is your relation to this mutiny?
This question is one of those that only he alone would be able to respond to. I always knew him as a decent person and a genuine officer. He was truly courageous, a very wise person and fulfilled his duties honestly as an officer. And he genuinely believed that he was doing all that for the sake of the nation, peace and stability.
I met Nazarzoda in 1997, when he was the commander of Battalion 25 of the Defence Ministry that specialised on protecting the National Reconciliation Committee headed by late teacher Sayid Abdullo Nuri and was the guarantor of the committee members’ safety and security. He would often spend time with the Committee due to his duties. We first met there and became friends later after becoming neighbours. We used to meet more frequently during the initial years of friendship, then later we met less frequently, because he was then part of the system and was playing by the rules of the game. Sometimes we would dispute and disagree with each other. His line of thoughts was that of an officer, an employee of the defence ministry. And I would think like a politician, an MP and an opposition figure. But he was a very honest, decent and courageous man, who never concealed his true views. And he would often criticise the opposition. By the way, he was always on the forefront when the government sent its troops against Mullo Abdullo in Rasht and other special operations.
What about the operation in Badakhshan in 2012? Was he there participating as well?
Yes, he was in Khorog. I remember perfectly well how I saw him in military fatigues and he said he arrived from Khorog. As you can see, this man has always executed the leadership’s orders, and that is why he was appointed as deputy Defence minister. By the way, he was appointed to this position after the government launched persecutions against our party. If we shared political opinions and views, he would have never been appointed deputy head of the country’s defence ministry. In other words, this man was fully and completely trusted by the government, just as Colonel Gulmurod Halimov was.
Why did that happen? I myself had many questions and serious doubts: was there really mutiny or not. My analysis of the events suggests that either on the last day or night he acted spontaneously—he took arms, gathered his friends and former subordinates and headed to the mountains. And to date no one knows what were motivations for such actions. After having attentively read the verdict in the case of our fellow party members—we are talking about over 100 pages in the Tajik language, I decided it had to be translated into several languages, primarily English and maybe into Russian as well, so people understand what facts and arguments were used to adopt the said decision. Secondly, many interesting and important things came up during the hearings. Mahmadali Hait, my deputy, asked either the prosecutor or the judge (we have an audio recording of that conversation): “Why are you not paying attention to the statements deputy chairman of the National Security Committee made in court yesterday, when he testified as a witness? Yesterday, he testified and said General Nazarzoda asked him—the deputy chairman of the national security committee—several days prior to the September events if it was true he [Nazarzoda] himself was part of a criminal investigation. The deputy chairman of the National Security Committee is saying that in court! And he responded that, ‘Yes, there is a case, but you should not worry, we will solve the matter and close the investigation.’” In other words, it turns out General Nazarzoda received information several days prior to those events that there is a criminal investigation against him and he would be arrested soon. By the way, the aforementioned deputy chairman was removed from post—apparently for “wrong” testimony.
Now let’s analyse a different aspect: Why does Nazarzoda turn from a loyal officer into a suspect in exactly those days? If you have been following the information torrent at the time, by August 2015 representatives of all layers of population, ranging from sportsmen to teachers and students to clerics have spoken against the IRPT and demanded the authorities shut down our party. All that looked like a nationwide marathon where everyone wanted to show how “patriotic” they were and demanded the government shuts down our party. Military personnel, including former field commanders of opposition, issued similar statements. They only wanted to show the authorities how loyal they were.
The statement was read out by General Shoh Iskandarov; he’s the head of the Tursunzade District internal affairs directorate now. It turns out they were given a text drafted by and delivered from the president’s office. The military personnel were told the commander-in-chief tasked his subordinates with signing and reading out the said statement. It is also worth noting that ex-commanders of the Unified Tajik Opposition specifically must have read the statement to prove their loyalty. Naturally, not all officers and generals agreed to sign: some of them did not sign, while others signed it but said they are fulfilling the commander-in-chief’s orders as officers even though they knew the command was unlawful and contradicted honour and dignity of officers and any decent person.
I don’t know for certain where Nazarzoda signed that document or not. But there is reliable information that he and several other officers expressed themselves very harshly and stated they were being pushed into illegal and unfair games. They were discontented due to two reasons: 1) they are military and legally don’t have the right to get involved in the political life and work of political parties and 2) some of them, including Nazarzoda, used to be part of the armed forces of the Unified Tajik Opposition, so agreeing to such a step would be unworthy for them. Eyewitnesses say a number of officers did not sign the statement because it contradicted both the laws of the land and laws of honour and dignity.
Undoubtedly, everything was duly reported where it had to have been reported. And, most likely, the authorities have completely changed the scenario and plan of action against our party after that. Already back in the spring of 2015, we scheduled the next general assembly for September 20, and announced significant reforms of the party were going to take place. The authorities, obviously, learnt about this and were preparing for it in their own way. They really did not want for the party to undergo reforms, which would lead to internal elections, new leadership, new name, new charter and new programmes.
Along with a new image?
Indeed, a new image as well. That is why they started expediting events. By late August, the justice minister issued an official letter with an ultimatum: we had only 10 days to announce the party’s disbandment. Everything was very simple and easy, right? They are disbanding of their own volition, and we have nothing to do with that decision. They simply had no time to go through the legal procedures and court proceedings per laws. The party had to have been disbanded before the September assembly.
We drafted an official response to the justice ministry, and our delegation, headed by my first deputy Saidumar Husayni met with the minister. They said the minister constantly evaded answers, lowered or diverted his gaze and one could feel the man was not in harmony with his consciousness. He repeatedly said the prepared responses on the necessity of disbanding the party; that would be better for everyone, so to speak. In our response to this ministry, we cited the country’s constitution and effective legislation as well as notified them we were still preparing for the assembly in autumn. We also asked the ministry of justice to fulfil their legal obligations—assisting in holding our party’s event in this case.
To my mind, a deeper and more through analysis and comparison of all information, facts and actions of the authorities in the summer 2015 will reveal answers for many questions. As soon as the officers refused to sign the statement against our party, the justice ministry had immediately sent that ultimatum with the September 5 deadline. After that, the IRPT political bureau convened to discuss possible actions the party could undertake in case the authorities disrupt the assembly and announce the party banned after all. Various scenarios were proposed during that discussion, including protest rallies by the justice ministry. The final decision was that the party would act per circumstances. But the overwhelming attitude was in support of a protest rally. Most likely the authorities have concluded that some officers and soldiers would not take part in cracking down on a peaceful rally even if they are ordered to. That was especially applicable in the case of those who either refused to or unwillingly signed the aforementioned statement. That was scary for the authorities, so they were motivated to neutralised not-so-loyal officers even before the party would be outlawed or the assembly would be cancelled.
Perhaps General Nazarzoda received information that there was a criminal investigation against him and he would be soon arrested. That bothered him, as it can be seen in the words of the deputy national security chief uttered in court only a couple of days before September 4. I think the motives for his subsequent actions are to be sought in these facts. They did not attack any state building; they collected weapons and left for the mountains because they wanted to avoid being arrested.
Most likely General Nazarzoda wanted to avoid the sad fate of other disgraced generals such as ex-Prosecutor General and the presidential administration chief, Mahmadnazar Salihov or ex-Emergencies Minister Mirzo Ziyoyev. Both generals died in mysterious circumstances. Other cases include Generals Yakub Salimov, Gaffor Mirzoyev and Mahmadruzi Iskandarov. This man did not want to simply give up, but wanted to protect himself until the very end and die, if necessary, as a general in a fight, not in a cage.
So that is the extent of “relations” between our party and General Nazarzoda. The situation begs the question: Why was the court held behind closed doors? Why did the authorities not want to show the public, journalists and international observers what exactly our party’s fault was? If they actually had any arguments and facts, it was in their interest to hold an open court and show and prove to everyone we were guilty of something. But because they had no evidence and because the authorities have been preparing for closing our party for a long time—several years in fact, they held these court hearings behind closed doors and used General Nazarzoda’s self-defence attempt to cast the negative light on us all.
Did Emomali Rakhmon’s former companions, former apparatchiks and ministers that you listed above suffered from disagreeing with his line of policies as well or did different fate befall them?
They have different stories albeit they all share one common trait—these people had their own opinions, which they would voice sometimes publicly or candidly. The current authorities always disliked when someone would cross them no matter how trivial the matter is. And now one cannot even think otherwise, because he is no longer just a president, he’s Leader of the Nation. One could silently disagree with the president, but disagreeing with Leader of the Nation is now [equal to] treason. It is doubly dangerous if the dissenting person is respected by the society or has government experience and is financially independent. Such people are not tolerated and that is tragedy of and for everyone, not only military.
Zayd Saidov was imprisoned only because he—a former minister—was a rare case, when one has recognition, respect, money, can reason, and has his own vision as to the country’s future. Dictators perceive such people as ticking time bombs; such people must be destroyed swiftly at all costs [their reasoning goes]. That is why Zayd Saidov was considered a very dangerous competition. This man was declared a criminal as soon as he announced he was establishing a political party. The reason is quite simple: people could follow him. If one is just a face in the crowd and maybe lacks knowledge and reason, the authorities would themselves help such a person establish a party and even include into the parliament as background. All the individuals I listed above did have that “I think” despite their shortcomings. So, yes, there is something in common between General Nazarzoda and these people.
Do you still have relatives in Tajikistan? Are they safe, threatened?
The event unfolded so quickly that we were all caught with guards down, including my family. Part of my family was able to breakthrough, figuratively speaking, only several hours prior to planned arrests, while the other part was unable to leave the country unfortunately. My sister, brother, daughter-in-law with my grandchildren and now deceased father all stayed in Dushanbe. We attempted to help them leave, but the government seized all of their documents, and my father was prohibited from boarding a plane at the very last moment. They are being held as hostages. They are not only deprived of the right to depart from Tajikistan, but they are also prohibited form visiting relatives and each other. Even my sister-in-law could not visit our own house and my old father even though they live only five kilometres away. They were prohibited from participating even in my late father’s funerals.
I do not know what danger would a 95-year-old man pose to the state and the president personally by meeting with his own 5-year-old great-grandson before his death… My grandchildren are prohibited from speaking on the phone with their own father and myself; secret services constantly remind my brothers and sisters that any contact with me can lead to problems. They are prohibited from receiving any kind of help from us. I have to find out how they are from third parties. And all this is not happening somewhere in North Korea or in a medieval period, but in a member-country of the UN, OSCE and other international organisations. It is being orchestrated by the head of a “democratic country,” who is portrayed on local mass media as a loving son and caring father, who likes posing for photos surrounded by his own and others’ children and promises children, elders and women a bright future. No matter how difficult this is, we must accept things the way they are and move on. They decided to punish children, eldes and women. Everyone has their own moral and values and we must show the values and morals we abide by. That is the only difference.
In addition to family, you have another big “family,” i.e. your fellow party members and IRPT veterans. Many of those—around 15 to 20—have been arrested and already convicted. When I told my friends in Moscow I would be interviewing you, they asked to pose this important question: Have you undertaken attempts to save fellow party members from being imprisoned?
Let me say right away: the number of my fellow party-members who have been convicted is my much higher at over 100, neither 15 nor 20. Over 20 were convicted for life or over 20 years of imprisonment. They were members of the political bureaus and presidium of the party. And local activists as well as chairpersons of local party cells were handed down 10- and 20-year imprisonment terms. So the list is quite extensive, but for some reason all international organisations and news agencies are only speaking of and reporting about 13 individuals, who were arrested initially. But in reality their number is much higher.
Now, speaking of our actions to retrieve them: As soon as we received information that they would all be arrested following a summit of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation in Dushanbe on September 15, 2015, I immediately called my deputies and hosted a session of the political bureau. By the way, we received that information from reliable sources inside the government—yes, there are people with clear consciences. Even inside the Hitler Germany there were people who tried saving people’s lives from the fascist government, and paid with their own very lives for doing so. We have such heroes as well and they will be remembered in history of Tajikistan as saviours of many innocent people. Their descendants will be proud.
It turns out other party leaders have received information independently as well. Obviously everyone knew what this government was capable of, but everyone was betrayed by the feeling of or confidence in his or her innocence. I realised it was impossible to convince everyone. Each person had an argument as to why not leave the country. Also, every important decision was made by the majority of votes in the party, not singlehandedly by the leader. And everyone was saying, ‘Why should we leave the country when we have nothing to do with these events? Even if the party is shut down, we will continue acting in accordance with laws.’ Everyone was maintaining there was no need for panic or fleeing the country since we are innocent. That is our innate Tajik naivetes and straightforwardness: If I’m not guilty, why should I be leaving the country? If I leave, that means I’m guilty.
This is the logic Zayd Saidov had when he wanted to prove he was innocent in the Tajik court; he returned to Tajikistan to do so. My fellow party-members, too, did not believe they would be arrested. Even my own children did not want to leave home with my son arguing with me all the time that he must stay behind and be alongside others. As soon as the summit guests departed the country, we received information that we had less than 48 hours. We were told this: This matter is in discussions in the highest echelons of power and if they decide to arrest you, we will be obligated to. I realised there was no meaning in discussing the matter of departure at the party level. Instead I have personally instructed everyone to leave the country as soon as possible. Whoever decided to disobey, they are responsible for themselves.
This method worked, and many people started leaving the country. Some were arrested not days but several hours before the planned departures. Some wanted to bid farewell to their parents in remote areas and some others were still in doubt leaving the country was necessary. Some were apprehended in airports or border checkpoints. In other words, the situation was such that only a few minutes played crucial roles in people’s lives. So when I’m asked, “Did you have any plans to save people?” I say we did not and could not possibly have such a plan. I still think we were able to save some people thanks to receiving information from reliable source in a timely manner about the plans to destroy our party. Unfortunately, not all were saved. Every single one of them is dear to my heart as if they were my brother or father. Especially elderly people, I feel very sorry for them. But sorrow alone is not going to help them now. Again, just like in the case of children, everything is to be perceived the way they are in reality, and apply every effort to either release them or make their lives easier. That’s a different matter, of course.
By the way, Buzurgmehr Yorov, a lawyer who was defending my fellow party-members, was also convinced our people were innocent. Now he is in need of protection and justice himself. When the state’s repressions machine is launched and mercilessly ploughing through humans’ lives at full speed, it is almost impossible to seek and secure justice or save someone.
Do you know Yorov? What can you say about him?
I know this man personally. He is a selfless and honest lawyer as well as a justice-loving and decent human. He believed and continues to believe in laws and justice. Perhaps, he is naïve, but that is who he is. I said selfless because Yorov came to me and said he was prepared to defend me in court after the mayor of Dushanbe filed a lawsuit against me for criticising the condition of environment in the capital. He was convinced that the matter was of political nature. As an MP and member of the ecology committee, I had the right to not only criticise the mass cut downs of thousands of trees throughout the city, but I was also simply obligated to do so. Because doing so not only disrupts the ecological balance, it also tarnishes the city’s beauty. Dushanbe was always known for sycamores and green alleyways; they are building tasteless and strange concrete buildings instead of them now.
City authorities sued me allegedly for damaging the image of Dushanbe city. The lawyer Yorov has arisen to defend me. He came to me and said: “I know you are right according to all laws, and you have a personal immunity, including from judicial prosecution, moreover, for your deputy job you fulfilled according to the law. It is your duty as a member of the Ecology Commission”. Of course we lost our case and the court decided that I have to make my apologies for the critics which I have not made yet.
The second time he was dealing with my case when the authorities had started to take away my business. It was in 2014. I always told him: “Buzurgmehr, I know my all cases have a political character and I am going until the end only because I am not surrendering just like that. But your optimism sometimes raises a little hope”. And he was always telling me that the truth and the law are on our side, and in the end we will win. We never won any case with him. But I always respected and loved him and we were always together. Then he started to defend my party peers, and again voluntarily, selflessly. He did not even consult with me. He just considered as his duty to defend those people in need. Therefore he became a victim of his own selflessness and integrity.
I think he will not only go down in history of Tajikistan – his deeds are worthy of world recognition. The man risked his life for the sake of liberties of others and did not wait anything in return. His only shortcoming – he is Tajik and doing it in Tajikistan, not in Europe, not even in Africa. He must be nominated for a prestigious international award. This would be a moral support not only for Buzurgmehr, but for all political prisoners and unfairly convicted. Therefore I think it is my duty to help him as I can.
At this time, the Tajik opposition, activists, and lawyers are broken up into two camps. One group is those who are already convicted or undergoing trial and could possibly imprisoned for long time. The other group is people who fled the country. Can you tell me what you are planning to do in exile? Are you going to establish a committee, movement or society? Are you going to continue your overt political activities?
Over the last year, we took a pause from information to be able to analyse and evaluate all that happened, to weigh the positives and negatives of the situation we are in and to resolve many organisational matters. We started with reforming the inner-party structure. We completed this process over the course of one year, and subsequently came up with a new structure. We decreased the number of party bodies, unified several departments into one in order to minimise party bureaucracy and align everything with the new reality. We established five regional representative offices: three in Europe and two in our region to be close to Tajikistan. We will open new ones if need be in the future.
We were prevented from finishing the party reforms in the country, so we will have to do so abroad. Certain matters, such as changing the party’s name and charter, were postponed for a later time, as they are not really pressing issues at this time. There are more pressing issues at hand: establishing capable structures in the conditions of being scattered and emigration on the one hand and loss of a big number of party leaders and loyal members. Of course we lost them in the physical sense of the word since they are imprisoned; however, they continue providing immense moral support to the younger generation. Sometimes an inmate can have greater influence on the situation than many in freedom. That is the lesson we learn from the history of many great opposition figures who were jailed and imprisoned such as Nelson Mandela and others. Every single political prisoner in Tajikistan is an integral part of our overall struggle, and their courage and dedication are source of strength and inspiration for the new generation of freedom fighters.
Concerning the establishment of a new movement or something else in exile, I think it is a matter of time. Everyone clearly realises that not a single political body is capable of singlehandedly resolve problems the nation of Tajikistan is facing. All creative forces—both exiled and those in Tajikistan—are destined to eventually unite and struggle together toward that goal. What I am against is approaching the matter superficially and chasing yet another grandiose sensation or the banal desire of putting sticks in someone’s wheels.
Establishing a new opposition movement or coalition is a very serious step to take, which requires a very thoroughly thought-out approach. Sometimes we are accused of not willing to unite with other political forces. That is not so. We are interested in unifying no less than others, if not more actually. However, we did have the bitter experience of such coalitions several times. When coalitions are put together in the virtual world of the Internet or for fame alone, they eventually break apart infamously. A serious and firm coalition can only exist when its members are prepared well and share same views, principles and approach to joint efforts. The guarantor of success of any coalition is the preparedness of its members to work in a team and abide by the same rules and principles.
That is the reason why we are not really rushing [over this matter. We are making thorough preparations for establishing a coalition and considering to include into the ranks of our allies not only existing opposition forces but also those groups and individuals who are yet to announce their oppositional views and are awaiting the right moment to do so. There are such forces both inside the country and abroad. The majority want changes, as everyone is tired of endless lies and avarice. The country is headed toward abyss and there are many people who are not indifferent as to the country their children and grandchildren will live in. The current situation is pernicious for both our people and every single one us, and everyone understands that.
Lastly, the most important factor is that there is a common enemy—the current authorities, that is—must not be the only unifying reason for the future coalition. That would be a very big mistake to make, because it could easily be a time bomb. Instead, we must be united by a more important factor; specifically, the country’s future. We must cast the net much wider: what kind of a country we want for ourselves and what society we want to live in? Before we enter the more serious phase of actions, we must identify the principal matters of the country’s future structure and ensure their perpetuity so that nobody can alter or misinterpret them to their own benefit. The current authorities did just that with the General Peace Agreement and the Constitution several times already. Some people think that we must first deal with the current authorities, and then see and agree on matters. That is a very short-sighted position. If not us, then life itself will take care of these current authorities since that is the fate of any authoritative regime. Instead, we must think about the country’s future in order to prevent the replication of events in Syria and Libya in Tajikistan.
Thank you for this interview!
Interviewer: Daniil Kislov
Fergana international information agency.