Tag Archives: Rahmon

What “Britannica” says about IRPT and dictator Rahmon

What Britannica says about IRPT and dictator Rahmon

After his electoral victory in 1999, Rahmonov sought to establish the authority of the central government throughout Tajikistan, arresting some regional warlords and carrying out a campaign to disarm non-state militias. He also began what many observers saw as a drift toward authoritarianism, using the presidency to increase his personal power and steer the country away from the political pluralism called for by the 1997 peace agreement. The U.S.-led war against the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 provided Rahmonov with a favourable climate for a crackdown against the Islamic opposition in Tajikistan. He accused the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT)—which under the peace agreement was one of the opposition groups entitled to a percentage of government posts—of extremism and began dismissing members of the party from their official positions. The party itself, however, remained legal in Tajikistan. Meanwhile, Rahmonov began to install his extended family and personal associates in dominant roles in politics and business in Tajikistan.

In 2003 Rahmonov’s position was strengthened when voters approved a referendum on a package of constitutional amendments that Rahmonov had requested as necessary to modernize the country. These included an amendment loosening presidential term limits, which made it possible for Rahmonov to hold the presidency until 2020.

The suppression of opposition parties and the muzzling of independent media intensified in the run-up to the legislative elections held in February 2005. Independent newspapers were closed, and opposition parties reported that local election boards had refused to place many of their candidates on the ballot. The final result was a lopsided victory for Rahmonov’s People’s Democratic Party, which won 52 of the 63 seats in the Assembly of Representatives.

Rahmonov himself was easily elected to another seven-year term as president with nearly 80 percent of the vote in November 2006. The IRPT, the largest opposition party, had not to fielded a presidential candidate after longtime party head Said Abdullo Nuri died earlier in year. Several other opposition parties nominated candidates, but the parties were too small and poorly known to pose a threat to Rahmonov.

In March 2007 Rahmonov dropped the Russian suffix (-ov) from his surname as an acknowledgment of Tajik identity. The change initiated a trend of “Tajikization” of surnames that was followed by many senior members of the government.

Rahmon won another term as president on November 6, 2013. A coalition of opposition parties and groups, including the IRPT, had attempted to nominate a candidate, but harassment by the authorities prevented her name from reaching the ballot. Five other parties were able to get their candidates on the ballot, but none were well-known enough to receive significant support.

In September 2015 the government banned the IRPT—until then the only legal Islamist party in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia—and placed it on a list of extremist and terrorist organizations. Several of the party’s leaders were later charged with having orchestrated a coup attempt in 2015 and were sentenced to life imprisonment in 2016 in a case that IRPT supporters and human rights groups denounced as politically motivated.

In May 2016 voters in Tajikistan approved a referendum on a package of constitutional changes that included lifting term limits for President Rahmon and lowering the minimum age for presidential candidates from 35 to 30. The amendments further strengthened the Rahmon family’s already tight grip on power; the amendment concerning presidential term limits had been written to apply only to Rahmon, based on his special status as “Leader of the Nation” granted by the Assembly of Representatives in 2015, and the amendment concerning the age of presidential candidates was widely seen as a way to clear a path to the presidency for Rahmon’s son Rustam, who would be in his early thirties at the time of the 2020 presidential election. Another amendment in the referendum banned all political parties based on religion.

Britannica

https://www.britannica.com/place/Tajikistan

RFERL: “The Happiest Member Of The Rahmon Family”

The nine children of Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, seven daughters and two sons, are doing quite well.

For example, oldest daughter Ozoda Rahmon, 40, is the head of the Tajik president’s executive office; third daughter Rukhshona Rahmonova, 26, is the deputy head of the Foreign Ministry’s international organizations department; sixth daughter Zarina Rahmon, 23, is deputy head of Tajikistan’s largest commercial bank, Orienbonk; and oldest son Rustam Emomali, 30, is the mayor of Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe.

They undoubtedly have good lives, but the member of the family who seems to be having the most fun lately is President Rahmon’s second son, Somon Emomali. Or at least the photos and videos posted on his Instagram page indicate this 18-year-old is having a great time.

But, before you look, remember: Tajikistan has the lowest average monthly salary of the former Soviet republics — the equivalent of about $175. Some people, especially some pensioners, are living on much less than that.

Officially, Tajikistan’s population is some 8.6 million, out of which probably more than 1 million working-age citizens are migrant laborers in Russia or Kazakhstan, legally and illegally, because they could not find decent employment in Tajikistan. Only about a half of Tajikistan’s population has access to clean drinking water.

And, to be fair, Somon does not have a wristwatch collection that could compare to the wristwatches Ibabekir Bekdurdyev, the 28-year-old husband of one of Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov’s nieces, owns.
February 10, 2018

rferl.org

U.S. puts Tajikistan in 10 countries of particular concern. Another big defeat of dictator Rahmon

Press Statement

Heather Nauert
U.S. State Department Spokesperson
Washington, DC

January 4, 2018

In far too many places around the globe, people continue to be persecuted, unjustly prosecuted, or imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. Today, a number of governments infringe upon individuals’ ability to adopt, change, or renounce their religion or belief, worship in accordance with their religion or beliefs, or be free from coercion to practice a particular religion or belief.

In accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the Secretary of State annually designates governments that have engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom as “Countries of Particular Concern”. Today, the Department of State announces that the Secretary of State re-designated Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan as Countries of Particular Concern on December 22, 2017. The Secretary also placed Pakistan on a Special Watch List for severe violations of religious freedom.

The protection of religious freedom is vital to peace, stability, and prosperity. These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries. We recognize that several designated countries are working to improve their respect for religious freedom; we welcome these initiatives and look forward to continued dialogue. The United States remains committed to working with governments, civil society organizations, and religious leaders to advance religious freedom around the world.

U.S. Department of State

January 4, 2018

“Czech Bonanza of Amonullo Hukumov, Ex-Tajik Railways Chief”- OCCRP

Amonullo Hukumov, the former head of Tajik Railways, has told the media that neither he nor his wife own any real estate abroad. But records obtained by OCCRP show that his family has spent over $10.6 million on luxury real estate in two of the Czech Republic’s most popular tourist destinations. The hefty price tag raises questions about the source of the family’s wealth.

Neither scandals nor forced retirement have slowed down the Hukumov family’s real estate purchases.

The wife and children of Amonullo Hukumov, once the powerful head of Tajik Railways, own six properties in Karlovy Vary and Marianske Lazne, Czech resort towns known since the Soviet era as exclusive vacation spots for the elite.

Since buying their first property in December 2012, the Hukumovs have spent about US$ 10.6 million on two houses and four other buildings, including apartment and rental properties, according to sales contracts obtained by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). The family’s only other known foreign property is a Moscow apartment valued at $1.1 million.

Hukumov, 66, who also goes by the Tajik version of his family name Hukumatullo, retired from his position in February 2014, following controversy surrounding the arrest of one son for trafficking heroin and a speeding accident involving the second son that resulted in the death of others.

He has denied that he or his wife own properties in the Czech Republic, and their ability to acquire such impressive assets is hard to explain, given Hukumov’s role as a public official. According to governmental sources, state officials generally do not earn more than 5,000 Somoni ($625) per month.

His wife, Amina Musaeva, 57, owns a company that distributes Russian weapons and a construction service company in Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s capital, but little else is known about either of her businesses.

In June 2016, Hukumov denied that he or his wife own any real estate in Karlovy Vary.

“I’m not in the Czech Republic … I’m in Tajikistan”, he said in an interview with Radio Ozodi, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik Service.

The building on the hill above the downtown of Karlovy Vary bought by Amonullo Hukumov’s family in 2015.
Credit: Pavla Holcova
Hukumov’s Rise

Hukumov’s political career began in 1995, a few years after President Emomali Rahmon came to power. Hukumov is variously referred to in Tajik media as either a relative of Rahmon, or a family friend or close friend to the President but OCCRP could not confirm. He became a member of parliament and the later head of Naftrason, a state owned oil import company. In 2002, he was appointed head of the Tajik Railways. He received a disability pension from the state after his resignation claiming he suffered from diabetes.

While the salary of Tajikistani public officials is not considered public information, the size of Hukumov’s pension became household gossip in the country in early 2015, when President Rahmon criticized inflated disability pensions received by some disabled state officials.

As it turned out, Hukumov was receiving some of the highest pensions in the country – 8,400 Tajik Somoni ($1,200) per month, or more than 37 times higher than the country’s average pension.

During Hukumov’s reign as head of the railroad, it was well known as a major drug smuggling conduit for heroin travelling from Afghanistan to Russia according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). In 2010 and 2011, more than 500 kilograms of heroin and other opiates were been found on trains originating in Tajikistan. A number of railroad employees have been arrested starting in the 1990s.

Representatives of the Hukumov family declined to comment for this story.

From Moscow Prison to Czech Luxury

The Hukumov family’s shopping spree for Czech property began in December 2012 with the purchase of a two-story house in a residential neighborhood of Marianske Lazne, a picturesque spa city in West Bohemia, surrounded by mountain forests, mineral springs, and green parks.

His son Rustam bought the house, which includes a private swimming pool, an outdoor fireplace, a garage, a garden house, and a large backyard for €440,000 ($572,000).

No one was home when reporters visited the house this past summer. There was no name on the doorbell or mailbox, no car parked outside, and the venetian blinds were shut. But the lawn was freshly cut and the roses well-tended.

Living in a luxurious home in a Bohemian spa town would have been a stark contrast for Rustam from his previous year which he served in a high security prison in Russia for the illegal sale of drugs.

Rustam was arrested with three others in June 2008 and charged with attempting to sell 9.3 kilograms of heroin in Moscow. Two years later, he was sentenced to nine years and six months in prison and fined 250,000 rubles (almost $8,100 at the time).

Rustam was found guilty of being one of two organizers of a criminal group. The court found that he had provided the group with mobile communications and transportation.

A higher court confirmed his verdict in December 2010. But a year later, the verdict was unexpectedly reversed and he was set free. According to RosPravosudiye, the Russian registry of court cases, the cases against his accomplices were not reconsidered.

Hukumov’s acquittal mirrored a similar decision made in Tajikistan at around the same time. One month prior, a Tajikistani court freed a Russian and Estonian pilot who had been sentenced to eight-and-a-half-years in prison for smuggling and illegally entering the country. Tajikistani and Russian media speculated that the two countries had traded the criminals, though the Russian Foreign Ministry denied any links between the two cases.

The Hukumov’s house in Marianske Lazne was not the first property the family bought abroad. Two years before Rustam’s arrest in Russia, in May 2006, they bought a 100-square-meter apartment in a new building near a massive Soviet-built exhibition center in northern Moscow. Rustam was registered as the owner.

In December 2009, a year and a half after his arrest, Rustam sold the apartment, worth 34 million rubles ($1.1 million at the time) to his sister Zarrina.

The family’s main house in the Czech Republic sits in a large garden in Olsova Vrata, a district on the outskirts of the spa town of Karlovy Vary. The house is located near an airport with scheduled flights to Moscow. A statue of Yuri Gagarin, a Russian cosmonaut and the first man in space, greets visitors in the parking lot.

The main house of Amonullo Hukumov’s family located in the outskirts of Karlovy Vary bought by Amina Musaeva in 2013 for $1.1 million.Credit: Pavla Holcova

The house was bought by Hukumov’s wife Amina in April 2013 for $1.1 million. It came fully equipped with antique furniture, gold framed paintings, a porcelain statue, curtains brought from Italy and surveillance cameras.

When OCCRP reporters visited the property, it was not being use, and the mailbox was full of advertisements.

Neighbor said the family is not permanently living here. “I barely know them, I am not even sure, what is their name. I only have their phone number for cases something would happen.”

Amina bought the house at a what was likely a stressful time in her life.

In October 2013, her son Rasul, who was 16 at the time, caused a car accident in Dushanbe while driving his BMW without a driver’s license, which left three people dead and three injured. The police initially claimed that he had been speeding and had caused the accident. Nine months later, however, the police changed their mind, saying that, after conducting seven expert examinations of the accident, they had found Rasul innocent.

Instead, his parents were charged with a “lack of responsibility in upbringing and teaching of children.” The mother was ultimately found guilty of negligence in fulfillment of her duties of raising underage children for letting her son outside the home at night and unchaperoned at 2:30 am, when the accident took place. The court in Dushanbe found her guilty and fined her 120 Tajik Somoni ($25 at the time).

Millions in Retirement

Not long after Amonullo Hukumov’s retirement from the railroad following his sons’ scandals, the family bought a historical building located directly in the heart of the world-famous spa town of Karlovy Vary, on the iconic Hot Spring Colonnade on the banks of the river Tepla.

The Colonnade, one of five in the city, is a famous tourist attraction where hundreds of visitors come daily to enjoy the alleged curative benefits of the 15 mineral springs Karlovy Vary is well known for.

His wife Amina bought the building in May 2014 for 88 million CZK ($4.4 million).

The five-story building with 10 apartments is rented by the EA Hotel Esplanade, a hotel operated by the EuroAgentur Hotels & Travel, which claims to be the Czech Republic’s largest hotel company.

The Hukumov family also bought another building on the slope above the center of Karlovy Vary in May 2015 for 4.5 million CZK ($184,000).

The building was renovated and features a bright yellow facade, newly painted windows and walls.

Almost two years ago, the Hukumov family bought two additional properties in Karlovy Vary. In March 2016, Amina bought two buildings in the business district of Karlovy Vary for €4 million (at the time $4.3 million). The two ornate five-story buildings were built in a neoclassic style and decorated with floral reliefs, balconies and columns.

Two decades ago, one of the buildings was used as a bank, according to the receptionist. These days, the offices are rented to attorneys, a furniture shop, a plastic surgery clinic, and a fertility clinic with its own operating theaters and inpatient department.

In July of 2016, Amina gave the building to her daughter Zarrina, but with a clause that read: “The recipient is aware of the fact that the donor can appeal (the donation) in case of need or in case of ingratitude.”

In June 2013, Hukumov’s wife Amina established a real estate business in the Czech Republic. Originally, it was called MUS.AMINA and later renamed to Goldpari s.r.o.

Since its establishment, the company has seemed to have been used to buy three cars – a SUV Skoda Yeti for $19,000, a Ford Raptor for $32,000 and a Bentley for $116,000. The annual report for 2016 shows that Amina loaned 15.5 million CZK ($600,000) to the company. In 2014, she transferred 50 percent of the company to her daughter Zarrina.

It is not known how much the family is now earning from the rent on their properties.

OCCRP
by Pavla Holcova, Vlad Lavrov and OCCRP Tajikistan

04.01.2018

Additional reporting by Olesya Shmagun.

CPJ: Tajik journalist arrested after alleging official corruption

New York, December 13, 2017–Tajik authorities should immediately release journalist Khayrullo Mirsaidov and drop all charges against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Tajik authorities arrested Mirsaidov weeks after he published an open letter to the country’s president, Emomali Rahmon, the general prosecutor, and the governor of his native Sughd region asking them to crack down on corrupt local authorities.

“We call on the Tajik authorities to drop the charges against Khayrullo Mirsaidov and release him,” said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney. “In a place where free media and critical voices are nearly non-existent, journalists like Mirsaidov should be recognized for the important work they do, not locked up on bogus charges.”

The Tajik authorities did not immediately respond to CPJ’s request for comment.

In the letter, which was published in local media on November 8, Mirsaidov alleged that the sports and youth department head for the Sugh region, Olim Zohidzoda, requested $1,000 in kickbacks from the local comedy troupe Mirsaidov manages.

Zohidzoda denied the allegations and accused the journalist of defamation.

The regional prosecutor general’s office in the journalist’s native city of Khujand on December 5 summoned Mirsaidov for questioning related to the letter and then arrested him.

On December 8, a local judge charged Mirsaidov with embezzlement, forgery, false reporting to police, and inciting ethnic and religious hatred, and ordered the journalist to remain in detention for two months, local and regional media reported.

The investigation against Miraidov is ongoing; the charges carry a penalty of 21 years in jail.

The journalist’s father Khabibullo Mirsaidov told the Tajik-language service of the U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that his son denied the charges.

Mirsaidov has covered politics, human rights issues, rights of ethnic minorities, and environmental problems in Tajikistan and Central Asia since 2000. The journalist has contributed to the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, regional news websites Fergana and Asia-Plus, and has also worked as a media trainer on projects sponsored by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Department for International Development (DFID), and the Index on Censorship.

Committee to Pretect Journalists (CPJ)

December 13, 2017

NEWSWEEK: WHY EXTREMIST GROUPS ARE GAINING STRENGTH IN CENTRAL ASIA

When security forces revealed the suspect in an attack on the St Petersburg metro that killed 14 on April 3 was likely a Kyrgyz national, attention turned to the Central Asia region, the source of several attacks on Russia in recent decades. After Friday’s truck attack in Stockholm that killed four, the region made headlines again. Swedish police said the suspect, who has confessed to the attack, was Rakhmat Akilov, from Uzbekistan.

Though Russian authorities believe the St. Petersburg suspect Akbarzhon Jalilov, 22, was a suicide bomber, they arrested eight people in connection with the attack on Monday, and chief of Russian intelligence Alexander Bortnikov said they were also from Central Asian republics.

Both attacks have drawn attention to region with a history of separatism, and in recent years, a source of Islamist extremism. Though neither attack has been claimed by any group so far, both have mirrors in those by the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). The group coordinated similar bombings at train stations in Brussels in March 2016 that killed 32, and a suicide attack on Ataturk airport in Istanbul in June that killed 44 civilians, in which the suspects were also from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. ISIS’s propaganda wing has encouraged its “soldiers” to attack western targets by using vehicle rammings, and an ISIS-inspired attack in Nice in July 2016 killed 86.

There are concerns about the growth of religious extremism in Central Asia—since the rise of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in 2014 experts estimate up to 4,000 people from central Asia have gone to fight for the group in Iraq and Syria. Russia’s shared borders with much of Central Asia have made it nervous. In a speech to the U.N. general assembly in September 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed concern over the growing threat of international terrorism in the region.

Much of Central Asia was formerly part of the Soviet Union, under which sources of identity such as religion and nationality were repressed. “In the 1990s when Communism collapsed, tradition withered away, and there wasn’t much prosperity. Conditions were ripe for a new ideology, and some people, especially young men looking to become heroes, were drawn to that,” says Anna Matleeva, visiting senior research fellow in the department for war studies at King’s College London.

A variety of extreme religious movements operate across Central Asia including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islam (Party of Islamic Liberation, HuT) the Jamaat of Central Asian Mujahidin and the Uyghur Islamic Party of Eastern Turkestan separatist group. Foreign organizations banned across the region include al Qaeda, Afghanistan’s Taliban, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Recruiters for ISIS are present in cities across the region. They target mostly poorer regions, suburbs, towns, areas with big bazaars, a crossroads perhaps, with a good communication network; places that allow a mixing of people anonymously,” Matleeva adds. There are several hotspots of extremism in the central Asian region, within the republics, as well as in regions with a strong separatist bent, such as Xinjiang in China.

Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan, an authoritarian country, led by the dictator Islam Karimov until 2016, borders Afghanistan to the South, Turkmenistan to the west, and Russia to the north. The largest single group of people joining ISIS from Central Asia is from Uzbekistan, say Crisis Group experts.

A 39-year-old Uzbek man is in custody over an attack in Sweden which killed four in the capital, including a Belgian, a Briton, and two Swedes. Police said that he had “expressed sympathy for extremist organizations” including ISIS.

Reuters reports suggest that Uzbek recruits for ISIS could be in the thousands. The International Center for Conflict Resolution ( ICSR ) estimates that more than 500 Uzbek nationals have traveled to Syria to fight for ISIS in its self-styled caliphate. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan became part of ISIS in 2015, and is active in northern Afghanistan alongside the Taliban. The IMU wants to overthrow the Uzbek government and create Turkistan, or an Islamic caliphate which stretches from Xinjiang to the Caspian Sea.

Kyrgyzstan

The home of Jalilov, the alleged St Petersburg attacker, has experienced a “slow arc towards fundamentalism,” according to a June article in The Diplomat, a magazine specialising in Asian affairs. One of the bombers of the Boston marathon in 2013 was born in Kyrgyzstan, as was one of the attackers who hit Ataturk airport. Recruitment for extremist groups, particularly ISIS, is a concern for the tiny country. Estimates vary on the number of citizens that have gone to fight for ISIS, but several reports put the figure at around 500.

Of those who left to fight in Iraq and Syria, around 40 jihadists have returned and authorities are concerned about the influence they may have, and have cracked down on suspected extremist cells as a result.

Through 2015 and 2016 authorities carried out several raids in the capital Bishkek, and in Osh, on targets suspected or terror-related activities. They killed four during the anti-terror operation in July 2015, and detained several more, claiming the black flag of ISIS was flying above the house. In August 2016, police said they had broken up a suspected ISIS cell in Bishkek, and later that year the 10th Main Directorate, a government arm that usually deals with terror-related investigations, conducted weapons raids in Bishkek and Osh.

Other extremist movements besides ISIS have been active in the country, including a domestic arm of Iraqi Shia group Jaishul Mahdi that the government held responsible for bombings in 2010 and 2011. In 2011 the security services highlighted the emergence of an organization called the Islamic Movement of Kyrgyzstan (IMK) and analysts at the Crisis Group believe it has grown and provides assistance to people aiming to fight in Syria with ISIS.

Xinjiang, China

China is convinced that Xinjiang, an autonomous territory located in the far west of the country, and home to Uighur separatists and a Muslim-majority population, poses a threat to the country’s stability to such an extent that entering Urumqi, the capital, feels like entering a warzone. Armored vehicles and riot police line the streets, and there are constant alerts of possible uprisings. The government blamed the minority Uighurs for a knife attack in Xinjiang that left eight dead in February. Ethnic tensions between the Uighurs and China’s majority Han population have been exacerbated by Beijing’s crackdown on rights and civil liberties in the region.

In late February Chinese authorities were on high alert after an ISIS video released by the Al-Furat division of ISIS, their propaganda arm, suggested an attack in the region was imminent.

Since then Beijing directed that all cars in Xinjiang must have GPS, claiming that the form of monitoring was to protect against attacks. The army also marched through Urumqi, in a show of anti-extremist strength.

Tajikistan

Bordering China, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan is a majority Muslim country but follows a secular political institution. In November 2016, the U.S. told visitors to be wary of terror attacks, and to avoid public gatherings as growing religious unrest continued in Tajikistan, with its porous border with Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Though the government has claimed that around 1,000 Tajiks have gone to fight for ISIS, analysts are skeptical, as the government has linked unrest to Islamic extremism when quashing dissent. Previously it was only Central Asian country with Islam represented politically, but President Emomoli Rahmon succeeded after 2015 in concentrating power in his hands after closing the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan. In July that year, Gulmorod Khalimov, the head of Tajikistan’s special forces became a high-profile defection to ISIS—he appeared in a propaganda video for the group, criticizing the Tajik government’s policy toward Islam.

Newsweek

04.12.2017

The Economist: “Tajikistan’s crackdown on observant Muslims intensifies”

Beards, veils, madrassas and Arabic-sounding names are all banned.

THE young Tajik man does not want to leave home, despite his mother’s assurance that he looks fine. The day before he had sported a curly black beard, just like his friends from the mosque. But the police had frogmarched him and other bearded young men to the barber shop, where their beards were shaved off. A few of the onlookers laughed, but, once out of the police’s sight, many more grumbled.

Such scenes have become increasingly common in Tajikistan, a landlocked country of 9m bordering Afghanistan and China. In 2015 an official in one of the country’s four regions reported forcibly removing the beards of 13,000 men. Con men have started selling certificates, complete with photographs and official-looking stamps, permitting holders to grow a beard. Initially, the Tajik government blamed the crusade against beards on local police, but it now admits that it instigated the practice to curb religious extremism.

Shaving beards is just one tool the government uses to suppress Islam, even though more or less the entire population is at least nominally Muslim. In 2015 it closed more than 160 headscarf shops. Last year it outlawed Arabic-sounding names. Earlier this year it prohibited the production, import or export of religious books without permission. Obtaining a permit to set up a religious organisation, publish a book on Islam or go on pilgrimage to Mecca is an arduous process.

In 2010 Tajikistan had 19 registered madrassas and hundreds of unregistered ones. The last was closed in 2016. Anyone providing unofficial religious teaching can be imprisoned for up to 12 years. Even studying in religious schools outside the country is prohibited. Almost 3,000 young men attending religious schools in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt and other countries have been coerced into coming home.

There are about 3,700 mosques in the country. They are heavily regulated by the government, down to the subject of the weekly sermon. Using loudspeakers to broadcast the call to prayer is no longer allowed. Children younger than 18 and women are not permitted to attend the mosque. People under 40 are not allowed to go on the haj.

Tajikistan was unique among the former Soviet republics of Central Asia in allowing an Islamist opposition party, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT)—the result of a peace deal that ended a civil war in 1997. But Emomali Rahmon, the country’s leader since 1992, was on the opposing side in the conflict and has gradually reneged on the deal. In 2015 he banned IRPT; since then, his campaign against the pious has intensified.

The repression, inevitably, has helped to radicalise devout Muslims. More than 2,000 Tajiks are reported to have joined Islamic State. The former commander of an elite police force, Gulmurod Khalimov, is their most prominent recruit. In a YouTube video he threatened to return to Tajikistan to establish sharia (Islamic law). (Earlier this month Russia claimed that he had been killed in an airstrike in Syria.)

A more effective means to curb radicalism might be to boost the economy. Unofficial estimates suggest unemployment is as high as 15%. In search of work, many young men travel abroad, where some become radicalised. But Mr Rahmon seems more concerned about beards than jobs.

This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline “Beardless and jobless”
Sep 21, 2017
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