Tag Archives: Tajik Opposition

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

Eurasianet: “Tajikistan: Opposition Leader Tried in Absentia”

Tajikistan: Opposition Leader Tried in Absentia

A spokesman for the court declined to state what Muhiddin Kabiri is charged with, saying those details are a “state secret.”

Tajikistan’s Supreme Court has begun hearings in a criminal trial against the exiled leader of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party, or IRPT, Muhiddin Kabiri.

RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, reported on February 1 that Supreme Court spokesman Shermuhammad Shohiyon declined to specify what exact charges Kabiri is actually facing, saying the matter is a state secret.

Kabiri lives in Germany, where he has received political asylum.

IRPT representatives have told Eurasianet that they too do not know what charges Kabiri is facing. The speculated that the accusations might include terrorism, extremism, attempting to topple power through violent means, polygamy and fraud. IRPT has always denied all such accusations of criminality.

In 2017, Tajikistan adopted changes to the law allowing the courts to carry out trials in absentia and to conduct criminal investigations against people outside the country.

Opposition politicians forced to flee overseas maintain that the changes have been adopted specifically with them in mind.

In actual fact, the looser requirements for trials in absentia have also been deployed against people suspected of enlisting in the Islamic States militant group. In some cases, it is not even known whether the people on trial are still alive or not.

The clear danger of this approach is that the need for presenting convincing evidence is quite absent, as illustrated by one recent case.

Last week, a court in the Khatlon region sentenced Shamsiddin Saidov, an IRPT activist now living in Europe, to 15 years in jail. Saidov was found guilty of charges that included terrorism and extremism.

“There is evidence of the defendant’s involvement in terrorism. Nine witnesses were questioned. Photographic evidence was also presented in which he was seen sitting next to Kabiri,” a spokesman for the court told the media.

The IRPT was vaguely tolerated by Tajik authorities until September 2015, when the government embarked on a full-on onslaught against the party, which was at the time the last viable opposition force in the country. Officials said the party was involved in an alleged attempted coup that took place that month. No reliable evidence for the coup having actually taken place has ever been made public.

Following the crackdown, at least 12 senior IRPT members were jailed and sentenced to long prison terms. Kabiri was the only leadership figure to evade arrest as he was out of the country at the time.

Feb 2, 2018

eurasianet

Fergananews:”High-Ranking Member of Tajik Islamic Renaissance Party Sentenced in Absentia”

A provincial court in Tajikistan has convicted Shamsiddin Saidov in absentia to 15 years in prison, Ozodi Radio reports. Saidov is a former member of the political council of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (PIVT).

Saidov was found guilty of extremism, terrorism and other crimes. The court heard nine witnesses and considered photographs on which Saidov is pictured sitting next to the PIVT leader, Mukhiddin Kabiri.

According to open sources, Saidov joined PIVT in the 1980s when the party was still operating underground. The authorities arrested him after one of the anti-Soviet protests in 1986 and forcibly deported him to Siberia.

When the civil war broke out in Tajikistan, Saidov left for Afghanistan where he represented PIVT’s leader at the time, Said Abdullo Nuri who died in 2006.

After the war in 1997, Saidov returned to his homeland and joined the National Reconciliation Commission. Until 2010 he led the International Department of PIVT. Saidov lives abroad now.

In 2017, Tajikistan passed a number of reforms amending the criminal legislation in order to allow convictions in absentia for especially dangerous criminals hiding abroad. Some observers noted at the time that the amendments seemed designed specifically to persecute PIVT leaders who had fled abroad. However, the authorities categorically denied such an interpretation of the legislative changes.

Until September 2015, PIVT had been the only officially functioning religious party in the post-Soviet space for 16 years. In August 2015, the Ministry of Justice of Tajikistan demanded PIVT to cease its activities. And in September, the republic’s authorities accused the PIVT leadership of involvement in a military mutiny led by the former Deputy Minister of Defense, Abdukhalim Nazarzoda.

The Supreme Court then labelled the party a terrorist organization and ordered the arrest of its leadership. In June 2016, the court sentenced 14 members of PIVT’s political council to various prison terms, two of them for life.

The party leader. Muhiddin Kabiri, left the republic right after the parliamentary elections on 1 March 2015 – six months before the “rebellious” events of September. He later said that he had fled fearing that he would face a criminal case fabricated against him at home.

In September 2016, Interpol’s website listed the name of Kabiri among its wanted suspects. Nevertheless, the leader of the PIVT announced his intention to continue the activities of the party in exile. Kabiri rejects all charges against PIVT – he thinks that the September insurgency was the reason for the ban on the activities of the Islamic party.

January 26,2018

Fergana News Agency

Noria: “The Dynamics of the Peace Process in Tajikistan: Power-Sharing and the Unravelling of the post-Civil War Status Quo”

by | Jan 15, 2018

Parts of Central Asia – a region where authoritarian rule has been the norm since the end of the Soviet Union – are liberalising, albeit modestly. In Uzbekistan, this has been the case since the passing of President Karimov in 2016. As for Kyrgyzstan, it experienced its first formal democratic transfer of power after the October 2017 presidential elections. Tajikistan, however, seems to go against regional trends and is steadily sliding towards consolidated authoritarianism. For much of the 2000s, this small landlocked country, located at the junction of Asia’s highest mountain ranges1, enjoyed a considerable degree of political pluralism (second only to Kyrgyzstan), and the highest degree of media freedom in all Central Asia.2 The end of this brief democratic opening coincides with the unravelling of the post-civil war power-sharing agreement. Tajikistan is still recovering from the bloody civil war of 1992-1997, which led to the loss of 60,000 to 100,000 lives and to the displacement of approximately 650,000 Tajikistanis.3

The conflict pitted regionally-based interest groups against one another in a struggle both for access to state resources and over competing ideological visions for the country’s future. The pro-government factions, drawn from the ranks of the Soviet-era bureaucratic elite and backed by the traditionally dominant lowland-dwelling Tajikistanis in the north and south of the country, were bent on defending the post-independence status quo. Independence had been thrust upon the Central Asian republics unexpectedly in 1991. Tajikistan’s political leadership, having with great reluctance shouldered their emancipation from Moscow, aimed to mitigate for these changes by preserving a degree of continuity with the Soviet era. This meant maintaining strong state control over the lives of the country’s citizens, especially in the economic, religious and national identity realms. The chief challenger of the status quo was the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), a loose coalition of Tajik nationalists, moderate Islamists, liberal democratic activists and advocates for greater self-determination for the linguistically and confessionally distinct Gorno-Badakhshan region. The Tajik opposition’s aims were the relinquishment of Tajikistan’s Soviet legacy and a partial reorientation of the country’s political ties from the post-Soviet space towards the wider Persian-speaking world. The UTO was backed by the inhabitants of the rugged mountainous regions of central and eastern Tajikistan, by their regional-identity-preserving kinsmen in the cotton-rich southern lowland Qurghonteppa region, relocated there by force during the Stalinist era, and also by the liberal-minded parts of the urban intelligentsia.

The armed conflict was the culmination of a series of domestic crises, starting with the February 1990 riots (triggered by the rumoured relocation of Armenian refugees to Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s capital). Large-scale opposition protests in mid-1991, in reaction to the failed coup in Moscow, culminated in the resignation of then President Mahkamov and the outlawing of the Communist party. The emboldened opposition took to the streets again the following year, after the dismissal of the Badakhshani minister of interior Navzhuvanov.4 Firearms found their way into the hands of the participants of opposing rallies and town square sit-ins and violence eventually broke out. The fighting then spread to most parts of the country, as returning protesters and counter-protesters alike brought belligerent zeal to their own respective home provinces. The first months of the war were also the most violent. A pro-government paramilitary group known as the Popular Front initiated “sub-ethnic” cleansing, singling-out civilians on the basis of on their regional origins, first in the mixed Qurghonteppa region, only to bring this tactic over later to the capital. Tajikistan’s neighbours and other regional powers played an important role in both the civil war and the eventual peace talks. The government received fluctuating degrees of support from the Russian Federation and neighbouring Uzbekistan, while Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance5 supplied the UTO with arms, training and logistical support. As for Iran, it provided the opposition with ideological backing, most notably supporting the now-banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), the UTO’s most powerful constituent.

The article maps the peace process and post-war power-sharing in Tajikistan. It shows how the post-conflict political order unravelled, with the creeping monopolization of the executive branch by pro-government forces squeezing out all meaningful opposition. Nevertheless, despite the political and economic challenges and persistent regional divisions, no renewed larger-scale armed conflict has taken place in Tajikistan so far.6

THE PEACE PROCESS AND POWER SHARING: SHAKING THE TRADITIONAL INTER-REGIONAL POWER BALANCE

The end of the war in Tajikistan can be attributed to coordinated international efforts to bring the warring sides to the negotiating table. This reflected both new security developments in the region and an alignment of national interests among key regional players. This was most notably the case of Iran and Russia, brought together by the latter’s bid to complete the construction of a nuclear power plant in the southern Iranian city of Bushehr. In early 1996, Russian foreign minister Kozyrev had been replaced by the more proactive Yevgeny Primakov, an expert in the Middle East, and Russia’s “soft underbelly” to the south regained prominence in Moscow’s policymaking. In Afghanistan just next door, the rapid northward advances of the Taliban after the fall of Kabul that same year allowed for some Russian arm twisting of the Northern Alliance, compelling the latter to stop supplying the UTO with weapons.7 External interference thus ensured that none of the two warring parties in Tajikistan could secure a decisive victory and that the only conceivable outcome would be a negotiated peace deal.

“Track Two” diplomacy laid the groundwork for official meetings in Moscow, Tehran, Islamabad and other regional capitals. These meetings set the modalities for an indefinite ceasefire, the return of refugees and internally displaced persons, and the demobilization of the “armed opposition” or their incorporation into the national army. However, a serious shortcoming of those peace talks and the peace process at large was that they excluded very early on some of the major regionally-based interest groups. This was notably the case of the more hard-line Islamists within the UTO and of the largely pro-government Uzbek minority. Conspicuously side-lined was also the historically dominant Leninabad Region in the north of the country, virtually unscathed by a civil war roaring at a safe distance two high mountain chains away, which gradually lost its political dominance to the southern Kulob Region.8 These exclusions led to several violent attempts to derail the peace process. The most high-profile case was a series of armed incursions by rogue ex-army commander Khudoiberdiev, a member of the country’s sizeable Uzbek minority, carried out from neighbouring Uzbekistan in 1996 and 1998. Furthermore, in remote parts of central and eastern Tajikistan, a handful of former UTO commanders kept engaging in skirmishes with government forces until as late as the mid-2010s.9

In light of this limited inclusiveness, the civil war and subsequent peace process did little to resolve the structural causes behind the original outbreak of hostilities, namely weak state capacity, extreme regional imbalances in access to resources, a regionally fragmented and weakly consolidated national identity, and chronic side-lining of both Islamist and liberal voices. The only deep change the civil war brought about was the southward shift of the inter-regional power balance. This change had manifested itself in the replacement, half way into the war, of Leninabadi President R. Nabiev by Emomali Rahmon, the current incumbent. The latter had worked as a chairman of a collective farm in the Danghara District of the southern Kulob Region, half-way between Dushanbe and the city of Kulob itself. The appointment of then inconsequential and seemingly weak Rahmon was a compromise between the economically and politically-dominant North and the high command of Tajikistan’s armed forces, which traditionally hailed from Kulob. Leninabad’s isolation from the rest of the country, the lack of more active Northern involvement in the civil war and the South’s brandished authenticity as the home of true Tajiks (as opposed to the more “Uzbek-flavoured” North), all contributed to this side-lining.

THE IMPLEMENTATION AND THE EROSION OF THE POWER-SHARING DEAL: EARLY RED FLAGS

The post-war arrangement granted 30% of the seats in the executive branch to the UTO. The necessity to “free up” the promised percentage served as an excuse for the newly dominant southern regional grouping to remove from positions of power the regional cliques that had been excluded from the peace negotiations.10 The ones bearing the brunt were the northern Leninabadis and the Uzbeks, but also to some extent non-Danghari Kulobis. Last but not least, none of the key ministries were ceded to former UTO commanders; they were all securely in the hands of the ascendant Southern political elites.11 Such repudiations from the executive branch, which the government could easily blame on exogenous constraints, like the implementation of an internationally-brokered peace agreement, were a sign of things to come.

The post-civil war power-sharing mechanism itself suffered an early blow in 2000, when the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund pledged tens of millions of dollars of post-conflict economic assistance to Tajikistan under the condition that government spending will be noticeably slimmed down. Ministries, government agencies and state companies were thus disbanded or merged, in a way that consistently targeted those positions held by the opposition, rather than by the dominant, essentially Southern, power group.12 Disbanding existing ministries proved to be too limited of a tool in reshaping the post-war power balance. The post-conflict compromise was further undermined by a de-legitimization campaign against non-co-opted high-ranking members of the UTO still holding quota-related positions of power. The most common approach was the use of flimsy disciplinary or criminal charges against prominent ex-UTO commanders. This tactic was used in 2003 against Shamsiddin Shamsiddinov, deputy-chair of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT)13 and, in 2006, against Mirzo Ziyoev, minister of emergency situations.14

The slow pace of this marginalization suggests that Southern political elites had learnt from their Northern predecessors’ mistakes. Some experts claim that the escalation of violence at the start of the civil war in the early 1990s was set off by a full-on attack on the opposition by overconfident Northern political elites.15 The Southerners’ slow and cautious eviction of the opposition proved to be a more successful strategy. This explains why the IRPT was only outlawed in 2015, first by parliamentary vote and later again by a supreme court ruling. What begs an explanation, however, is the Islamic Renaissance Party’s surprising complacency.

A NEW POLITICAL AND SOCIO-POLITICAL REALITY: THE CONSTRICTION OF THE RULING CIRCLE AND OF THE NARRATIVE OF SECURING PEACE FOR TAJIKISTAN

Indeed, besides a handful of prominent exceptions, there does not seem to have been any serious backlash against the slow monopolisation of the Tajikistani state apparatus by an increasingly narrow regional clique. This self-restraint has been a striking feature of the post-civil war status quo in Tajikistan.16 It is true of the opposition in Tajikistan, but also of the bulk of the country’s adult citizenry, among which the desire to maintain peace seems to have trumped almost all other political demands. The still vivid memory of the anti-government protests in Shahidon Square in 1992, which set off a chain of events culminating in armed conflict, precludes any large-scale display of public discontent in an increasingly authoritarian state. Concurrent elections in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in 2005 were illustrative of the political apathy of Tajikistani citizens to cases of vote-rigging, while the same allegation in Kyrgyzstan led to the toppling of the regime.17 On a wider regional scale, the civil war in Tajikistan is used by autocratic regimes like Uzbekistan as a cautionary tale: it allows to present peace as incompatible with real political competition, let alone the legal existence of Islamist parties.

The people currently in power in Tajikistan seem to understand this deterrent effect very well. Moreover, the official narrative frames peace in Tajikistan as solely the President’s achievement. By imposing this narrative, Rahmon’s inner circle indirectly acknowledges that it can no longer simply rely on the fading recollections of Tajikistani citizens. Early on, primary school textbooks in post-war Tajikistan had included sentences like “We are fighting for peace”.18 More recently, a December 2015 law passed by the Parliament declared the current President “Founder of Peace and National Unity, Leader of the Nation” – local media outlets failing to write an unabridged version of this official title each time Rahmon is mentioned face hefty fines.19 As a legitimizing device, memories of the civil war and its atrocities had given way to a broader ideological narrative, hinging on the myth that Emomali Rahmon single-handedly ended the civil war in Tajikistan. Many state-commissioned posters and banners throughout the country convey this notion more or less explicitly.

However, these efforts might prove insufficient given Tajikistan’s demographic trends. While 7% of the population is between 18 and 25 years of age, a whopping 40% is under the age of 18.20 These cohorts have no personal recollections of the war of the 1990s. With time, the proportion of Tajik citizens with some degree of political consciousness but lacking the political self-restraint stemming from a first-hand experience of civil strife will increase dramatically. This will serve as a test for the credibility of the government’s one-sided narrative of peace-making, and could have a potentially destabilizing effect on the domestic situation – especially if the flow economic migrants, which is both crucial for Tajikistan’s remittance-dependent economy and a social and political “safety valve”, gets disrupted. The most important stabilising factor in Tajikistan’s political culture is thus slowly fading away. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s relative success in recruiting young Tajik migrant workers in Russia for their war effort in Syria and Iraq can serve as a red flag.21

CONCLUSION

Contrary to the prevailing official narrative, putting an end to the civil war in Tajikistan would have been hardly conceivable without an alignment of national interests amongst relevant regional players like Russia and Iran. While most short-term and medium-term goals of the peace process (the return of refugees and internally displaced persons and the end of hostilities) have been met, the erosion of institutionalised power-sharing mechanisms has greatly undermined the post-civil war status quo. With the structural tensions behind the war still unresolved, the only major stabilising force in Tajikistan is the considerable self-restraint of stakeholders, primarily of the opposition, which partly accounts for the IRPT’s passivity all the way until the recent government crackdown. All in all, post-civil war political developments in Tajikistan show a considerable degree of path-dependency, with wartime experiences and the peace process still determining political outcomes to a large extent. However, while this still holds true of the ruling elites, an increasing percentage of the population with no recollection of past hostilities would be less reluctant to refrain from violent contestation.

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Jan Tomek

Jan Tomek is an Mlitt student of “Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asian Security Studies” at University of St Andrews and graduate of the SciencesPo Paris – Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) dual degree Masters’ programme in “International Affairs: International Security”. His areas of academic interest include regional politics and issues of identity, security and development in Central Eurasia (Anatolia, the Caucasus, Iran and Central Asia). His current objective is to start a doctoral research focusing on Iran’s regional policy vis-à-vis its northwestern and northeastern neighbourhood.
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  1. Namely the Pamirs, the Karakoram Range, the Hindu Kush and, not far away, the northernmost edge of Himalayas.
  2. According to annual reports of Reporters without Borders’ “The World Press Freedom Index” and Freedom House’s “Freedom of the World”
  3. Akiner, Shirin and Catherine Barnes. “The Tajik civil war: Causes and Dynamics”. Accord, 2001, p. 18.
  4. Splidsboel Hansen, Flemming. “The outbreak and settlement of civil war: Neorealism and the case of Tajikistan”. Civil Wars, 2:4, Winter 1999, pp. 1-22.
  5. The commonly used name of the anti-Taliban “United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan”, founded in 1996, is to be understood here as all political and military factions in Afghanistan loyal to Ahmad Shah Massoud and Burhanuddin Rabbani, including pre-1996 ones.
  6. This article is based on the author’s fieldwork in Tajikistan from mid-March to late May 2016
  7. Interview with Nurali Davlat, Dushanbe, May 13, 2016
  8. Iji, Tetsuro. “Cooperation, Coordination and Complementarity in International Peacemaking: the Tajikistan Experience”. International Peacekeeping, 12:2, Summer 2005, pp. 189-204.
  9. OSCE Centre in Dushanbe Spot Reports, 2010-2011
  10. Nourzhanov, Kirill. “Saviours of the Nation or Robber Barons? Warlord Politics in Tajikistan”, Central Asian Survey, 24:2, June 2005, pp. 109-130.
  11. ICG Asia Report N° 30 – “Tajikistan: an Uncertain Peace”, International Crisis Group. 24 December 2001
  12. Nakaya, Sumie. “Aid and transition from a war economy to an oligarchy in post-war Tajikistan”. Central Asian Survey, 28:3, September 2009, pp. 259-273.
  13. Asia Briefing – “Tajikistan’s Politics: Confrontation or Consolidation?”. International Crisis Group. Dushanbe/Brussels. 19 May 2004. p. 6.
  14. Heathershaw, John. “Seeing like the International Community: How Peacebuilding Failed (and Survived) in Tajikistan”, Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding, 2:3, November 2008, p. 348.
  15. Tunçer-Kılavuz, Idil. “Understanding Violent Conflict: A Comparative Study of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan”. Department of Central Eurasian Studies, Indiana University, August 2007. p. 10, 154.
  16. There have been questionable government efforts to establish links between the IRPT and former Deputee Defence Minister A. Nazarzoda, the instigator of the single-most recent security threat: a short-lived revolt ending with a fatal shootout in a mountain gorge not far from Dushanbe
  17. Knyazev, Aleksandr, quoted in Almatbaeva, Žuldyz. “Aleksandr Knyazev: Tadžikistan – voina meždu regional’nymi èlitami” [Aleksander Knyazev: Tajikistan is experiencing a war between regional elites] Regnum. 9 September 2015.
  18. Mahkamov S. and Š. Qosimova. ‘Zaboni davlatī (Tojikī) – Kitobi darsī baroi sinfi 3’ [The State Language (Tajiki) – A textbook for the third grade] 2003. This is probably also a reflection of Soviet-era discourse.
  19. “Tajikistan: State Media Forced to Always Call President by Unwieldy Title”. EurasiaNet, April 24, 2017.
  20. Demographic projections for the year 2016, World Bank
  21. “Grazhdane Tadzhikistana lidiruyut po kolichestvu boevikov-smertnikov IG v Sirii i Irake” [Tajikistan’s Citizens are in the Lead in Numbers of ISIL Fighters-Suicide Bombers in Syria and Iraq]. Ferghana News. March 16, 2017.

excas.net: “Tajikistan Human rights abuse: the use of international system to target dissidents abroad (by Saipira Furstenberg and Elizabeth Talbott, Univeristy of Exeter)”

In early October of this year, after attending an OSCE human rights meeting in Warsaw, Poland, Mirzorakhim Kuzov, a senior leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), was detained by Greek police at passport control at Athens Airport. Kuzov was held under an Interpol ‘Red Notice’ warrant released by Tajik authorities, who accuse him of politically motivated extremism. On the 1st of December 2017, Kuzov was released from detention; the Greek court ruled out his extradition to Tajikistan on the grounds that charges against Kuzov were politically motivated[1].

 

 

Since 2015, the Tajik government, under the mantra of the “war against terrorism”, is pursuing its most intense human rights crackdown with the banning of the country’s main democratic opposition parties: IRPT and Group 24.  The Tajik government has labelled these opponents as “extremist” groups[2] in order to discredit them and legitimise security measures against their members. Further, the systematic jailing of political opponents and the country’s independent legal professionals, as well as the harassment of journalists and nongovernmental organizations, is rapidly becoming ‘normality’ in Tajikistan[3]. Moreover, retaliation and collective punishment against the relatives of perceived government critics, in and outside the country, has been a constant feature of the crackdown. The authorities have often targeted the relatives of activists who have fled abroad and continued their vocal activism in exile. Since 2015, as the Central Asia Political Exile (CAPE) Database demonstrates, the government is systematically targeting critics and dissents abroad, by seeking their detention and extradition back to Tajikistan. In September 2016 for instance, Dushanbe used tactics of collective punishment to retaliate against activists abroad who took part in a human rights conference set up by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe[4].

Another tactic employed by the government is the practice of enforced disappearance to silence opposition critics. In 2015, Maksud Ibragimov, the activist for the Youth for the Rebirth of Tajikistan movement was abducted in Russia and sentenced to 17 years’ imprisonment upon his forced repatriation to Tajikistan[5].

Further, as has been recently observed, increasingly autocratic dictators are using their formal and informal links between those ‘near and dear’ to them. Formal intelligence sharing arrangements through bilateral or multilateral agreements, such as the Collective Security Treaty Organisation and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation structures, facilitate the targeting of the individuals and opposition groups abroad.  In the light of the recent history of terrorist attacks in Russia, fighting terrorism has become a top priority for the Russian government[6]. Given the large number of migrants in Russia from Central Asia and particularly from Tajikistan, and growing concerns about their possible radicalisation, cooperation between the FSB and national security services from Central Asian countries has strengthened. Individual cases from the CAPE database demonstrate how Russian security services have proven willing to detain, kidnap and extradite targetted individuals requested by the governments of Central Asia. The CAPE data highlights that the highest amount of forcible returns and disappearance are from Tajikistan. The recent case of Khurshed Odinayev provides a clear illustration of these observations:

On the 29th of November,   the Supreme Court of Russian Federation decided to extradite Khurshed Odinayev, a citizen of Tajikistan, to his homeland despite the ban of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). It’s important to note that prior to this decision, the Tadjik citizen, was also kidnapped from Federal Penalty Service Belgorod region on, two weeks before his release date from detention.  Khurshed Odinayev was detained at the request of the Tajik authorities and placed in Belgorod City SIZO-3 (pre-trial detention centre) in the autumn of 2016. Back in his home country he is accused of supposedly engaging fellow citizens in military operations on the territory of other countries while staying in Russia[7].

Dictators around the world have embraced INTERPOL as a repressive tool to persecute dissidents beyond their home borders. In December 2017, the head of the national bureau of Interpol in Tajikistan, Abdugaffor Azizov[8] told in the media, that the government has put 2,528 citizens of Tajikistan on the list of internationally wanted fugitives. In recent years, as our data demonstrates, the Tajik government has tried to control and persecute dissidents and activists abroad by issuing politically motivated ‘Red Notices’ through INTERPOL. Bruno Min from the organisation Fair Trials also notes that authoritarian states have misused INTERPOL mechanisms of international cooperation to export human rights abuses[9]. The issue of politically motivated ‘Red Notices’ has led to the wrongful detention of many innocent victims, as in the case of Mirzorakhim Kuzov. The US government acknowledged Tajikistan of misusing terrorism allegations as a pretext to target independent voices, including dissidents living abroad[10]. On the 9th of November 2016 INTERPOL adopted a set of reforms to address these concerns. The reforms aim to strengthen the internal review process and make delisting decisions of the targeted individual binding on the organization rules and respect of human rights. Yet so far the implementation of these reforms to stop abusive requests from authoritarian states has been poor.  As the case of Mirzorakhim Kuzov demonstrates, the real challenge for INTERPOL is to effectively review and distinguish between genuine criminal cases and those that are politically motivated.

Tajikistan’s appalling records in human rights, torture, enforced detention and forced repatriation of dissidents and political activists in and outside the country raises serious concerns, yet the international outrage, particularly from the European Union (EU), is barely audible. The EU’s current Central Asia strategy, adopted in 2007, forms the political template between Brussels and Central Asia’s five former Soviet republics. Given the rapid deterioration of human rights and freedom of speech in Tajikistan but also in the other four Central Asian states as CAPE database demonstrates, it is increasingly important to address human rights abuses in the region. Clearly future bilateral and international agreements in the region should leverage economic and foreign aid support based on meaningful human rights progress in the region, anything short of that would likely to result in empty promises.

 

[1] Ferghana News 2017. ‘Greece refuses handover of Tajik political activist’. 1 December,2017.[Online].Available at: http://enews.fergananews.com/news.php?id=3629&mode=snews [Accessed: 10 December, 2017].

[2] Lemon, E. 2016. ‘The long arm of the despot’.Open Democracy. 24 February 2016. [Online]. Available at: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/edward-lemon/long-arm-of-despot [Accessed: 10 December, 2017].

[3] Human Rights Watch,2016. ‘Tajikistan: Severe Crackdown on Political Opposition US, EU Should Urgently Raise Abuses’. 17 Feb. 2016. [Online]. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/02/17/tajikistan-severe-crackdown-political-opposition [Accessed: 10 December, 2017].

[4] Putz C., 2016. ‘OSCE Manages to Irritate Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Human Rights Advocates, Too’. The Diplomat. September 27, 2016. [Online] Available at: https://thediplomat.com/2016/09/osce-manages-to-irritate-tajikistan-kyrgyzstan-and-human-rights-advocates-too/ [Accessed: 10 December, 2017].

[5] Human Rights Watch, 2017. ‘Moldova: Activist Faces Extradition to Tajikistan Forced Return Could Lead to Torture, Ill-Treatment’. 17 August, 2015. [Online]. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/10/10/how-eu-should-tackle-tajikistan-crackdown [Accessed: 10 December, 2017].

[6] Galeotti, M. 2016. ‘RepressIntern”: Russia’s security cooperation with fellow authoritarians’. 22 November, 2016. [Online]. Available at: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mark-galeotti/repressintern-russian-security-cooperation-with-fellow-authoritarians [Accessed: 10 December,2017].

[7] Ferghana News, 2017. ‘Supreme Court of Russia ignores European Court of Human Rights ban on extraditing Tajik citizen’. 29 November, 2017.[Online]. Available at: http://enews.fergananews.com/news.php?id=3625&mode=snews [Accessed: 10 December,2017].

[8]  Interfax, 2017. ‘Almost 1,900 Tajik terrorists wanted by Interpol – Dushanbe’. 23 November, 2017. [Online]. Available at: http://www.interfax.com/newsinf.asp?pg=8&id=792406 [Accessed: 10 December,2017].

[9] Min, B. 2017. ‘INTERPOL reforms and the challenges ahead for cross-border cooperation’. Foreign Policy Centre Report ‘Closing the Door: the challenge facing activists from the former Soviet Union seeking asylum or refuge’, December 4, 2017. [Online]. Available at: https://fpc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Closing-the-Door-publication-Dec-2017.pdf [Accessed: 10 December, 2017]

[10] United States Department of State, ‘Country Reports on Terrorism 2016 – Tajikistan’, 19 July 2017.[Online]. available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/5981e413c.html %5BAccessed 10 October 2017]

15 Jan.2018

Fargana News: “Tajik Ministry of Justice Finds no Political Prisoner in Republic’s Jails”

Over 10,000 prisoners are held currently in jail, pre-trial and preliminary investigation institutions in Tajikistan. Among them are 321 women and 47 minors, Asia Plus reports, citing Justice Minister Rustam Shokhmurod.

According to the official, there is no such category as “political” among prisoners, as the law does not foresee such a concept.

“Besides, there is no authority that could determine the category of political prisoners. Our prisons contain inmates who committed crimes and were convicted in accordance with our Criminal Code,” the minister continued.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch ascertained that the persecution of opposition members in Tajikistan again worsened last year.

“Authorities’ use of torture to obtain confessions remains a serious concern. In 2017, the government continues to block various websites with information critical of the government, subject human rights groups to harassment, including a law requiring non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to register all sources of funding from foreign sources, restricts media freedoms, and has enforced serious restrictions on religious practice,” human rights activists wrote. According to their estimates, at least 150 political activists and their lawyers remain in Tajik prisons, including on trumped-up criminal cases.

Last July, HRW stated that the authorities of Tajikistan are harassing the relatives of ten opposition members who took part in a conference in Germany on July 09, 2017 as payback for them speaking out against the authorities.

“The Tajik government’s vicious campaign of intimidation against dissidents’ relatives is widening and becoming ever more brazen. The simultaneous actions by security services and local officials across numerous cities suggest a policy of collective punishment sanctioned at the highest levels, which should end immediately,” Steve Swerdlow, who represents HRW in the countries of Central Asia, said at the time.

Among those persecuted for political reasons, according to human rights activists, are activists of the Islamic Revival Party (PIVT) that was banned in Tajikistan as well as their relatives. PIVT was the only officially registered Islamic party in Central Asia.

In Tajikistan, it was considered an opposition force. According to official data as of July 2014, PIVT had about 40 thousand members. Some of its activists were forced to leave the country after the party had been banned. A number of those who stayed in Tajikistan were subsequently imprisoned.

01.02.2018 14:05 msk

Fergana News Agency

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