The authoritarian regime of President Emomali Rahmon, who has ruled since 1992, severely restricts political rights and civil liberties. The political opposition and independent media have been devastated by a sustained campaign of repression, and the government exerts tight control over religious expression and activity. Wealth and authority are concentrated in the hands of Rahmon and his family.
- In May, Dushanbe launched a violent crackdown in the Gorno-Badakhsan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO), cutting off the region’s communications and deploying military forces in response to months of sporadic protests. Dozens were killed, including three prominent community figures.
- Tajikistani and Kyrgyzstani forces sporadically fought along their shared border throughout the year, with particularly severe fighting in September, leading to several dozen deaths and displacing more than 100,000 people.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
The president is head of state and is elected for up to two seven-year terms under current rules. However, constitutional amendments ratified in 2016 removed term limits for President Rahmon, who holds the official status of “leader of the nation.”
A presidential election due in November 2020 was held ahead of schedule in October. Rahmon of the ruling People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan (PDPT) won a fifth term with 90.9 percent of the vote according to the Central Commission for Elections and Referendums (CCER). Four candidates from progovernment parties won a combined 7.8 percent, while the Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan (SDPT) boycotted the contest.
The European Council called the election orderly but noted that previous Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) recommendations on the media and political environment remained unfulfilled. Independent media outlets were largely unable to observe polling stations; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported incidents of ballot stuffing and of voters submitting ballots on behalf of family members.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
The bicameral Supreme Assembly is composed of an upper house, the National Assembly, and a lower house, the Assembly of Representatives. The National Assembly comprises 25 members chosen by local assemblies and 8 appointed by the president; former presidents are also entitled to a seat. The 63-member Assembly of Representatives is popularly elected through a mixed system of 41 single-member constituencies and 22 proportional-representation seats. Supreme Assembly members serve five-year terms.
In the March 2020 legislative elections, the PDPT won 47 lower-house seats, while progovernment parties divided the remainder. The SDPT did not exceed the 5 percent threshold for representation according to the CCER. OSCE monitors reported that the elections did not meet democratic standards. Media outlet Asia-Plus reported that officials offered multiple ballots to reporters claiming to represent relatives.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?
The CCER is subservient to the government and enforces electoral laws in an inconsistent and nontransparent manner.
Despite reforms made prior to the 2015 elections, constituencies vary considerably in population, undermining equal suffrage.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
The government consistently marginalizes independent or opposition parties, which are excluded from the political process. The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT)—which had been the country’s most significant opposition group—lost its legal registration and was declared a terrorist organization in 2015. The 2016 constitutional amendments banned faith-based parties, effectively preventing the IRPT from reforming. The National Alliance of Tajikistan, a Europe-based refugee opposition coalition, was declared a terrorist organization in 2019.
Government officials have continued to harass and arrest current and former IRPT members, their families, and other opponents throughout 2022.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
Tajikistan has no record of peaceful transfers of power between rival parties. Rahmon first became chief executive in 1992, during the country’s 1992–97 civil war, and has held the presidency since the office’s creation in 1994. Under 2016 constitutional revisions, he is entitled to run for reelection indefinitely; can overrule cabinet decisions even after leaving office; and has set up his son, Rustam Emomali, to succeed him.
Years of unrelenting repression of independent political activity have left opposition parties unable to compete in elections.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?
Political affairs in Tajikistan are controlled almost exclusively by Rahmon and his extended family, leaving citizens with few avenues to participate in the political process. Relatives of Rahmon hold numerous public positions and control key sectors of the private economy.
Dushanbe increasingly relies on the Chinese government for external security.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?
No segment of the population enjoys full political rights or electoral opportunities in practice. The regime, which seeks to suppress any genuine dissent, does not permit women, ethnic or racial minorities, LGBT+ individuals, or religious groups to organize independently to advance their political interests. Women remain underrepresented as voters and elected politicians.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
President Rahmon, who is not freely elected, and his inner circle are virtually unopposed in determining and implementing policy and have strengthened their grip on power. The PDPT-controlled legislature does not offer a meaningful check on the executive’s expansive constitutional authority. Officials from Rahmon’s native Kulob District dominate the government.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?
Patronage networks and regional affiliations are central to political life. Corruption is pervasive and anticorruption legislation is routinely ignored. Major irregularities have been reported at the National Bank of Tajikistan and the country’s largest industrial firm, the state-owned Tajik Aluminum Company.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?
Government decision-making and budgetary processes lack transparency, and public officials are not required to disclose financial information. Crackdowns on the media, the opposition, and civil society have further reduced independent scrutiny of state operations. In recent years, the government has concluded extensive infrastructure and resource-extraction agreements with Beijing and Chinese companies, with little consultation or transparency.
|Are there free and independent media?
The government controls nearly all media outlets and broadcasting facilities. The state shuts out independent outlets and encourages self-censorship. Independent journalists face harassment and intimidation. Civil libel charges have been used to incapacitate outlets that criticize the government. Authorities routinely block critical websites, news portals, and social media platforms, while using periodic wholesale blackouts of internet and messaging services to suppress criticism.
In 2021, authorities ordered bloggers to register with tax authorities, a demand that observers noted stifled the few remaining independent voices.
In October 2022, authorities brought extremism charges against two of the last remaining critical journalists and bloggers, Abdullo Gurbati and Daler Imomali. Gurtabi and Imomali were sentenced to 7.5 and 10 years in prison, respectively, after their reporting covered corruption, police brutality, and other social issues.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?
The government imposes severe restrictions on religious freedom, in part by limiting religious activities to state-approved venues and registered organizations. Authorities continue to prosecute individuals for alleged membership in banned religious organizations, including Christian and Muslim groups. Minors are generally barred from attending religious services in mosques, as are women in most cases.
Laws to discourage religious clothing (like the hijab) and an unofficial ban on beards are arbitrarily and sometimes violently enforced.
Following the May 2022 military operation in GBAO, religious and secular institutions associated with the Ismaili religious minority and the philanthropic Aga Khan Development Network were shut down or pressured to close, including bookstores, religious schools, secular schools, and a university-run kindergarten.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?
The government exerts significant political pressure on universities and academic personnel. In recent years, international scholars have noted the self-exile of Tajikistani academics who faced harassment and surveillance from security services.
Opportunities to study abroad, especially for religious education, are tightly restricted.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?
Restrictive laws and government surveillance deter open discussion of sensitive topics, including criticism of the country’s leadership. A 2017 law allows authorities to monitor citizens’ online behavior and prescribes fines and prison sentences for those who visit “undesirable websites,” among other provisions. An antiextremism law amended in 2020 allows the government to block websites without a court order.
|Is there freedom of assembly?
The government strictly limits freedom of assembly. Local government approval is required to hold demonstrations but is rarely granted.
In November 2021, protesters rallied in Khorog, the capital of GBAO, after police killed local resident Gulbidin Ziyobekov. Two protesters died when security officers fired into a crowd of demonstrators. In May 2022, a military operation began in response to a resurgence of protests, and police used rubber bullets and tear gas against demonstrators. Hundreds of activists and protesters were arrested and according to the UN Special Rapporteur, as many as 40 people may have been killed. Among those killed was Mamadbokir Mamadbokirov, a prominent community figure in GBAO, who was reportedly assassinated in May. Local leaders Khursand Mazorov and Zoir Rajabov were also reported killed in an operation in June.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) must register with the Justice Ministry and are vulnerable to closure for minor technical violations. NGOs must disclose funding from foreign sources. Foreign funds must be logged in a state registry before organizations can access them, and the government oversees operations supported by those funds. Under legislation implemented in 2019, NGOs must maintain their own websites and publish reports that comply with vaguely worded financial reporting to prove they have no “terrorist financing” or “money laundering” links.
Persecution of activists and lawyers from GBAO reached unparalleled levels in 2022. In May, as the military operation in GBAO unfolded, police arrested journalist and human rights activist Ulfathonim Mamadshoeva. Police claimed that a short meeting Mamadshoeva attended in a café with US Embassy staff members was part of a plot sponsored by the United States to unleash unrest in the Pamir region. Shortly after her arrest, many of the members of Commission 44 — an independent group established in 2021 to investigate police killings during protests in GBAO—were also arrested and charged in a criminal conspiracy allegedly related to the same plot. By December, Mamadshoeva was sentenced to 21 years in prison for incitement to overthrow the government, her brother Khursand Mamadshoev received 18 years on related charges, her former husband Kholbash Kholbashov received a life sentence, and four other members of Commission 44 received sentences of up to 29 years. By the end of the year, hundreds of members of the Pamiri ethnic group—activists, journalists, community leaders, and lawyers—had been arrested and sentenced to up to 30 years in prison following similar summary trials.
Arrests were not limited to GBAO: Shaftola Bekdavlatov and Khujamri Pirmamadov, activists in Dushanbe from Commission 44, were each sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment in June on charges of organizing a criminal group and receiving financial assistance from abroad. They were defended at their trial by Faromuz Irgashov, another Commission 44 member who was himself detained on the same charges. In July, Pamiri activists Oraz and Ramzi Vazirbekov were detained in Russia and summarily extradited to Tajikistan in violation of Russian law. In November, Oraz was sentenced to 16 years in prison and Ramzi to 13 years on charges of membership in an “organized criminal group.”
Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 because the government has imposed increasingly harsh restrictions on civil society organizations, including limits on the activities of humanitarian organizations and arbitrary detentions and prosecutions of Pamiri rights activists.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?
Citizens have the legal right to form and join trade unions and to bargain collectively, but these rights and the right to strike are effectively undermined by restrictions on freedoms of assembly and association. There are no laws against antiunion discrimination by employers, and the country’s trade union federation is government-controlled.
|Is there an independent judiciary?
The judiciary lacks independence. Many judges are poorly trained and inexperienced, and bribery is widespread. The courts’ opaque and biased adjudication of cases against opposition figures and other dissidents, particularly since 2015, has demonstrated their subordination to the regime.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?
Arbitrary arrests and detentions are common, as is corruption among law enforcement agencies. Defendants are often denied timely access to an attorney, and politically fraught trials are frequently closed to the public. Nearly all defendants are found guilty. In January 2022, Russian police extradited Amriddin Alovatshoev to Tajikistan after he organized protests in Moscow against police brutality in GBAO. In April, Alovatshoev was sentenced to 18 years in prison following a trial that lasted only two hours.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?
Civilians are subject to physical abuse by security forces and have no meaningful recourse against such abuse. Detainees are reportedly beaten in custody to extract confessions.
Tajikistani and Kyrgyzstani forces fought sporadically on their shared border throughout 2022, with particularly severe fighting in September. There were hundreds of injuries and a number of deaths as peaceful citizens were subjected to shelling.
Overcrowding and disease contribute to life-threatening conditions in prisons.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?
Women face bias and disparate treatment in the workplace. LGBT+ people face discrimination and abuse by security forces. There is no legislation against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Throughout 2022, ethnic Pamiri citizens and activists faced arbitrary arrest and prosecution, and Pamiri cultural and religious institutions were pressured and closed.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?
Most citizens can travel domestically but must register their permanent residence with local authorities. Students interested in studying Islamic theology are forbidden from seeking education abroad. Some areas, particularly GBAO and other areas bordering Afghanistan, feature a heavier security presence, which hampers travel and provides opportunities for extortion and other abuses. The closure of the border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan since 2021 has prevented citizens who are ethnically Kyrgyz from traveling to the Kyrgyz Republic.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?
By law, all land belongs to the state. Corruption and regulatory dysfunction affect enterprises of varying sizes. The president’s extended family and others from Kulob District maintain extensive business interests and dominate key economic sectors, impeding business activity by those without such connections.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?
Although forced marriage and polygamy are legally prohibited, marriages arranged by parents and religious marriages that allow polygamy are both common in practice. Women are often unable to exercise their rights to divorce. Domestic violence is widespread, but cases are underreported and seldom investigated.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?
Safeguards against labor exploitation and hazardous working conditions are poorly enforced. Economic conditions have compelled citizens to seek work abroad in large numbers; these migrant workers are at risk of exploitation by human traffickers.
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Global Freedom Score5 100 not free