Consolidated Authoritarian Regime
DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage 2.98 100
DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score 1.18 7
Last Year's Democracy Percentage & Status
4 100 Consolidated Authoritarian Regime
The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic. See the methodology.

header1 Score changes in 2020

  • Local Democratic Governance rating declined from 1.75 to 1.50 to reflect the long-term erosion in the autonomy of local leaders, bringing regional governments almost fully under the control of central authorities.
  • As a result, Tajikistan’s Democracy Score declined from 1.21 to 1.18.

header2 Executive Summary

By Edward Lemon

Tajikistan’s authoritarian system became more entrenched in 2019. Tajikistan functions like a one-party state, with few opportunities to express dissatisfaction with the regime. President Emomali Rahmon, who has been known as “Leader of the Nation” since a law to that effect was introduced in 2015, dominates Tajikistan’s political system. His new title renders him legally immune and allows him to rule indefinitely. The former collective farm boss has proven remarkably resilient since coming to power at the height of the country’s civil war in November 1992 and is now the longest serving head of state in the former Soviet Union. He has outmaneuvered his rivals and built an authoritarian state centered on his powerful extended family who dominate politics and the country’s economy.

Tajikistan is a nepotistic kleptocracy. Corruption is endemic. Members of the president’s extensive family and other members of the elite have abused their positions to amass vast fortunes. Beyond the president himself, four major power bases appear to have emerged, all centered on members of the Tajik president’s family. His brother in law Hassan Asadullozoda controls Tajikistan’s largest industrial enterprise, the Talco aluminum smelter, the largest private bank, with assets worth $297 million, and the country’s largest private airline Somon Air.1 A second power base has emerged around Rahmon’s daughter Ozoda Emomali, head of the presidential administration and her husband Jamoliddin Nuraliev who is first deputy chairman of the National Bank. Another has emerged around Shamsullo Sohibov, whose marriage to Rahmon’s daughter Rukhshona has allowed him to construct a business empire ranging from gold mines to driving schools, pharmaceuticals, banking and a ski resort. Finally, Rahmon’s eldest son Rustam held a number of government posts before being appointed mayor of Dushanbe in January 2017.

While the ruling family has strengthened its position over the past few years, the government has banned opposition groups, jailed human rights lawyers, restricted the rights of religious groups, censored the media, and increasingly regulated civil society. The judiciary in Tajikistan is de jure independent, but in practice it is subordinated to the executive. Having previously outlawed the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT) and Group 24, in October, the Supreme Court declared that the National Alliance of Tajikistan, a coalition of opposition groups based in exile in Europe, is a “terrorist organization.” The government continues to harass, threaten and attempt to return those in exile. In February, Tajik security services kidnapped opposition leader Shoroffidin Gadoev in Moscow.2 He was released and allowed to return to Europe after two weeks in captivity, following international pressure. Several hundred opposition members, human rights lawyers and journalists remain in Tajik prisons. Torture and other ill-treatment of prisoners remains widespread in Tajikistan. A number of incidents have raised concerns about the conditions within Tajikistan’s prisons. Following a deadly prison riot in 2018, a riot in a prison near Dushanbe in May 2019, left over 29 inmates and three guards dead. In a further incident in July, 14 prisoners died of alleged food poisoning, although their relatives claimed their bodies showed signs of mistreatment.

Those reporting on abuses and criticizing the government have faced repercussions. Being a lawyer in Tajikistan is an increasingly dangerous profession. At least seven human rights lawyers have been jailed in the country over the past four years. The media remains tightly controlled by the government, with most independent journalists practicing self-censorship. Two of the country’s leading independent news organizations, Asia Plus and Radio Ozodi, came under pressure from the government in 2019. Asia Plus has been blocked in the country since November 2018, when it published an article about nepotism. Following leadership and editorial changes at Radio Free Europe’s Tajik Service Radio Ozodi that led to it taking a more critical stance on the government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs refused to grant accreditation to five Ozodi correspondents in June, stating that the service was supporting “terrorism and extremism” by quoting opposition figures.3

Civil society continued to come under pressure from the government in 2019. Under new regulations adopted in January, civil society organizations are required to have a website and to post an annual financial report, a move that was justified by the government as combating money laundering and terrorist financing.4 The government uses the Tax Committee, Ministry of Justice, Fire Department and other regulatory agencies to put pressure on NGOs working on politically-sensitive topics. The government has continued to use the threat of Islamic extremism to justify a crackdown on religion. Women have been banned from mosques since 2004 and children since 2011. A 2009 Law on Religion places restrictions on the registration of religious organizations, opening of mosques and access to religious education. By 2016, all the madrassas in the country had ceased to function. At the same time, the government promotes its own version of Islam which supports authoritarian rule through the official clergy, who have been paid a salary since 2014.5

With both presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 2020, Rahmon appears to be thinking towards transition. Despite the lack of political threat from outside the regime, as no real opposition exists within the country, the power transition is being tightly controlled from the top. While amendments to the constitution signed into law in 2018 allow Rahmon to run for an unlimited number of terms, they also lowered the age that someone could be elected president. This would allow 32-year-old Rustam to run in 2020. In February, officials allegedly attempted to convince kidnapped opposition leader Shoroffidin Gadoev to support Rustam’s candidacy in the upcoming election, further providng evidence of an impending dynastic transition.6 Regardless of when transition takes place, it is unlikely to fundamentally alter Tajikistan’s kleptocratic authoritarian system.

National Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches. 1.001 7.007
  • Although opposition parties nominally exist, the president, who has held power since 1992, and his ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) dominates the political field. President Emomali Rahmon has held power since 1992. Since 2015, Rahmon has been “leader of the nation” and “founder of peace,” allowing him to rule indefinitely and rendering him immune from prosecution. Rahmon has built an authoritarian system that relies on a combination of patronage, monopolization of the production of information, a politicized judicial system and repression by the State National Security Committee (GKNB)—the country’s powerful security services.
  • President Rahmon has ruthlessly suppressed all possible sources of opposition to his rule. The Supreme Court classified Group 24 an “extremist organization” in 2014 and the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT) as a “terrorist organization” in 2015. The 2016 amendments to the constitution banned the formation of religious parties, effectively preventing the IRPT from re-registering. The government continued its crackdown on members of the opposition in 2019. A coalition uniting representatives of both movements, the National Alliance of Tajikistan, was also classified a “terrorist organization” by the Supreme Court in October.1
  • With most members of the opposition in exile in Europe, the government has harassed, kidnapped and attempted to extradite its political exiles using organizations like Interpol.2 In February opposition activist Sharoffidin Gadoev, who had been outside of Tajikistan since 2012, was kidnapped in Moscow.3 He was then forced to appear on television saying he had returned “voluntarily” and denouncing the opposition.4 After over two weeks in detention, Gadoev was allowed to leave the country following pressure from human rights organizations and the government of the Netherlands, where he has refugee status. On April 9, a court in Khujand sentenced IRPT member Naimjon Samiev, who was forcibly returned from Russia in December 2018, to 15 years in prison on extremism charges.5 Former IRPT member and director of the Russian-based opposition TV channel Safo TV, Farhod Odinaev was arrested in Belarus on his way to the OSCE’s annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw on September 25.6 He was released on November 5 following international pressure.7 To apply further pressure, the government has continued to target the family members of political prisoners and exiles still living in Tajikistan.8 In December, Nilufar Rajabova, the daughter of a senior IRPT member, was detained during a raid against women wearing the hijab and fined for petty hooliganism.9
  • The economy remains in crisis. One quarter of the state budget is currently going towards construction of the Rogun hydroelectric plant, raising concerns that the government will default on the $500 million Eurobond it issued in 2017 to pay for the dam.10 Tajikistan remains externally dependent on Russia and China. Remittances sent back from labor migrants have continued to increase, making up an equivalent of 31 per cent of the country’s GDP in 2018.11 In December, money wiring services ceased being available to customers following government measures to impose greater controls over the business by establishing a National Processing Center (NPC) at the National Bank. By the end of the year, three money transfer services, Unistream, Contact, and Western Union, had signed on to sending their money to the NPC,. Golden Crown, the most popular service with 80% of the market, was yet to sign up, leaving many migrants unable to send money home.12 Tajikistan owes China $1.2 billion, nearly half of the country’s foreign debt.13 In October, parliament approved a 20-year contract giving a Chinese company control over the Yakjilva mine, a major silver deposit in the east of the country. Talco, an aluminum smelter which is the country’s largest industrial enterprise, restructured from a state owned to an open stock company in November. One month later, China’s state-owned China Machinery Engineering Corporation promised to invest $545 million in the company.14 China is also playing an increasing role as a security provider. In February, the Washington Post confirmed the existence of a long-rumored Chinese military base in the Pamirs.15 The base is ostensibly used by China to conduct joint border patrols and prevent potential armed incursions into Xinjiang from Afghanistan. Meanwhile, traditionally frosty relations with Uzbekistan have improved since Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power in Uzbekistan and worked to rebuild relations, with trade almost trebling in since 2017 to reach $362 million in 2019.16
Electoral Process 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process. 1.251 7.007
  • Emomali Rahmon and his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have dominated every presidential and parliamentary election since he became head of state in 1992. While the 1994 Constitution and 1999 Law on Elections to the Majlisi Oli (Supreme Assembly) provide the basis for a multi-party system, elections have been marred by irregularities and allegations of fraud, including widespread ballot-stuffing, proxy voting, and intimidation. There is no central voter register. Instead, each local electoral commission compiles voter lists, making elections susceptible to voter fraud. The government has taken steps to ensure that its candidates are given preferential coverage. Opposition rallies are only permitted with government approval, which is not given. State media campaigns for the ruling PDP.
  • The PDP controls the Assembly of Representatives (Majlis Namayandagon), holding 51 seats in the 63-seat body. Following the 2015 parliamentary elections, five opposition parties hold seats in the assembly. With the exception of the Communist Party, none of these parties offer opposition to government policies. The two most vocal critics of the government – the Islamic Renaissance Party and Social Democratic Party – no longer hold seats in the assembly after the 2015 elections, with the former being classified as a “terrorist organization” by the government.
  • Following criticisms by the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) which labelled Tajikistan’s Central Commission for Elections and Referenda (CCER) a body lacking transparency, independence and integrity,1 in July, Rahmon signed a law "On the Central Commission for Elections and Referenda.”2 The law establishes the Commission as a non-partisan body, with members of political parties prohibited from joining.3 But opposition members criticized the new law. According to the leader of one of the county’s few opposition parties, the Social Democratic Party, removing the right of opposition parties to be members of the CCER denies them the opportunity to oversee the administration of the elections and document violations.4
  • Many smaller parties struggle to raise sufficient funds to pay the required deposit, just under $600, to register candidates for the election. In December, Rakhmatillo Zoirov, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, one of the country’s last genuine opposition parties, called on the Constitutional Court to remove this requirement.5
  • The changes to the Constitution approved through a flawed May 2016 referendum pave the way for President Rahmon to remain in power indefinitely. Both parliamentary and presidential elections are scheduled in 2020. The evidence suggests that he aims to keep the government in family hands.6 The 2016 amendments, which were reflected in the Law on the Election of the President in February 2018, included lowering the age limit for running for president from 35 to 30, allowing Rahmon’s 32-year-old son Rustam Emomali to potentially stand in the 2020 presidential election.7 Rustam has been increasingly given prominent roles at key events, welcoming foreign leaders and appearing with his father at events. In September, he joined in his father at the launching ceremony for the Rogun hydroelectric plant’s second turbine.8
  • 1“Republic of Tajikistan: 1 March 2015 Parliamentary Elections,” OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission, https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/tajikistan/158081?download=true
  • 2“Ба имзо расидани як қатор қонунҳо” [Signing of a Number of New Laws], President.tj, 19 July 2019, http://president.tj/node/20714
  • 3“Нижняя палата парламента Таджикистана проголосовала за «беспартийный» Центризбирком” [The Lower House of the Parliament of Tajikistan Voted for the "Non-partisan" Central Election Commission] Radio Ozodi, 24 June 2019, https://rus.ozodi.org/a/30017378.html
  • 4“Нижняя палата парламента Таджикистана проголосовала за «беспартийный» Центризбирком” [The Lower House of the Parliament of Tajikistan Voted for the "Non-partisan" Central Election Commission] Radio Ozodi, 24 June 2019, https://rus.ozodi.org/a/30017378.html
  • 5“Зоиров: если выборы будут прозрачными, то СДПТ может рассчитывать на пять мест в парламенте” [Zoirov: If the Elections are Transparent, the SDPT can Count on Five Seats in Parliament], Radio Ozodi, 29 December 2019, https://rus.ozodi.org/a/30350021.html
  • 6“Год до выборов президента: испытания и интриги политического выбора в Таджикистане” [A Year Before the Presidential Election: Trials and Intrigues of Political Elections in Tajikistan], Radio Ozodi, 10 January 2019, https://rus.ozodi.org/a/29701602.html
  • 7“Қонуни Конститутсионии Ҷумҳурии Тоҷикистон Дар Бораи Интихоботи Президенти Ҷумҳурии Тоҷикистон” [Constitutional Law of the Republic of Tajikistan on the Elections of the President of Tajikistan], http://base.mmk.tj/view_sanadhoview.php?showdetail=&sanadID=7
  • 8“Маросими ба кор даровардани агрегати дуюми нерӯгоҳи барқи обии “Роғун” [Ceremony for the Opening of Roghun’s Second Turbine], President.tj, 9 September 2019, http://president.tj/node/21275
Civil Society 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups. 1.251 7.007
  • The Tajik government has displayed growing hostility toward international and domestic NGOs in recent years. Although the country has over 2,800 registered NGOs, only an estimated 1,000 are active.1 Most are dependent on external financing; when this runs out, their activities cease.2 Foreign funding fell by $10 million to $79 million in 2018.3
  • The government has created a legislative environment that is hostile to the functioning of civil society. According to the law, all NGOs receiving foreign funding must report this to the Ministry of Justice within ten days.4 Further amendments to the Law on Public Associations adopted in January require all NGOs to have a website and post an annual financial report, a move that was justified by the government as combating money laundering and terrorist financing.5
  • The government uses inspections by the Tax Committee, and Labor Regulator to put pressure on NGOs working in politically sensitive fields.6 Civil society representatives have reported seeing letters from the State Committee on National Security ordering the inspections.7 Public associations need to report risks of corruption within their organization to the State Agency for Financial Control and Combating Corruption. Individuals have also been targeted. In September, a sexually explicit video involving a Tajik female human rights activist was posted online in an apparent bid to defame her.8
  • Meanwhile, the Tajik government is actively supporting the creation of an “imitation civil society,” through its support for a number of self-proclaimed grass-roots movements.9 Although ostensibly independent, Avangard, also known Peshohang, a youth movement established in 2015 to fight extremism, for example, receives support from the Ministry of Interior and spreads the government’s narrative among students.10 In November, the group announced a competition for young people to draw the best picture of president Rahmon.11
  • The Tajik government continued to use the fight against terrorism to legitimize its close management of religious practices in the country. While a threat does exist, with 1,900 citizens having travelled to Syria and Iraq to take part in hostilities there, the concern about terrorism has been used to legitimize measures to closely regulate religious expression.12 Even before the outflow to Syria, a 2009 religion law placed restrictions on the opening of mosques. While 19 madrassas operated in the country in 2009, they have all been closed by the government.13 The government’s patronizing policies in an effort to promote ill-defined “national values” have increasingly intruded into personal lives. A 2011 Law on Parental Responsibility forbids under 18s from praying in mosques and internet cafes, obliges parents to give children names that befit “national values” and restricts access to religious education. A 2018 “Guidebook of the Recommended Outfits in Tajikistan” published the Ministry of Culture, outlines acceptable clothes people can wear in an effort to battle “foreign” Islamic influences.14 At the same time, the government has coopted official religious leaders to re-inforce its rule. Since 2014 imams have been paid a salary and are required to read sermons prepared by the government.15 Officials have also dissuaded citizens from displaying signs of piety, framing this as “foreign” to national culture.16 Other religions have also been targeted by the government. In February, the Customs Service confiscated and burned 5,000 evangelical Christian calendars ordered by a Baptist church for promoting "propaganda of an alien religion."17
Independent Media 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media. 1.251 7.007
  • The government of Tajikistan continues to severely curtail freedom of information. While the Constitution, the Law on Access to Information, the Law on Television and Broadcasting, and the Law on Periodical Print and Other Mass Media grant freedom of expression and prohibit censorship and state interference with the media, in reality, the state tightly regulates the independent media. Article 137 of the Criminal Code prohibits “slandering” the President and Article 330 prevents journalists from insulting other officials. Most journalists practice self-censorship. Media pluralism has fallen in the country in recent years as a result.
  • Two of the country’s leading independent news organizations, Asia Plus and Radio Ozodi, came under pressure from the government in 2019. Asia Plus has been blocked in the country since November 2018, when it published an article about nepotism.1 In July, Asia Plus reported that its main websites (news.tj, asiaplus.tj) and business e-mails had stopped working after the Russian regulatory body Roskomnadzor claimed an article contained "elements of propaganda about suicide.”2 Following leadership and editorial changes at Radio Free Europe’s Tajik Service Radio Ozodi that led to it taking a more critical stance on the government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs refused to grant accreditation to five Ozodi correspondents in June, stating that the service was supporting “terrorism and extremism” by quoting opposition figures.3 In October, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs refused to extend accreditation for 18 journalists whose accreditation were set to expire on November 1. On October 31, the Ministry granted six-month accreditation to six of the journalists and a three month extension to one, leaving the remaining 11 without accreditation, although four of these subsequently received accreditation.4 Journalists who write critical stories are likely to receive threats from the intelligence services, or to face libel charges or even arrest. In January, the government issued an arrest warrant for Khayrullo Mirsaidov, an independent journalist who was detained in December 2017 on charges of politically-motivated corruption, then released following international pressure in August 2018.5 The warrant effectively prevents Mirsaidov, who left for Georgia after his release, from returning to the country. Dozens of journalists have fled the country. Many continue to be harassed and see their family targeted by the government after leaving.6
  • The government controls most printing presses, newsprint supplies, and broadcasting facilities in the country. Tajikistan’s media licensing commission has routinely denied licenses to independent outlets or otherwise obstructs the licensing process. No member of an independent media outlet or civil society is currently a member of the licensing committee.7 The State Committee on Television and Radio (SCTR), headed by a presidential appointee, regulates and oversees broadcasting at the national and regional level. The State Committee on Television and Radio has the right to "regulate and control the content of all television and radio networks regardless of their type of ownership," calling on journalists to produce work in keeping with “national values” and that ensures “unity.”8
  • An estimated 3 million Tajiks use the internet.9 As the internet becomes more popular among Tajiks and becomes a site for discussing political issues, the state-run Communications Service, led by Rahmon family member Beg Sabur, has in recent years routinely blocked websites and social networks that broadcast criticism of the authorities. All internet providers provide their services to clients via the government-controlled Unified Electronic Communications Switching Center.10 This gives the government the power to censor and interfere with access to websites.11 Such blockages most often come at times of instability, or the when the government fears unrest. In May, Gmail, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media sites were temporarily blocked after Rahmon made a statement about online extremism at a meeting of post-Soviet security officials.12 In October, Facebook and YouTube were temporarily inaccessible after an interview with opposition leader Muhiddin Kabiri was published.13 In May, parliament approved new legislation on martial law, which gave the state the right to restrict access to and censor the media during times of martial law.14
  • As well as censoring the internet, the government has taken steps to make it unaffordable for many citizens. In March, the Antimonopoly Service of Tajikistan signed a decree "On Internet Tariffs," increasing the price of the internet, which is the slowest in the former Soviet Union, almost two-fold.15 In response, in a Facebook post, a group of activists urged people to gather near a Dushanbe theater to sign an open letter asking President Emomali Rahmon to abandon the plan. Two hundred turned out in a rare public demonstration in a country where unsanctioned rallies are illegal. The next day, Rahmon scrapped the price increase.16
Local Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities. 1.502 7.007
  • Rather than forming a counterbalance to centralized authority, Tajikistan’s local government bodies serve as an extension of its power. Tajikistan is divided into four administrative provinces (viloyat) with limited autonomy. These provinces are further divided into 58 districts (nohiya) and 406 municipalities (jamoat), in addition to numerous towns and villages. Although Badakhshan is given autonomous status in the 1994 Constitution, in reality its autonomy has been curtailed by the central authorities. Following the practice of the Soviet Union’s central government, President Rahmon appoints the governors of provinces and districts.
  • In recent years, the central authorities have brought areas that enjoyed some autonomy, such as the Rasht Valley and Badakhshan, more firmly under its control. This process of state consolidation has relied on coercion and co-optation. The authorities have forcibly removed local leaders, many of whom fought with the opposition during the civil war and were incorporated into the government as part of the 1997 peace deal, and arrested many of their supporters. Individuals with greater loyalty to the central authorities have replaced them in the local government.1 Tensions continued to flare in the ethnically and religiously distinct Badakhshan region. Following the arrest of the brother of one of the region’s most influential leaders Mamadbokir Mamadbokirov in January, protesters gathered outside the police precinct in Khorog to demand his release.
  • The state keeps a close eye on potential sources of opposition, in particular religious practices. Local officials use a mixture of informal and formal measures to monitor citizens. While the 2009 law on local self-governance provided for the federalization of power, the central authorities maintain a tight grip over the regions. The law provided a provision by which municipal councils could design their own budgets and elect jamoat leaders, but the government has failed to devise a mechanism to realize this despite millions of dollars of donor assistance. Attempts have been made to bridge the gap between government and population, but this have largely been cosmetic. In September, the Dushanbe mayor’s office shared a mechanism by which residents could send questions and complaints to the office using popular message apps WhatsApp and Viber.2
  • Approximately 70 percent of Tajikistan’s population lives in rural areas. Agricultural production accounts for 23 percent of the country’s GDP and almost half of the domestic labor force.3 An estimated half of the rural population live below the poverty line.4 Since 1997, land has slowly been decollectivized. While the state still technically owns all arable land, 83 percent of this is now farmed by over 160,000 privately owned dekhan (peasant) farms.5 Despite a land reform program that aims to diversify from the cotton monoculture, liberalize financing and privatize ownership, problems with governance and corruption persist.6 Many dekhan farms have remained only nominally private and are collective in all but name.7 The financial benefits of farming in Tajikistan largely favor the investment-monopoly intermediary firms that act as loan sharks and corporations that buy agricultural products at low prices due to a lack of competition such as Ismoili Somoni Asri 21, which has been linked to the president’s son.8 In April, protests erupted outside of the offices of Faroz, a large holding company owned by the president’s son in law Shamsullo Sohibov. The protesters were pickers of the medicinal plant ferula who had seen the amount offered by Faroz for a kilo of ferula fall from $60 to $10.9
Judicial Framework and Independence 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions. 1.001 7.007
  • The judicial system in Tajikistan is highly politicized, forming a cornerstone of the government’s exercise of power. Justice is selectively administered, with loyal officials enjoying impunity and potential rivals facing punishment. Torture remains widespread and trials lack transparency. “Extremism” remains loosely defined in the Law on Extremism and Criminal Code, allowing anyone who threatens the government to be prosecuted and handed long sentences.1 Tajikistan employs a confession-based investigative and policing system and law enforcement bodies often use torture to extract confessions. The Coalition against Torture and Impunity in Tajikistan recorded 52 complaints of torture and ill-treatment in 2019.2 Conviction rates are close to 99%. The security services have immense powers. The Law on National Security Agencies give the security services the right to search property without a court order.3
  • Being a lawyer in Tajikistan is remains a dangerous profession. Following the introduction of a new licensing system in 2015, lawyers were forced to take exams set by the Ministry of Justice. As a result, the number of registered lawyers fell from 1,500 to just 800 by 2019.4 Since 2014, Tajik authorities have arrested or imprisoned at least eight human rights lawyers. In April, police arrested lawyer Abdulaziz Abdurahmonzoda accusing him of paying a bribe, subjecting him to a beating, and charging him with fraud.5 In order to intimidate his defense counsel, chairperson of the Union of Lawyers Saidbek Nuritdinov, the State Anti-Corruption Agency sent letters to courts around the country in August asking them to provide information about cases in which Nuritdinov or Abdurahmonzoda had taken part in a possible effort to frame them.
  • Those detained on politically-motivated charges are particularly susceptible to mistreatment.

Deputy Head of the IRPT Mahmadali Hayit, arrested in 2015, has been denied medical treatment and beaten multiple times while in prison. After a visit in March, his wife reported seeing visible signs of his mistreatment after he refused to publically denounce other party members.6 In March, three prison guards and 29 inmates, including IRPT members Said Qiyomiddin Ghozi and Sattor Karimov, were killed in a riot at a maximum-security prison outside of the capital city. This was the second deadly prison riot to hit the country in six months, with the first killing an estimated 50 inmates.7 In July, 14 prisoners died after eating spoiled bread. This official account was challenged by relatives, who reported their bodies showed signs of mistreatment.8

  • Periodic amnesties allow the president to demonstrate his benevolence and capacity for forgiveness. These usually conincide with national holidays. In October, Rahmon proposed an amnesty of 20,000 convicts to mark the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the constitution. Targeting women and the elderly, the move cut sentences, suspended probes and released 3,000 prisoners.9
  • Tajikistan’s conscription-based army has a tendency to forcibly remove young men from the street and press gang them into serving, a process known as oblava.10 The military upholds a culture of hazing, mistreatment and abuse. Since 2015, civil society groups have registered 949 complaints of abuse within the Tajik military.11
Corruption 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives. 1.001 7.007
  • From small bribes paid to traffic police to thousands of dollars spent avoiding compulsory military service, corruption is a part of everyday life in Tajikistan. Tajikistan was 153rd of 180 countries in the 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index.1 Nepotism and patronage have become key building blocks of the country’s authoritarian system, significantly impeding the development of a stable invesmtment and competitive investment climate.
  • A small group of families close to the president dominates politics, the domestic market and foreign trade. The president has appointed many of his family members to senior government posts. His eldest son Rustam Emomali has been mayor of Dushanbe since January 2017. His daughter Ozoda has been Head of the Presidential Administration since January 2016.2 Rahmon’s brother-in-law Hasan Asadullozoda controls Tajikistan’s largest private bank, and owns an airline company and a firm that supplies bauxite for Talco, the country’s state-owned aluminum company. Officials have elevated their positions by marrying into the first family. Ozoda’s husband Jamoliddin Nuraliyev was appointed first deputy finance minister in 2008 and in 2015 became deputy chairman of the National Bank.3 Sixth daughter, TV presenter Zarina, is married to the son of the Head of the Communications Service, Beg Sabur.4 Other relatives hold senior positions in the tax service, diplomatic service, and local government.
  • Relatives of the president control the key industries including cotton, cement, aluminum, and energy. Family members have used their links to the state to amass fortunes. In January, after fuel company TZK stated it would suspend supplies to the airline over unpaid debts, Tajikistan’s troubled national airline Tajik Air was forced to halt all scheduled flights until March. The main beneficiary of the airline’s demise is Somon Air, owned by the president’s brother in law Hassan Asadullozoda, who also owns TZK.5 Facing criticism, in September Faroz holding company, which is owned by another one of the president’s sons-in-law, Shamsullo Sohibov, and controls 60 different entities in the fuel, sport, banking and other sectors, announced it was liquidating its company.6 The move is likely part of a restructuring to fend off criticism.7
  • The government has adopted policies that favor companies controlled by the president’s extended family. Tenders for lucratice government contracts and exploration rights for resource extraction have been given to family members without sufficient competition.8 Governmental decrees in March and July exempted three companies, two of which are linked to the presidential family, from paying value added tax and import duties on a range of construction materials to be used to renovate hotels and spas.9
  • Corrupt officials have used offshore accounts to siphon billions of dollars from state-owned banks and enterprises.10 The state-controlled Talco aluminum smelter, for example, is owned by companies based in the British Virgin Islands. Instead of being re-invested into the state budget, the revenue raised by Talco was used as a slush fund for leading officials to spend on themselves. The International Monetary Fund has previously estimated that around $3.5 billion, or more than a third of the country’s annual GDP, has been transferred to offshore accounts from Tajikistan.11
  • Roughly one third of Tajikistan’s GDP comes from the trafficking of heroin across the country’s 1,350-kilometer border with Afghanistan.12 Whereas approximately 100 to 115 tons of heroin and opium transits the border each year, just 647 kilos was seized by law enforcement officers in the first eight months of 2018.13 Low public sector salaries and a culture of corruption help explain these low seizure rates.
  • While corrupt officials are plundering the state, the government claims to be fighting corruption. But these campaigns are selectively targeted. Corruption charges serve as a way to remove political opponents. Anti-corruption legislation is selectively applied. In August, Shahboz Rajabzoda, who earned enough to buy three apartments during his two years spent working for the Customs Service, was publically shamed by president Rahmon, before being amnestied. His link to power: he used to work as Ozoda Rahmon’s chauffeur.14

Author: Edward Lemon is Research Assistant Professor, Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M, Washington DC teaching site.


The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0–100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.


On Tajikistan

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  • Global Freedom Score

    7 100 not free