Tajikistan | Freedom House

Countries at the Crossroads



Countries at the Crossroads 2005

2005 Scores

Accountability and Public Voice
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Civil Liberties
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Rule of Law
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Anti-Corruption and Transparency
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Tajikistan is an impoverished, clan-ridden state whose institutions, infrastructure, and social fabric were wrecked by a brutal civil war. The accords that ended hostilities in 1997 brought peace but not much harmony between the rival factions, and the country is still dealing with the legacy of the war. President Imomali Rakhmonov accepted a power-sharing agreement with his opponents that brought an Islamic-oriented party into the government, initially winning him plaudits for vision and openness. However, the intervening years have brought increased authoritarianism as Rakhmonov has consolidated power in the name of stability and centralization. In parallel, a narrow elite from the president's native region has worked its way into the state's top positions. His opponents have been systematically pushed out of government, marginalized, and repressed. Freedom of the press has been steadily curtailed, especially in the run-up to the February 2005 parliamentary elections.

The regime has generally ignored (and on occasion may have authorized) violations of civil liberties, including arbitrary arrest and torture at the hands of law enforcement officials. The legislative framework regarding pretrial detention and a defendant's right to counsel is unsatisfactory. Human trafficking, a serious problem since the war, has yet to be addressed properly, although the government has belatedly begun to elaborate a national action plan.

Grinding poverty annually drives a sixth of the population to seek work abroad as migrant laborers. Poverty also feeds corruption. Corruption has spread into all spheres of life in Tajikistan, crippling effective government and distorting the administration of justice. Desperately needed foreign investment and business development have been stunted by the prevalence of graft and cronyism. The level of corruption is making international donors think twice about providing aid and assistance.

Accountability and Public Voice: 

Although Tajikistan became independent in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed, the contours of political life today can be traced back to June 1997. That date marks the general peace agreement concluded between the government and the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) that ended a devastating five-year civil war. At its core was a battle between regional elites and clans for power and privileges. Broadly speaking, the pro-government faction - ex-Communists identified with the Kulob region - stood for Soviet-style rule and the status quo. The UTO, a loose grouping of interests that drew support from the center and east of the country, was more ambitious for change and partially colored by an Islamist agenda. In 1999 the UTO disbanded its forces and broke up into its constituent parts. The backbone of the UTO, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), has endured as the main opposition party. Current developments are rooted in this background of regionalism, warlordism, and tension between secularism and Islam.

Notwithstanding the adoption of a democratic constitution in 1994, Tajikistan has made little progress in moving from Soviet-style authoritarianism to open, accountable government. Power is concentrated in the hands of President Imomali Rakhmonov, a native of the Kulob region. Kulobi-dominated forces engineered the rise of the former collective-farm director to national leadership in November 1992 during the first days of the civil war. Rakhmonov subsequently consolidated his position in seriously flawed presidential elections in 1994 and 1999. In the latter election Rakhmonov officially won 97 percent of the vote, running against a single opponent whose candidacy was allowed by the authorities only days before the election. Other potential candidates were unable to meet onerous registration requirements, such as collecting large numbers of supporters' signatures under unreasonable time pressure. By contrast Rakhmonov had access to the resources of the state, which he fully mobilized to his advantage right up to election day, when observers reported multiple instances of official interference in the casting and tabulation of ballots.

As the law stood at the time, Rakhmonov's victory in 1999 won him a single, nonrenewable seven-year term. But prospects of a rotation of power faded in June 2003, when a hastily organized national plebiscite presented citizens with 56 constitutional amendments, which they were obliged to accept or reject as a single package by voting yes or no. The key revision (to Article 65) gave the president the right to serve two seven-year terms instead of one. The public was poorly informed about the substance of the proposed amendments, the texts of which were hard to obtain and did not feature on the ballot papers. The referendum passed officially with 93 percent in favor. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other international watchdogs refused to monitor the referendum, citing insufficient time to prepare missions and criticizing its provisions and lack of transparency. Adjusting the law on the president's tenure in office has significantly strengthened Rakhmonov's grip on power. It licenses him to start afresh when his current term ends in 2006, making it possible for him to remain in office until 2020. By that time Rakhmonov would be 68 years old and would have led the country for 28 years.

A key condition of the 1997 peace accords was a power-sharing agreement whereby 30 percent of government posts went to the UTO. Yet the promise of political pluralism in Tajikistan implied by the provision has never been adequately realized. Violating the spirit if not the letter of the agreement, Rakhmonov has steadily maneuvered to push his opponents out of government; by the start of 2004, the opposition's share of posts had fallen from 30 percent to 5 percent.[1] Concurrently, an ever-tighter inner circle of Kulobis (often natives of Rakhmonov's home town of Danghara) has come to dominate the regime.[2] In the past few years the president has felt strong enough to turn against erstwhile allies when he sensed a threat. The indictments of Yakub Salimov, a former interior minister, and Ghaffor Mirzoev, a former commander of the presidential guard, on charges ranging from corruption and tax evasion to treason and murder, were key political events in Tajikistan in 2004. As both men reportedly had political ambitions of their own, their arrests conveniently removed them from the scene while warning off any other would-be challengers.[3]

The only remaining figure with the stature to stand up to Rakhmonov is the mayor of Dushanbe and National Assembly speaker Mahmadsaid Ubaydulloev. Ubaydulloev is frequently touted as a potential adversary to Rakhmonov in the 2006 presidential elections. Ubaydulloev is a close ally of Mirzoev, however, and the latter's fall is likely to weaken him. Many analysts speculate that in targeting Mirzoev, the president's real aim has been to undermine his most dangerous rival, Ubaydulloev.

Rakhmonov deserves credit for working to ensure peace and stability after the civil war, reining in warlords and bolstering the authority of state structures. But instead of building on his achievements to create an open and inclusive political process, he has performed a jealous accumulation of power for himself and a narrow elite, which can only lead to less transparency in public affairs and fresh resentment among regional competitors.

A second crucial stipulation of the 1997 peace accords was the legalization of opposition parties. Of the six parties that contended in parliamentary elections in 2000, two derived from the UTO. But opposition parties have never been permitted to compete on a level playing field with Rakhmonov's highly centralized People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan (PDPT): In particular, they are regularly denied coverage by state-controlled mass media. The bicameral parliament, called the Supreme Assembly, consists of the Assembly of Representatives (lower chamber of 63 members, elected by popular vote to five-year terms) and the National Assembly (upper chamber of 33 members, indirectly elected or appointed by the president to five-year terms). In the 2000 election the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), the main opposition party, won only two seats in the lower chamber. Otherwise the PDPT and its allies swept the vote, which was judged neither free nor fair by international monitors.

Dominated by deputies who follow Rakhmonov's lead, the legislature has functioned as a pliant appendage of the executive branch. The prime minister and his cabinet serve at the president's behest and have shown themselves similarly devoid of real authority or autonomy. Despite constitutional requirements for transparency and public access to information, the processes of developing legislation and making political decisions are extremely secretive and rarely open to citizen input. However, some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have succeeded in influencing draft legislation.[4]

The results of February 2005 parliamentary elections were widely regarded as a foregone conclusion, with the PDPT expected to sweep the board again. Opposition parties complained of harassment by the authorities to stymie their chances, including politically motivated lawsuits. For example, in early 2004 the deputy chairman of the IRPT was sentenced to 16 years' imprisonment for alleged criminal activities, polygamy, and murder. Only months later, a second senior member of the IRPT (an elderly man who had performed the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca) was sentenced to nine years for allegedly being part of a gang that raped underaged girls.[5] The nature and timing of these charges have led some observers to doubt their veracity. The government's motives for repeatedly refusing to register an opposition party, Taraqqiyot (Progress), have also been questioned. Taraqqiyot's application supposedly failed on technicalities. It is suggestive that the party leader, Sulton Quvvatov, is a prominent Kulobi politician who sought to run for president in 1999 but was barred from the race. By autumn 2004 both Quvvatov and his deputy had been charged with "insulting the honor and dignity of the president" (a crime in Tajikistan carrying a five-year jail sentence) as well as inciting ethnic, racial, and religious strife.[6]

Opposition parties are also put at a disadvantage by the election law. Over their protests, in June 2004 the law was amended to require parliamentary candidates to put up a security deposit equal to 200 times the minimum monthly wage, or about $500 (Article 32.1). The deposit will be returned only if the candidate wins a seat in parliament. Furthermore, the new law requires political parties to pay the same $500 deposit for each candidate fielded on their party lists (rather than, as before, a lump sum for the whole list irrespective of the number of candidates). The parties get their money back only if they clear a 5 percent threshold in the elections. The IRPT warned in a press release that the deposits could make it too expensive for 80 percent of citizens to run in elections. The new provisions clearly favor the well-funded PDPT.[7] Other election law amendments, such as the appointment of independent members to local election commissions and the outlawing of armed men at polling stations, were uncontroversial and should improve the voting.

Nepotism is a problem throughout the country - a function of massive unemployment intersecting with a culture of extended family obligations. Entry and promotion in the state bureaucracy are dominated by nepotism and cronyism. Efforts to combat them were initiated in February 2004 when the parliament passed a series of amendments to the labor code prohibiting the directors, vice-directors, accountants, and cashiers of agencies to be related to one another. The labor ministry planned to extend the legislation to NGOs as well.[8] All too often, family ties are the primary criterion for employment at NGOs.

As a rule, NGOs have been able to operate without excessive government intervention, and the atmosphere has generally been welcoming, especially for organizations focusing on humanitarian and refugee assistance. The government is more obstructive toward NGOs dealing with democratization or human rights. The process of registering an NGO in Tajikistan is time-consuming and swathed in red tape, but registration costs were lowered in 2001, encouraging more local groups to form and apply.

There are hints that the November 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia has prompted the government to rethink its attitude toward civil society. Reports from the Open Society Institute and other NGOs in Tajikistan in 2004 indicate that their activities and finances have attracted closer scrutiny by the authorities. The examinations may herald tighter control in 2005.

Tajik law enshrines the principles of free expression and media independence. The only national TV station is state-run Tajik Television, but Tajikistan has a small number of independent newspapers and radio stations that sometimes criticize the regime. However, they are continually subject to persecution by tax inspectors, lawsuits for defamation, allegedly random violence at the hands of faceless attackers, and indirect censorship in the form of state control of the licensing process and the capital's printing houses. Government outlets ignore bad news and promote the president's image and policies with Soviet-style slavish propaganda.[9] Few people have access to or can afford the Internet; nevertheless the government blocks the only opposition Web site (http://www.tajikistantimes.ru), which is posted from Europe. It was launched in spring 2003 by Dododjon Atovulloev Atovulloev, editor-in-chief of Charogi ruz (Light of the Day), an opposition newspaper that is also published abroad.

The country's first independent radio station, Asia-Plus, started broadcasting in September 2003 after a four-year wait for a license.[10] During 2004 independent newspapers experienced a pattern of harassment practically indistinguishable from a crackdown. After the state printing house refused on various pretexts to print two popular newspapers - Ruzi Nav (New Day) and Nerui Sukhan (Power of Words), both with a reputation for exposing government corruption - they took their business to Jiyonkhon, an outmoded but serviceable private printing press. Five other independent papers were forced to follow. In August 2004 Jiyonkhon was shut down by the authorities, allegedly for tax evasion, decimating nongovernment newspapers in the run-up to parliamentary elections: The IRPT paper Najot had also been printed on its presses.[11] Furthermore, the founder and editor of Ruzi Nav, Rajabi Mirzo, was beaten up twice in the course of the year by unidentified assailants. The Committee to Protect Journalists describes "an escalating campaign of intimidation and harassment against independent and opposition journalists in Tajikistan."[12]

Civil Liberties: 

The Tajik constitution and the criminal execution code contain strong prohibitions against torture, and Tajikistan ratified the UN Convention against Torture in 1995. Yet Tajik security officials are reported to resort systematically to beatings, electric shocks, and sexual abuse while interrogating detainees or to extract confessions. Among those who have reportedly received such treatment are accused members of the banned Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation) and IRPT Deputy Chairman Shamsiddin Shamsiddinov. Many detainees have told Amnesty International they were tortured even before being charged.[13] Torture goes on with impunity. There is no public record of the government putting any suspected torturer on trial or any Tajik court demonstrating appropriate concern about allegations of pretrial torture. As Amnesty International says, "On the contrary, confessions reportedly elicited through torture have been used to convict numerous prisoners who have been sentenced to death."[14] However, perhaps in partial recognition of this problem, the president signed into force a moratorium on capital punishment in July 2004, replacing the death penalty with a 25-year prison term.[15]

The authorities have been similarly lax about investigating political killings, most notoriously the murders of between six and seven dozen journalists during the civil war. Many are believed to have been killed by pro-government leaders who tracked them down in revenge for stories that appeared in print. Only three of the murders have been solved by the police, despite cases in which the killer's identity was an open secret or easily inferred. However, in early 2004 a new commission was established within the prosecutor-general's office to re-launch a belated quest for justice. There are worries that prosecutors, after years of dragging their feet, may now indict innocent people in their eagerness to clear up cases.[16]

Arbitrary arrests by procurators and police, especially of suspected Islamists, continue without visible efforts by the regime to stamp out abuses. The law permits police to detain persons without a warrant for three days (and the procurator's office to do so for 10 days) before charges must be filed. Pretrial detention can last up to 15 months, or longer in circumstances poorly defined by the law. There is no presumption of liberty under Tajik law and no provisions for bail, although detainees in criminal cases may be given the option of awaiting their trial under house arrest.[17] Tajikistan has seven prisons, the physical conditions of which are privately reckoned by the International Red Cross, which was permitted to visit Tajik prisons in 2003, to be among the worst in the world. Inmates face disease and maltreatment in overcrowded and unsanitary facilities; some die of hunger.

Tajik citizens have few means of recourse or redress if the state violates their rights. To sue the authorities is considered a hopeless venture when the judiciary identifies so closely with the government (see "Rule of Law"). There are two offices - the presidential Office for Constitutional Guarantees of Citizens' Rights, and the Commission on Fulfillment of International Human Rights Commitments, chaired by the deputy prime minister - that are supposed to receive and answer citizens' complaints and, when appropriate, forward them to the relevant ministries. It is unclear what meaningful remedies either commission can afford its petitioners. Certain rights of complaint feature in the tax code, but few complainants or inspectors are familiar with the procedures.[18]

Legally, women share equal civil and political rights with men, including the right to equivalent pay. In practice, discrimination in all areas is a problem. Under the USSR Tajik women accounted for a high percentage of the workforce, but war and poverty have prompted a reassertion of traditional social, cultural, and religious norms that preferentially situate women in the home and subservient to their menfolk. In competition with men for shrinking resources, women are being squeezed out of jobs and education, pushed to marry young and stay at home, particularly outside the cities. On the other hand, women increasingly must fend for themselves in a country where men are scarce; as many as 25,000 male heads of households died in the war, and an estimated 1.2 million Tajiks go abroad every year in search of work.[19] The government has done little to help women - although a woman has served as minister of labor and a parliamentary committee exists on social issues, family, women, health protection, and ecology - beyond sending them to the plantations to handpick cotton for miserable wages. It has been left to NGOs and local civic organizations to step in with projects to create women's support groups or train female entrepreneurs. Over a third of Tajik NGOs are headed by women.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that domestic violence is on the rise. Wife-beating or rape tend to go unreported or be treated by the police as private matters for the family to sort out; there are no special police units for handling rape cases. Patriarchal voting, with the male head of a household casting ballots for the whole family, is relatively common in rural areas. In August 2004 Tajikistan's religious leaders banned women from attending mosques, arguing that the sexes must pray apart, while most mosques lacked the necessary separate facilities. The edict, which outraged popular opinion, was upheld by the government.[20]

Trafficking in persons, primarily for prostitution, has been a significant problem in Tajikistan since the civil war, when it flourished along with other smuggling operations run by warlords. With the average monthly wage around $10, traffickers continue to snare many victims with false offers of work abroad. The government largely ignored the issue until amendments to the criminal code in 2003 made human trafficking punishable with prison and confiscation of property. Currently the government is seeking to toughen measures and develop a national action plan. For the moment, however, preventive information campaigns and relief programs for victims are almost exclusively the province of local NGOs and the International Office for Migration's bureau in Dushanbe.[21]

Tajik is the state language in Tajikistan, and Russian has remained the official language of interethnic communication. Concentrated in the north and mostly supportive of the regime, Uzbeks are Tajikistan's largest ethnic minority, constituting a quarter of the population. Discrimination based on ethnicity and language is prohibited by law. Nonetheless ethnic Uzbeks, Russians, and Pamiris face bias in Tajik-controlled government bodies, where an institutional culture has now developed of promoting the titular majority over minorities. Minorities such as Uzbeks and Pamiris have been excluded from any important government positions, although four ethnic Uzbeks did serve as members of parliament. The prevalence of nepotism also tends to favor co-ethnic kin, as mixed marriages are relatively rare. (By the same token, ethnic Tajiks face discrimination in institutions or networks dominated by Uzbeks in the north of the country or Pamiris in the east.) All non-Kulobis are currently at a disadvantage in state structures. Much of the ethnic Russian population has emigrated in search of better economic and societal opportunities. Schooling in the Uzbek language does remain available, although schools everywhere in Tajikistan lack such basic resources as teachers and textbooks.

People with disabilities also suffer from widespread discrimination in daily life and high unemployment. This is despite their large numbers due to the civil war as well as ongoing injuries from stepping on landmines. The law does not require employers to provide physical access for people with disabilities, public transport makes no provisions for them, and public places lack basic technology, including wheelchair ramps, to help them.

An estimated 95 percent of Tajik citizens regard themselves as Muslims, although only a minority are regularly observant. Almost all are moderate Sunnis. Among the Pamiri peoples living in Gorno-Badakhshan (the mountainous southeast of the country) is a concentrated community of some 350,000 Shi'ite Ismailis, who revere the Aga Khan as their spiritual leader. The government (which nominally includes members of the religiously oriented IRPT) promotes a policy of aggressive secularism. While freedom of religion is generally respected and constitutionally guaranteed, the government vigorously patrols against any suspected adherents of religious extremism or political Islam. Mosques and religious communities require registration to function, and the law authorizes no more than one mosque per 15,000 residents in a given geographic area. The hiring and firing of preachers depends on the Council of Ulema (Islamic scholars), a body technically separate from the government but in actuality controlled by the State Committee on Religious Affairs. Imams often include a prayer of wellbeing for Rakhmonov in their Friday sermons.

The government increased pressure on suspected Islamists in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The radical Hizb ut-Tahrir, which advocates the nonviolent overthrow of secular regimes in Central Asia and their replacement by an Islamic state, has been banned in Tajikistan since 2001. The group's base is among ethnic Uzbeks in northern Soghd province, but support is spreading to Kulob and other ethnically Tajik, economically desperate areas. About 150 accused members of Hizb ut-Tahrir have been imprisoned on charges of subversion, usually for no more than possession of the group's propaganda leaflets.[22] Visiting Soghd in summer 2002, Rakhmonov inveighed against the excessive number of mosques in the region. Soon afterward, local imams were forced to sit examinations on their knowledge of Islam. Fifteen failed and were removed from their positions, and more than 30 mosques and a madrasa (religious school) were shut down. Local observers claimed that the tests were used to depose certain religious figures who were especially outspoken politically.[23]

Government statistics show that 90 percent of the workforce is organized into trade unions, most of them gathered under the roof of one giant federation of trade unions, a legacy of Soviet centralization. In practice, many enterprises represented by the unions are moribund, and the unions are becoming hollow shells in a country where one-fifth of the population are labor migrants, mostly in Russia. The authorities curtail freedom of assembly and association, especially if they are of a political nature, often by withholding the official permits that are required to stage public meetings or by intimidating would-be organizers. Consequently demonstrations are rare in Tajikistan. In 2003, the capital witnessed its first spontaneous street protests in a decade when a company running a pyramid investment scam collapsed, leaving tens of thousands of Tajiks out of pocket or destitute. Police brutally dispersed the crowds outside the presidential palace, attacking with truncheons and water cannons.[24] In political life, the president's PDPT is dominant, and it is hopeless to seek advancement in government structures without being a member.

Rule of Law: 

On paper the judiciary is a separate and equal branch of government. In reality it operates largely as an extension of the executive, and the courts provide citizens neither justice nor protection from the state in the political or economic realms. Judges of the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, and Supreme Economic Court are elected by the legislature on the president's recommendation. Given that the parliament is packed with Rakhmonov's supporters - and the fact that the president personally appoints and dismisses the remaining judges and state prosecutors - the opportunities for influence and abuse are manifest. Important decisions are vetted in advance or discreetly telephoned in from the presidential palace. Meanwhile, constitutional provisions conflict regarding court jurisdiction and supremacy to interpret and enforce the law.[25]

Tajiks' faith in judicial integrity and the rule of law has never really recovered from the trauma of the civil war, when it was public knowledge that certain factions or militias existed above the law. The general amnesty of 1997, which pardoned all but the most serious crimes committed by combatants, was crucial to securing peace, but it established the principle that politics trumps justice. In today's Tajikistan members of the power elite are no longer above the law - but that is because Rakhmonov and his faction in government have embarked on a purge of potential rivals and are using the judiciary to do it. Some of the mightiest figures in Tajikistan fell in 2004, accused of abuse of power, corruption, treason, or murder. Sometimes the charges are lurid but not implausible in view of the defendants' warlord pasts. However, all the wartime commanders doubtless have skeletons in their closets. The selectivity of the targeting indicates that the driving motive is to shore up power rather than mete out justice.

Cash also can trump justice. Criminal groups are said to have forged links with all tiers of the justice system. Bribery of prosecutors and judges is standard practice. Otherwise, judges rarely remain impartial and often side with the prosecution automatically. A common complaint of defendants and lawyers is that the majority of cases result in guilty verdicts. The constitution (Article 20) and the criminal code (Article 4) guarantee the presumption of innocence until proven guilty in court. Furthermore, Tajikistan has ratified and is legally bound by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. However, in everyday practice the Tajik court system tends to follow the Soviet approach, which presumed the defendant's guilt, and state officials and media routinely proclaim high-profile defendants guilty before their trials have even started. Judges at all levels are poorly trained and lack basic legal reference materials, although an examination system now manages to screen out the most hopeless candidates for the bench. The creation of a National Association of Barristers in March 2003 is a step forward in professionalizing the justice system.

The law stipulates that cases must go to court within four weeks once entered for trial, yet in some instances cases have been delayed for months. A defendant's right to a public trial is restricted by the catch-all proviso that if national security is involved, the trial is heard behind closed doors. Defendants have the right to independent counsel, but only after they have been fully interrogated and indicted, a process that can take months. Many detainees have reportedly been refused access to an attorney altogether. The state is supposed to appoint a defense lawyer for citizens who cannot afford one. However, counsel is chosen by the official investigating the offense, who has an incentive to appoint ineffective and inexperienced defense attorneys.[26]

Neither the legislature nor the judiciary has effective oversight of Tajikistan's army or police, which are headed by Rakhmonov loyalists and report directly to him. Rakhmonov has the militia and armed forces of the ministries of interior and defense well under his control and relies on them to govern. He demonstrated less confidence in his presidential guard, sacking its commander in early 2004, only to face a near-rebellion when about 200 officers threatened to resign and rumors spread of a coup in the offing.[27] Crisis was averted, but since then the presidential guard has been reorganized into a national guard commanded by a Kulobi from Rakhmonov's native town of Danghara. There have been instances when army personnel have abused their power and the state has cracked down on them. In autumn 2004 nine senior military officials were fired for press-ganging unfit or underage boys into the army to meet recruitment targets.[28] The government has been less active about reining in local police who have taken it upon themselves to detain and intimidate members of the opposition, apparently on their own initiative rather than as state policy.[29]

Tajikistan is the poorest nation of the former Soviet Union, with 80 percent of the population living below the poverty line. Thus, few people own much property beyond their house in the village and a family cow. Recently the government has pressed ahead with a land reform scheme, due to be completed in 2005, designed to create a class of private farmers. Yet as the state is the sole landowner according to the constitution, this "privatization process" actually amounts to leasing state land to individuals or associations, usually for 99 years.[30] Moreover, the government does not actually respect (or appreciate) the difference between rent and usufruct: Although leaseholders are theoretically free to handle the land as they choose, the authorities continue to decree cotton plans for them and draft in harvesters to ensure the targets are met. Rakhmonov has also ordered farmers to clear their debts with private investors for seeds, fertilizers, and fuel.[31]

Property rights and politics have come into conflict as the result of a provision of the 1997 peace agreement that requires a right of return to all refugees and internally displaced persons. The government began in 2000 to implement a scheme to restore homes to those forced to flee during the war. Thousands of houses were returned to their original owners, usually entailing the eviction of families occupying them. Many buildings had merely been seized as spoils of war. Yet in some instances families moved in with a reasonable expectation that the property had been abandoned and made improvements; still others actually bought the houses and have now been evicted with minimal compensation. Explaining a Supreme Court ruling that supported eviction in such cases, a spokesman said, "the court was guided not only by the legislation, but... the interests of those who suffered the most during the civil war."[32]

Anti-Corruption and Transparency: 

Tajikistan is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. It was ranked 133 out of 146 countries in Transparency International's 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index with a score of 2 on a scale from 10 ("highly clean") to 0 ("highly corrupt").[33] Bribes are paid to pass exams at university, to buy airplane tickets, or to secure a bed in a hospital. Traffic police opportunistically flag down cars for imaginary infractions. Graft pervades the judiciary and the civil service. The tangled bureaucracy provides ample means for corruption; bureaucrats' minuscule salaries provide motive. According to an April 2004 survey by the International Finance Corporation, 98 percent of Tajik businessmen have paid bribes to state officials. In the higher echelons of government, positions are bought and sold.[34]

The government regularly assures journalists and donors that it is aware of the problem, but it has been sluggish in addressing it. Tajikistan passed detailed legislation against corrupt practices in 1999 but has barely implemented it. It has yet to sign the OSCE's Convention on Combating Bribery. Rakhmonov has sacked some high-profile officials - the tax committee chief and national border guard commander in 2002, two ministers and several deputy ministers in 2003 - supposedly to root out corruption in his administration. But the purity of his motives is subject to doubt given that corruption probes most commonly target his political rivals. Various lower-level officials, including two judges, have been indicted on corruption charges. Yet no one has faced serious jail time except Dushanbe's former deputy mayor, who was sentenced to 16 years for embezzlement. In sum, the regime's spasmodic acts of punishment fall far short of any systematic plan to tackle corruption. The citizenry hears of these when stories appear in independent newspapers or when the arrest of a government opponent calls forth a vituperative expose of his financial misdeeds in the state-controlled media.

The state does not involve itself excessively in the economy as a whole, but this is because much of the economy is beyond state control. Half the country's revenues are generated abroad by labor migrants, the vast majority of whom work illegally in Russia. Remittances from Tajik labor migrants in 2003 were estimated at $240 million, roughly equal to the Tajik government's budget revenues.[35] Perhaps a quarter of the gross national product is generated in a gray economy into which businesses and traders have been driven by mountains of red tape, sticky-fingered officials, and a tax system that has been described as "officially sponsored extortion."[36] Tax evasion is ubiquitous, sometimes helped along by the willingness of tax collectors and inspectors to strike private arrangements with the establishment in question. Businesspeople have little legal recourse against persistent harassment by the authorities. Small businesses have the option of a complaints hotline, set up by the State Anti-Monopoly Commission, but this has little impact.[37]

Tajikistan was poorly industrialized under the USSR, and its infrastructure was wrecked in the war. The government privatized some of its light industry and enterprises in the second half of the 1990s. Rigged auctions, nontransparent tenders, and phony valuations of assets meant that many state holdings went to government insiders and their friends at knock-down prices. Heavy industry, especially the Tursunzoda aluminum factory (another mainstay of the economy) remains predominantly in government hands. The state has not done enough to loosen its hold on agriculture, especially cotton production, where it continues to set and enforce targets; cotton is the country's main export. Russian companies have signaled interest in buying into Tajikistan's national electricity company and hydropower plants. It is fair to assume that such deals would bring significant personal benefit to relevant government officials. There is no adequate legislation requiring public officials to disclose their financial assets or conflicts of interest and poor enforcement of the laws that do exist.

Tajikistan's chronic poverty and a foreign debt of $1 billion have apparently focused some minds in the government on the need to tackle corruption if the country is ever to get on its feet. They have become aware that the key to Tajikistan's development is to attract foreign investors, who have mostly steered clear of the country as a quagmire of corruption. In May 2004 Rakhmonov signed into law a package of business-friendly legislation, including fresh tax and customs regulations. It remains to be seen if the legislation really will spur broader improvements in the overall climate in which businesses operate.

Corruption also threatens flows of international aid and assistance to Tajikistan. In 2003 international donors pledged $900 million to support Tajikistan's poverty-reduction strategy, but only a fraction of that sum has been disbursed, due in large part to major donors' concern about the lack of progress in combating corruption and introducing more transparent government. Millions of dollars have already disappeared from World Bank projects in Tajikistan, prompting Rakhmonov to fire two of his officials administering them.[38]

The trustworthiness of the information sporadically released by the government about its funding and expenditures (and by the same token, the accuracy of statistics or estimates offered in this report) is compromised by the secrecy of its budgets, which are not subject to public scrutiny or independent auditing. Funding priorities, or even the rationale behind budgetary allocations, are barely debated by the legislature, which effectively rubber-stamps the executive's submissions. Most of the information gathered at the state statistical agencies is classified as secret and impossible for the public to obtain. In any case government agencies massage their data to head off possible criticisms of their operations or results.

  • For the sake of pluralism and political stability, instead of favoring one regional clique, the government should make more genuine efforts to include and promote other regional voices and interests into its structures and decision-making processes.
  • Taraqqiyot should be granted registration as a legal political party, and all legal opposition parties should be permitted to hold meetings, campaign for support, and have adequate access to the media to get their messages out without fear of harassment or reprisals from the authorities.
  • Foreign and domestic NGOs, notably those devoted to strengthening democracy and civil society, should be permitted to function without government harassment. The registration requirements for NGOs should be simplified. Government personnel, including parliamentarians, should provide for more NGO input into the policy-making and legislative processes by making their offices more accessible to NGO representatives and inviting them to participate in working groups.
  • The government should stop its campaign of intimidation of the independent media and should refrain from blocking independent newspapers’ access to printing houses.
  • The government should demonstrate its intolerance of torture by its police and security services by condemning it unreservedly, vigorously investigating allegations of its practice, and trying and punishing offenders in open courts.
  • The government should condemn the ban on women attending mosques and ensure it is rescinded.
  • A national action plan against human trafficking should be adopted and implemented that cracks down on gangs involved in trafficking, introduces improvements in border control, and widely disseminates information to warn potential victims about the dangers.
  • De facto curbs on freedom of assembly and association should be eliminated; groups espousing views different from those of the government should be allowed to meet unmolested, and peaceful demonstrations should receive the necessary permissions to go forward.
  • The law should be amended to ensure that prisoners are given the presumption of liberty. The practice of government officials and state press of publicly pronouncing defendants guilty before trial must cease.
  • The law should be amended to ensure that prisoners are granted access to an attorney at the beginning of their detention and that if the state assigns counsel, the appointment is made by the court, not a prosecutor.
  • As a prerequisite for the emergence of an independent judiciary, the system of selecting judges must be reformed to make them less dependent on and beholden to the executive. More money and effort should be devoted to training a more professional cadre of judges.
  • The government should better respect the letter and spirit of its own land reform program by ceasing to interfere in the planting and harvesting decisions of lease-holder farmers.
  • As a step toward reducing the temptations of bribe-taking in state structures, the salaries of public servants should be raised and the number of public servants should be cut.
  • With the participation and input of NGOs and businesspeople, a “Reinventing Government”–type initiative should be launched to excise unnecessary regulations and bureaucratic bottlenecks—especially those that commonly require bribes to negotiate. The streamlined procedures should be published with the government’s authoritative backing and made generally available to ensure that both civil servants and petitioners know their rights and responsibilities.
  • Laws should be enacted that require public officials to disclose their financial assets or conflicts of interest.
  • Information on state revenues and expenditures, including a reasonable breakdown of the national budget, should be made public and accessible to petitioners.

[1] "Tajikistan: President Reshuffles Government" (Prague and Washington DC: Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty [RFE/RL], 22 January 2004), http://rferl.org/features/features_article.aspx?id=DA297BBD-4C51-45E4-90D4-9DB1DE6F4155&m=1&y=2004.

[2] Tajikistan's Politics: Confrontation or Consolidation? (Dushanbe/ Brussels: International Crisis Group [ICG], Asia Briefing, 19 May 2004), 5, http://www.icg.org/home/index.cfm?id=2757&l=1.

[3] "Moscow Extradites Controversial Tajik Politician" (London: Institute of War and Peace Reporting [IWPR], 27 February 2004), http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/rca/rca_200402_268_3_eng.txt; "Tajikistan: Fall of Praetorian Guardsman" (IWPR, 10 August 2004), http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/rca2/rca2_306_1_eng.txt.

[4] An American legal NGO pioneered a successful civic initiative project to influence the drafting of new criminal legislation: see "Participatory Government: A New Reality Slowly Emerges in Tajikistan" (Chicago and Washington, DC: The American Bar Association Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative [CEELI], 12 March 2004), http://www.abanet.org/ceeli/countries/tajikistan/success_story_taj_participatory_government.html. The OSCE had some success with a working group to propose changes to the election law: see Tajikistan's Politics (ICG), 12. Also, the Council of Ministers has formally consulted with trade unions before presenting some draft laws on welfare and worker rights.

[5] "Islamic Party Official Jailed" (RFE/RL Central Asia Report, 19 January 2004), http://www.rferl.org/reports/centralasia/2004/01/3-190104.asp.

[6] "Odd Goings-on at Tajik Party" (IWPR, 3 September 2004), http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/rca2/rca2_311_2_eng.txt; "Newsline" (RFE/RL, 17 September 2004), http://rferl.org/newsline/2004/09/2-TCA/tca-170904.asp.

[7] For an English text of the election law (adopted 10 December 1999, amended 16 June 2004), see http://www.legislationline.org/view.php?document=61978. Also, "Tajikistan: Parliament Passes Amendments to Election Code" (RFE/RL, 17 June 2004), http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2004/6/A98F5F57-2E9E-4C9F-B26B-98A7F57A660F.html; Tajikistan's Politics (ICG), 13. [Editor's note: The 2004 minimum monthly wage of 7 somonis ($2.50) was increased to 12 somonis ($4.30) starting 1 January 2005.]

[8] "Newsline" (RFE/RL, 27 February 2004), http://www.rferl.org/newsline/2004/02/2-TCA/tca-270204.asp.

[9] Europe and Central Asia: Attacks on the Press 2003 (New York: Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ], 12 March 2004), http://www.cpj.org/attacks03/europe03/tajik.html.

[10] Tajikistan - Annual Report 2003 (Paris: Reporters Without Borders [RSF], 5 February 2003), http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=6540.

[11] "Independent Press Subjected to Printing Obstructions, Threats and Assault" (RSF, 24 August 2004), 1, http://www.rsf.org/print.php3?id_article=11222; "Media Pressure Intensifies" (IWPR, 13 October 2004), http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/rca2/rca2_320_2_eng.txt.

[12] "Tajikistan: CPJ Calls for End to Intimidation Campaign" (CPJ, 31 August 2004), http://www.cpj.org/protests/04ltrs/Tajik31aug04pl.html.

[13] Tajikistan: Deadly Secrets. The Death Penalty in Law and Practice (London and New York: Amnesty International [AI], 30 September 2002), 5, http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGEUR600082002?open&of=ENG-TJK.

[14] Ibid., 1, 6.

[15] Belarus and Uzbekistan: The Last Executioners (AI, 4 October 2004), http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGEUR040092004?open&of=ENG-BLR.

[16] "Memories of Journalist Killings Revived" (IWPR, 27 January 2004), http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/rca/rca_200401_260_1_eng.txt; "Tajikistan: Media See Gains, Setbacks" (RFE/RL, 8 January 2004), http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2004/01/ac3d9727-aa9c-4c35-acfc-2fddd5c2457e.html.

[17] Tajikistan: Deadly Secrets (AI), 9-12.

[18] Tajikistan: A Roadmap for Development (Osh/Brussels: ICG, Asia Report No.51, 24 April 2003), 12, http://www.icg.org/home/index.cfm?id=1447&l=1.

[19] "Tajik Migrants Face New Threat" (IWPR, 27 August 2004), http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/rca2/rca2_310_3_eng.txt.

[20] "Tajikistan: Women Challenge Mosque Ban" (IWPR, 6 October 2004), http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/rca2/rca2_318_3_eng.txt.

[21] Trafficking in Persons Report (Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of State, June 2003), http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2004/33192.htm; "Tajikistan: Human Trafficking a Growing Concern" (RFE/RL, 22 April 2004), http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2004/04/4f5d68ec-514a-46b1-ba00-245544d329e9.html.

[22] "Central Asia: State Policy Towards Muslims in Central Asia" (Oslo: Forum 18 News Service, 16 February 2004), http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=253.

[23] Tajikistan: International Religious Freedom Report 2003 (U.S. Dept. of State), 2, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2003/24437.htm; Tajikstan's Politics (ICG), 9.

[24] "Tajiks Stung by Investment Scandal" (IWPR, 2 September 2003), http://www.iwpr.net.

[25] "Legal Information for Tajikistan" (CEELI), 1, http://www.abanet.org/ceeli/countries/tajikistan/legalinfo.html.

[26] Tajikistan: Deadly Secrets (AI), 11.

[27] Tajikistan's Politics (ICG), 2.

[28] "Tajik Army Abuses Tackled" (IWPR, 5 November 2004), http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/rca2/rca2_324_2_eng.txt.

[29] Tajikistan's Politics (ICG), 7.

[30] Tajikistan's Land Reform Programme: Sowing the Seeds of a Brighter Future (Vienna: OSCE Secretariat), OSCE Magazine, July 2004, 4, http://www.osce.org/documents/sg/2004/07/3343_en.pdf; Tajikistan, A Roadmap for Development (ICG), 3.

[31] "Tajik Cotton Harvest in the Balance" (IWPR, 19 October 2004), http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/rca2/rca2_322_2_eng.txt.

[32] "Tajikistan: Wartime Property Dispute" (IWPR, 26 November 2004), http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/rca2/rca2_328_2_eng.txt.

[33] Corruption Perceptions Index (Berlin and London: Transparency International, 2004), http://www.transparency.org/cpi/2004/cpi2004.en.html#cpi2004.

[34] Tajikistan: A Roadmap for Development (ICG), 14.

[35] "Newsline" (RFE/RL, 4 February 2004), http://rferl.org/newsline/2004/02/2-TCA/tca-040204.asp.

[36] "Tajikistan: Clock Ticking on Corruption" (IWPR, 15 June 2004), http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/rca/rca_200406_293_3_eng.txt.

[37] Tajikistan: A Roadmap for Development (ICG), 7.

[38] Ibid., 26, note 135; "Tajikistan: Donors Meeting Following Up On Dushanbe's Promises to Fight Poverty, Corruption" (RFE/RL, 9 February 2004), http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2004/02/7cc553b5-81c3-4e0f-a361-9fb5b0fab892.html.