Tajikistan | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2003

2003 Scores


Not Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Ratings Change: 

Tajikistan's civil liberties rating improved from 6 to 5 due to a gradual strengthening of the rule of law and the renewal of civic life in the aftermath of a civil war that ended in 1997.


The geopolitical effects of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States continued to reverberate in Tajikistan's foreign policy throughout 2002. This impoverished and formerly obscure Central Asian country worked to balance its growing strategic ties with the United States with its continued dependence on Russian security, while at the same time enjoying a warming in relations with its more powerful neighbor, Uzbekistan. Five years after the official end of its devastating civil war, Tajikistan continued to face serious economic problems that many analysts regard as a threat to the country's still-fragile stability.

Conquered by Russia in the late 1800s, Tajikistan was made an autonomous region within Uzbekistan in 1924 and a separate socialist republic of the U.S.S.R. in 1929. Tajikistan declared independence from the U.S.S.R. in September 1991, and two months later, former Communist Party leader Rakhman Nabiyev was elected president.

Long-simmering clan-based tensions, combined with various anti-Communist and Islamist movements, soon plunged the country into a five-year civil war for central government control. In September 1992, Communist hardliners forced the resignation of President Nabiyev, who was replaced in November by leading Communist Party member Emomali Rakhmonov. The following month, Rakhmonov launched attacks that caused tens of thousands to flee into neighboring Afghanistan.

As the fighting continued, Rakhmonov was elected president in November 1994 after most opposition candidates either boycotted or were prevented from competing in the poll. March 1995 parliamentary elections, in which the majority of seats were won by pro-government candidates, were boycotted by the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), a coalition of various secular and Islamic opposition groups that emerged during the war as the main opposition force fighting against Rakhmonov's government.

Following a December 1996 cease-fire, Rakhmonov and UTO leader Said Abdullo Nuri signed a formal peace agreement in Moscow on June 27, 1997, officially ending the civil war, which had claimed tens of thousands of lives and left several hundred thousand as refugees. The accord called for opposition forces to be merged into the regular army, granted an amnesty for UTO members, provided for the UTO to be allotted 30 percent of senior government posts, and established a 26-member National Reconciliation Commission, with seats evenly divided between the government and the UTO. The commission was charged with implementing the peace agreements, including preparing amendments for a referendum on constitutional changes that would lead to fair parliamentary elections.

During the next two years, the government and the UTO took steps towards implementing the peace accord. In a September 1999 referendum, voters approved a series of constitutional amendments permitting the formation of religion-based political parties. This move paved the way for the legal operation of the Islamic opposition, including the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), which constituted the backbone of the UTO. In November, President Rakhmonov was reelected president with a reported 97 percent of the vote in a poll criticized by international election observers for widespread irregularities.

As the final stage in the implementation of the 1997 peace accord, Tajikistan held elections in February 2000 for the 63-seat lower house of parliament. The People's Democratic Party (PDP) of President Rakhmonov received nearly 65 percent of the vote, followed by the Communist Party with 20 percent and the IRP, which was plagued by internal divisions, with 7 percent. Although the participation of six parties and a number of independent candidates in the poll provided some political pluralism, international election observers, including a joint mission by the OSCE and the United Nations, cited serious problems, including the exclusion of certain opposition parties, biased state media coverage, and a lack of transparency in the tabulation of votes. In March elections to the 33-seat upper house of parliament, in which regional assemblies elected 25 members and President Rakhmonov appointed the remaining 8, the PDP obtained the overwhelming majority of seats. After the elections, the National Reconciliation Commission was formally disbanded, and a UN observer mission withdrew in May 2000 after nearly six years in Tajikistan. However, important provisions of the peace accord remained unimplemented, with demobilization of opposition factions incomplete and the government failing to meet the 30 percent quota of senior government posts to be awarded to the UTO.

Following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Tajikistan agreed to open its airspace for humanitarian flights during the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan and announced the arrival of advanced detachments of foreign troops. However, the government denied that it had plans to allow U.S. troops or warplanes to use its territory for military strikes against Afghanistan's then ruling Taliban. Tajikistan's cautious reaction stemmed from fears of possible retaliatory measures by Taliban forces, as well from domestic radical Islamists and others; while the IRP pursues its agenda through established political means, some former UTO members continue to engage in armed opposition against the national government. Tajikistan's participation in the U.S.-backed coalition was further complicated by its dependence on Russia for maintaining its national security, as Tajikistan remains the only Central Asian country in which Moscow has ground forces stationed.

The effects of September 11, 2001, continued to have an impact on Tajikistan's relations with its more powerful neighbors throughout 2002. The government's decision to strengthen ties with the United States as part of its antiterrorism campaign strained relations with Russia, which generally stood opposed to a long-term U.S. presence there. By contrast, its relations with Uzbekistan improved since September 11, as the security threat posed by Islamic radicals, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), appeared to have lessened. In 1999 and 2000, Dushanbe had failed to stop the IMU, which sought the overthrow of the Uzbekistan government, from using Tajikistan as a transit country for armed incursions from Afghanistan into Uzbekistan. Both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan were also eager to improve trade and settle border disputes; in October, the two countries signed an agreement demarcating 86 percent of their shared border. In February, Tajikistan joined NATO's Partnership for Peace program, the last former Soviet republic to do so.

The poor state of Tajikistan's economy, which was devastated by the civil war, continues to be seen as a serious threat to the country's five-year peace. Three years of drought followed by violent rainfalls and swarms of locusts destroyed thousands of acres of crops. Average salaries are less than $10 a month, an estimated 80 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and the gross domestic product remains less than half the size it was 10 years earlier.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Citizens of Tajikistan cannot change their government democratically. The 1994 constitution provides for a strong, directly elected executive who enjoys broad authority to appoint and dismiss officials. Amendments to the constitution adopted in a 1999 referendum further increased the powers of the president by extending his term in office from five to seven years and creating a full-time, bicameral parliament whose members would be appointed directly by the president or elected by indirect vote through local parliaments led by presidential appointees. Neither the country's presidential polls in 1994 and 1999 nor the parliamentary elections of 1995 and 2000 were free and fair.

Despite formal guarantees of freedom of speech and the press, media freedom remains severely curtailed by the government. Independent journalists continue to be threatened by removal of their accreditation, denial of access to state printing facilities, and acts of physical violence. The penal code criminalizes publicly defaming or insulting a person's honor or reputation. Consequently, self-censorship among journalists is widespread. Most newspapers are weeklies and suffer from low advertising revenues and poor circulations. In October, three journalists who were part of a workshop organized by a U.S.-based media training group, Internews, were forcibly conscripted into the Tajik army. Press freedom advocates maintain that the authorities had no right to conscript the journalists, who were from a region outside of the jurisdiction of the city where they were seized. In positive developments, the private broadcaster, TV Service, began providing independent programming in Dushanbe in July, and Asia-Plus became the first private radio station to broadcast in the capital in September. In June, criminal charges against Dodojon Atovulloev, the exiled editor of the independent opposition newspaper Charogi Ruz, were dropped. Atovulloev had been arrested in Moscow in July 2001 on charges of sedition and insulting President Emomali Rakhmonov and was threatened with extradition to Tajikistan; international pressure led to his release after six days in custody.

According to the 2002 U.S. State Department Report on International Religious Freedom, the government generally respects religious freedom in this predominantly Muslim country, although it monitors the activities of religious institutions to prevent them from becoming overtly political. Religious communities must register with the State Committee on Religious Affairs. During the year, the authorities reportedly closed a number of unregistered mosques and ordered the removal of some imams for their alleged involvement in politics; by law, religious officials are not allowed to belong to political parties. Members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which calls for the establishment of an Islamic caliph throughout the Muslim world, have been subject to arrest and imprisonment for subversion.

The state strictly controls freedom of assembly and association for organizations of a political nature. Nongovernmental and political groups must obtain permits to hold public demonstrations, and organizers of protests have at times faced government reprisals. Although a May 1998 ban on religious-based parties was lifted in September 1999, leading to the registration of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), the government has stopped or limited the activities of certain other political parties. Although citizens have the legal right to form and join trade unions, labor rights are largely ignored in practice.

The judiciary is directly influenced by the executive branch, which most judges depend on for their positions, as well as by some armed paramilitary groups. Many judges are poorly trained and inexperienced, and bribery is reportedly widespread. Police routinely conduct arbitrary arrests of citizens and beat detainees to force them to confess to alleged crimes. In August, in the first such criminal convictions since Tajikistan gained independence, nine senior law enforcement officials were found guilty of using torture to extract confessions from suspects. Prison conditions have been described as life threatening because of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.

High levels of criminal and political violence, including hostage taking and extortion, continue to affect the personal security of most citizens. Certain regions of the country remain largely under the control of former rebel fighters from the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) who have rejected the terms of the 1997 peace accord. Government and various former opposition groups have engaged in armed skirmishes, and high-level state officials have been targets for assassination. In March, seven former UTO members were found guilty of killing First Deputy Interior Minister Khabib Sanginov in April 2001. They received sentences including 16 to 25 years in prison or the death penalty.

The government imposes some restrictions on the right of its citizens to choose a place of residence and to travel. The process of obtaining an exit visa to travel abroad may take a month or longer and frequently requires the payment of bribes. Checkpoints manned by Interior Ministry troops and customs officials have extorted money from drivers and passengers, limiting their freedom of movement. Corruption, which is reportedly pervasive throughout the government, civil service, and business sectors, restricts equality of opportunity.

Although women are employed throughout the government and the business world, they continue to face traditional societal discrimination. Domestic violence is reportedly common, and there are credible reports of trafficking of women for prostitution. The participation of women in criminal activities, including the drug trade, has increased as a result of the country's widespread poverty.