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The overwhelming political dominance of President Imomali Rakhmonov's ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) ensured it an easy victory in the February 2005 parliamentary elections. Throughout the year, the government continued to consolidate its power by clamping down on the media and working to sideline perceived and actual political rivals. Meanwhile, Russia strengthened its foothold in the region following Dushanbe's ratification of a bilateral agreement on a number of strategic and economic matters, including the establishment of a permanent Russian military base in Tajikistan.
Conquered by Russia in the late 1800s, Tajikistan was made an autonomous region within Uzbekistan in 1924 and a separate socialist republic of the USSR in 1929. Tajikistan declared independence from the Soviet Union 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 hard-liners forced Nabiyev's resignation; he was replaced later that year by Imomali Rakhmonov, a leading Communist Party member. The following month, Rakhmonov launched attacks against antigovernment forces 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. The March 1995 parliamentary elections, in which the majority of seats were won by progovernment 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 ceasefire, 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 the merger of opposition forces 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 toward 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. The referendum also included an amendment extending the president's single term in office from five to seven years. In November, Rakhmonov was reelected 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. Rakhmonov's People's Democratic Party (PDP)-which he joined in 1998-received nearly 65 percent of the vote, followed by the Communist Party with 20 percent, and the IRP 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 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (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 the March elections to the 33-seat upper house of parliament, in which local assemblies elected 25 members and Rakhmonov appointed the remaining eight, 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.
Rakhmonov's already substantial powers as president were further consolidated in a June 22, 2003, constitutional referendum. Voters approved by a reported 93 percent a package of 56 constitutional amendments, the most controversial of which permits the president to serve two additional seven-year terms beyond the next presidential election in 2006. (The constitution previously limited the president to a single seven-year term.) Rakhmonov, who argued that this change would better reflect post- civil war circumstances and bring the country continued stability, could theoretically remain in office until 2020. Critics charged that most voters were not fully aware of the proposed changes, which were not printed on the ballot papers and had not been given much media coverage. The opposition Democratic Party (DP) urged its supporters to boycott the vote, while the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the IRP adopted less openly confrontational positions.
With parliamentary elections due in February 2005 and presidential elections a year later, the government increased its pressure on opposition figures and other perceived potential challengers to the president's power. The authorities targeted former Rakhmonov allies, including Drug Control Agency head Ghaffor Mirzoyev, who was arrested in August 2004 on numerous criminal charges, including murder. In December, DP leader Mahmudi Iskandarov was arrested in Moscow after Tajik authorities issued a warrant for his extradition on criminal charges. After Russian authorities released him in April 2005, Iskandarov was apparently abducted and forcibly repatriated to Tajikistan, where he was put on trial. He was convicted in October on six charges, including terrorism, and sentenced to 23 years in prison. Other members of the political opposition who were targeted during the year included SDP members Nizomiddin Begmatov and Nasimjon Shukurov, who were sentenced to prison on charges of hooliganism after allegedly addressing a judge with foul language during a court hearing.
In the February 2005 election to the lower house of parliament, the PDP secured an easy victory, winning 52 of 63 seats. The Communist Party and the IRP captured 4 and 2 seats, respectively, and independent candidates won 5. The opposition SDP and DP-which, along with the IRP, had formed a tactical coalition the previous year to challenge the PDP-failed to capture a single seat. Election monitors from the OSCE concluded that "despite some improvement over previous elections, large-scale irregularities were evident" and that the election "failed to meet many of the key OSCE commitments for democratic elections." Among the problems noted were multiple voting, lack of politically balanced election commissions, inadequate implementation of positive election law amendments, and official interference with press coverage of the campaign. In March, the Central Election Commission, which is appointed by the authorities, rejected an appeal by several opposition parties challenging the results in the capital, Dushanbe.
On the international front, Tajikistan's parliament in early 2005 ratified a 2004 agreement solidifying Russia's military presence in Tajikistan and increasing bilateral economic relations. The terms of the agreement included the upgrading of Russia's 201st Motorized Rifle Division in Tajikistan to a full military base; the transfer of control of a space-monitoring system in Tajikistan to Russia; the forgiving of Dushanbe's massive debts to Russia; and Russia's investment in infrastructure projects in Tajikistan, including a hydropower plant. Also included was the transfer of responsibility for guarding the Tajik-Afghan border from Russian to Tajik jurisdiction (most of the border guard officers were Russian, while the troops were Tajik conscripts). By mid-2005, Russian troops had been withdrawn from their last border post.
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 the term in office from five to seven years. The amendments also created a full-time, bicameral parliament: in the Assembly of Representatives (lower chamber), 63 members are elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms; and in the National Assembly (upper chamber), 33 members are indirectly elected, 25 by local assemblies and 8 by the president, all for five-year terms. Constitutional amendments adopted in a 2003 referendum allow the president to run for two additional seven-year terms in office. Neither the presidential polls in 1994 and 1999 nor the parliamentary elections of 1995, 2000, and 2005 were free and fair.
Patronage networks and regional affiliations are central to political life, with officials from the Kulyob region-the home of President Imomali Rakhmonov-domi-nant in government. The pro-Rakhmonov PDP is the dominant political party. Secular opposition parties, including the DP and SDP, are weak and enjoy minimal popular support. The IRP, currently the only legal religion-based party in Central Asia, has limited political influence within government structures but has also faced opposition criticism of having been co-opted by the authorities.
Corruption is reportedly pervasive throughout society, with payments often required to obtain lucrative government positions. According to the 2005 U.S. State Department human rights report, the government took steps to combat corruption, including trying officials and judges for taking bribes. Tajikistan was ranked 144 out of 159 countries in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Despite constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and the press, independent journalists continue to face harassment and intimidation, selective tax audits, and denial of access to state printing facilities. The penal code criminalizes publicly defaming or insulting a person's honor or reputation. Consequently, journalists often avoid reporting on sensitive political issues, including corruption, and directly criticizing the president and other senior officials. The government controls most printing presses, newsprint supplies, and broadcasting facilities. Most television stations are state owned or only nominally independent, and the process of obtaining broadcast licenses is cumbersome. According to the U.S. State Department, the government blocked access to several internet sites in 2005, including one belonging to Dodojon Atoulloev, an opposition journalist based in Moscow.
Dozens of journalists were murdered during the country's five-year civil war in the 1990s, and most of the cases have not been solved. In January 2004, the pros-ecutor-general's office announced that it had established a special group to investigate the killings. However, according to the press freedom watchdog group Committee to Protect Journalists, the group had not achieved any results as of late 2005.
Independent and opposition journalists and media outlets faced growing government pressure in advance of the February 2005 parliamentary elections. In January, the authorities shut down the printing house Kayhon-which had published opposition newspapers, including Ruzi Nav and Nerui Sukhan-for alleged license violations. The editor of the defunct Nerui Sukhan was convicted in August of illegally using electricity for his press advocacy group's printing house; he was sentenced to two years of corrective labor. The authorities ordered the closure of two private television stations, Guli Bodom and Somonien, in April and May, respectively; Guli Bodom resumed broadcasting in July, but Somonien remained closed. Press freedom advocates regarded the closures of the stations-which were among the few that had provided opposition candidates airtime-as politically motivated. Independent reporter Jumaboy Tolibov was sentenced in July to two years in prison on charges including hooliganism and trespassing; although his sentence was partially overturned in October, he remained in custody as of November 30.
The government generally respects religious freedom in this predominantly Muslim country, although it imposes some restrictions. Religious communities must register with the State Committee on Religious Affairs, a process sometimes used to control religious and political activities. The authorities monitor the activities of religious institutions to keep them from becoming overtly political. There were reportedly no arrests of high-profile Muslims during the year. According to the U.S. State Department, the Tajik government does not restrict academic freedom.
The government at times restricts freedom of assembly and association. Local government committee approval is required to hold public demonstrations. Unapproved protests are rare because of the fear of reprisal from the authorities and concerns about a return to the political unrest of the civil war period. All nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) must register with the Ministry of Justice. A number of NGOs operate in the country without restrictions. However, following the recent political upheavals in several post-Soviet countries, which the Tajik government perceived to have been at least partly the result of intervention by foreign-backed organizations, the authorities became increasingly wary of foreign-funded NGOs in 2005. As of April, all foreign embassies and international NGOs were required to notify the Tajik government about any meetings with local political and civil society activists.
Citizens have the legal right to form and join trade unions and to bargain collectively, which they do in practice. Although the law does not restrict the right to strike, no strikes occurred during the year, reportedly because workers fear government retaliation.
The judiciary is strongly influenced by the executive branch, as well as by some criminal groups. Many judges are poorly trained and inexperienced, and bribery is reportedly widespread. The government took some steps to address the problem during the year by arresting some corrupt judges and prosecutors. Police often conduct arbitrary arrests and beat detainees to extract confessions. Detainees are often refused access to legal counsel, and they frequently face lengthy pretrial detention. Conditions in prisons-which are overcrowded, unsanitary, and disease-ridden- are often life-threatening.
Most of the population live in poverty and survive on subsistence agriculture, remittances from relatives working abroad, mainly in Russia, and foreign humanitarian aid. Widespread corruption, patronage networks, regional affiliations, limited privatization of land and industry, and the narcotics trade restrict equality of opportunity and limit economic growth. Child labor, particularly on cotton farms, remains a problem.
Women are often sexually harassed in the workplace and continue to face traditional societal discrimination. Violence against women, including spousal abuse, is reportedly common, but cases reported to the authorities are rarely investigated. Tajikistan is a source and transit country for persons trafficked for prostitution. A 2004 law against human trafficking addresses prevention, protection of victims, and the prosecution of traffickers. According to the International Organization for Migration, 58 people were convicted of trafficking in 2005.