Tajikistan | Freedom House

Nations in Transit

Tajikistan

Tajikistan

Nations in Transit 2011

2011 Scores

Democracy Score
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

6.14

Regime Classification

Consolidated Authoritarian Regime

National Democratic Governance
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

6.25

Electoral Process
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

6.50

Civil Society
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

6.00

Independent Media
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

5.75

Local Democratic Governance
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

6.00

Judicial Framework and Independence
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

6.25

Corruption
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

6.25

Capital: Dushanbe
Population: 6.9 million
GNI/capita, PPP: US$1,950

Source: The data above were provided by The World Bank, World Development Indicators 2011.

*Starting with the 2005 edition, Freedom House introduced separate analysis and ratings for national democratic governance and local democratic governance, to provide readers with more detailed and nuanced analysis of these two important subjects.

NOTE: 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 1 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 7 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year.

Executive Summary: 

Tajikistan in 2010 remained the poorest and perhaps the most obscure nation among the postcommunist states of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Major powers, some of which are normally eager to promote democratic norms, continued to regard Tajikistan, with its harsh terrain and difficult-to-tap resources, in mainly geostrategic terms—a s an entity that could offer “unfettered over flight and transit”[1] to Western forces bound for Afghanistan and serve as a “buffer state”[2] against extremism, terrorism, and drug trafficking. During the year, there were no serious calls for reform of Tajikistan’s political environment, and the government used a critical but diplomatically worded monitoring report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as propaganda to legitimize the results of the largely flawed February parliamentary elections. Though the real opposition parties likely received far more votes than reported, President Emomali Rahmon and his People’s Democratic Party also continued to enjoy public support. The population, which primarily subsists on remittances sent by around one million Tajik migrants working mostly in Russia, favors stability over unpredictable change, and economic gains over political pluralism. However, factors including increasing income disparity (now likely the widest since Tajikistan’s creation as a Soviet republic), high unemployment, ubiquitous corruption, the brutality of the security apparatus, and an unjust judiciary appear to have attracted growing numbers of people to Islamist ideology of both the benign and malign varieties, which the authorities consider threats to the stability of the secular state.

National Democratic Governance. The country experienced serious violence and ongoing democratic stagnation in 2010. The year featured the escape of 25 convicts from the country’s most secure prison, followed by the first-ever suicide bombing in Tajikistan—which resulted in three deaths in the northern town of Khujand— and clashes in the east between rebels and government forces that inflicted heavy casualties on both poor conscripts and elite commandos. The government coerced the public into buying US$185 million in shares of Roghun, the country’s largest hydroelectric power project, which is expected to be completed after one or more foreign investors are found, despite neighboring Uzbekistan’s worries over the project’s possible environmental and economic side effects. Also during the year, exploration for oil and gas increased, with Russia’s Gazprom commencing drilling in a field near Dushanbe that could yield 60 billion cubic meters of natural gas. Though the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) rose by an average of 6.3 percent during 2006–2010, the key stimulus is thought to have been remittances sent by Tajik migrants working abroad, while at least half of Tajikistan’s population lived in poverty. The president warned of the dangers of Islamic extremism during the year and asked for the return of thousands of students studying in Islamic schools abroad. In May, an imprisoned political opponent of President Rahmon, Abdujalil Homidov, died in jail of unknown causes. Given the continued dominance of the executive over all government branches, a resurgence of political violence, and the state’s heavy-handed dealings with real and perceived Islamist extremists, Tajikistan’s rating for national democratic governance remains at 6.25.

Electoral Process. “The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.”[3] This mockery of democracy, attributed to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1923, was applicable to Tajikistan in 2010. Despite a “guarantee” by President Rahmon that the February 28 parliamentary elections would be transparent and fair, the results suggested the opposite. According to OSCE monitors, the elections “failed to meet many key OSCE commitments [and] other international standards for democratic elections.” The serious irregularities reported included large-scale proxy voting and suspected ballot stuffing, and some candidates faced intimidation during the campaign period. Given the deliberate efforts to stall electoral reform, staff the majority of election commissions with progovernment members, tolerate proxy voting, and set up artificial barriers to campaigning by opposition parties, the rating for electoral process remains unchanged at 6.50.

Civil Society. Though over 2,000 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are thought to be registered with Tajikistan’s Justice Ministry, it is likely that no more than 10 to 15 percent of them are active. Inordinate amounts of aid (relative to the small number of capable NGOs), insufficient monitoring and expectations by donors, and the government’s occasional threats to activists addressing critical matters have encouraged civil society’s lethargy and self-censorship. However, in a show of unity in November 2010, a coalition of 14 domestic NGOs and three international human rights groups sent an open letter to President Rahmon, urging him to work toward abolition of the death penalty. Though a slight improvement in the relationship between central government officials and civil society was detected, the freedoms of conscience and assembly remained problematic areas. The government continued to arrest members of the banned though nonviolent Islamist organizations Salafiya, Hizb ut-Tahrir, and Jamoati Tabligh, sentencing most to long prison terms or large fines. Given the insufficient activity of civil society; occasional government-imposed barriers and threats; and the continued arrest, mass trials, and imprisonment of members of mostly nonviolent Islamic groups, Tajikistan’s rating for civil society remains unchanged at 6.00.

Independent Media. Despite progress on some fronts, conditions for independent media underwent an overall decline in 2010. Positive developments included the establishment of the first daily newspaper of post-Soviet Tajikistan, a surge in coverage of often sensitive topics, and the rallying of journalists in favor of freedom of expression. However, the year featured a number of court cases involving accusations of libel, the temporary shutdown of several newspapers, the blocking of access to certain websites, bans on several films, and the arrest and detention on libel charges of at least one journalist. The defense minister, Sherali Khairulloev, accused Tajikistan’s nonstate media of “complicity with terrorists” for their often critical and opinionated coverage of the year’s violence in Rasht Valley, while the president labeled some journalists’ reporting as “bellicose” and warned them not to count on the “support of their foreign protectors.” Tajikistan’s media environment is fairly pluralistic and free compared with some neighboring states, but in light of the authorities’ threats against journalists, the repeated invocation of criminal libel laws, and the detention and due process violations faced by a journalist in Sughd, the rating for independent media remains unchanged at 5.75.

Local Democratic Governance. On paper, each of Tajikistan’s four provinces and 56 districts elects its own legislature, whose members in turn vote on the presidential appointees for governor or mayor. However, these local legislatures are mere rubber-stamp entities fulfilling the commands of the central government. Lack of democracy, unemployment, poverty, limitations on farmers’ choice of crops to grow, and a dearth of quality educational institutions are among the key problems facing local communities. Conditions are especially difficult for those growing the country’s “strategic” crop of cotton, which has contributed to poverty, environmental degradation, and a near-feudal system of governance. Most households rely on remittances from relatives working abroad as their mainstay, with an estimated US$2.2 billion received in 2010. Given the continued undemocratic state of affairs at the local government level, insufficient provision of basic services, rights violations including arbitrary confiscation of property, and forcible cultivation of cotton, Tajikistan’s rating for local democratic governance remains unchanged at 6.00.

Judicial Framework and Independence. Money and influence can determine one’s guilt or innocence in Tajikistan’s courts, and the tacit rule in most cases places the burden of proof on the accused rather than the prosecution. Human rights violations appeared to have increased in 2010. The cases of Nematillo Botoqoziev and Ilhom Ismanov, who allegedly suffered torture and due process violations at the hands of the authorities, received substantial international attention and indicated the government’s indifference toward criticism of its human rights practices. At the same time, the government had a well-founded confidence that key security donors (Russia, the United States, the European Union, and the OSCE) would be unfazed by its continuing abuse of its own population given the ongoing war in Afghanistan and these external powers’ de facto prioritization of security matters over human rights. During 2010, the authorities continued to deny third-party monitors—chiefly the International Committee of the Red Cross—access to prisons, and declined to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Given the deteriorating state of the justice system with respect to violations of human rights, including the use of torture; increasing arbitrary arrests, prosecutions, and imprisonment; the closed penitentiary system; the lack of political will to implement genuine reform; and rejection of domestic and international criticism, Tajikistan’s rating for judicial framework and independence remains at 6.25.

Corruption. Within the bureaucracy and wider society, as in the court system, who one knows and how much one is willing to pay generally determine how quickly a problem is solved. Cronyism and patronage remain important features of the country, and corruption is a serious societal problem. Among the most troubled sectors are the cotton and aluminum industries, which together constituted nearly US$1 billion or 80 percent of all exports in 2010. The International Monetary Fund asked for an audit of Talco Management, a firm linked to the Tajik Aluminium Company (Talco) that is registered in the British Virgin Islands along with another murky Talco-related company, CDH. Meanwhile, the State Financial Control and Anticorruption Agency and the prosecutor general’s office made some apparent efforts to combat graft during the year, but the depth and authenticity of these initiatives remains inconclusive. The rating for corruption remains at 6.25.

Outlook for 2011. The brewing instability that led government forces and armed militants to clash in the latter half of 2010 may continue and intensify in 2011, with the government’s heavy-handed policies on arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment of suspected Islamists potentially becoming counterproductive and exacerbating extremism. At the same time, the possible discovery of significant natural gas resources may generate state revenue and foster internal security. Externally, given the ongoing global economic recovery, the one million economic migrants working mostly in Russia will send over US$2.5 billion in remittances to their families in Tajikistan and continue to serve as a key source of sustenance for millions. In the south, speculation on an eventual pullout of U.S.-led NATO troops from Afghanistan could lead to increased clashes and the entry into Tajikistan of militant groups involved in the Afghan conflict, including members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. If the Tajik government, Russia, Western powers, and international organizations continue to prioritize perceived security interests while neglecting basic human rights and democracy, they will only slightly prolong a short-lived and artificial stability.

National Democratic Governance: 

Tajikistan experienced democratic stagnation and breakdowns in security in 2010. The year’s series of violent events included a bold prison break in August, in which 25 convicts who had been sentenced to long prison terms for a number of antistate offenses killed five guards, gained access to firearms, and escaped from the most secure penitentiary in the country. Tajikistan suffered its first-ever suicide bombing in September when an explosives-laden car detonated at the headquarters of Sughd province’s organized crime police, killing three people and injuring some two dozen others. Soon thereafter, deadly clashes commenced in the east, resulting in the death of a number of rebels; many government troops, including as many as 26 mostly young and poor conscripts in an ambush of their truck; and an estimated 30 special police personnel through the downing of their helicopter. Meanwhile, there was no progress on the political front. The results of the flawed February parliamentary elections were a foregone conclusion, and some critics argued that millions of dollars in Western taxpayer funds were wasted on election monitors tasked with observing a mockery of democracy.

President Emomali Rahmon, who has been in power since 1992, is by law and practice in near total control of all three branches of government. He is empowered to appoint key judges, the military prosecutor, the prosecutor general, the governors of the country’s 56 districts, and the mayor of the capital, and the rubber-stamp parliament approves all legislation submitted by his officials. President Rahmon’s authoritarian governance is characterized by a cult of personality and patron-client relations.[4] However, the majority of Tajikistan’s public is apparently satisfied with the existing political system. In a preelection public opinion survey conducted by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), 83 percent of respondents agreed that “Tajikistan is a democracy”—a figure that, if reliable, has risen significantly compared with similar surveys in 2004 (74 percent) and 1996 (39 percent).[5]

In 2010, President Rahmon repeatedly emphasized his government’s goals of “energy security, breaking the [interstate transportation] deadlock and ensuring food security.”[6] To fund the Roghun hydroelectric power plant, which the authorities hope will eventually alleviate the country’s energy deficit and earn the state huge revenues from electricity exports, the government urged the population to purchase shares in the project in 2009. The encouragement of voluntary purchases soon turned into coercion. Everyone from students, who were forced to purchase shares prior to taking their final exams, to teachers, factory workers, and doctors, who saw a deduction in their monthly paychecks, were drawn into the effort, with most complying reluctantly. By the end of 2010, share sales had reached the equivalent of US$185 million, around 5 percent of the estimated capital required to finish the project.

If eventually completed with the help of international investors, Roghun would be the highest-elevation dam in the world, with a potential annual electricity output of 3.6 gigawatts, making Tajikistan the world’s largest per capita electricity producer. However, the project is currently facing both political and economic obstacles. Uzbekistan, which claims that Roghun will be an environmental threat, is in reality concerned that the dam will deprive it of readily available irrigation water for its cotton industry. To disrupt or slow down Roghun’s construction during 2010, Uzbekistan blocked critical railway shipments passing through its territory toward Tajikistan.

During 2010, a number of foreign engineering and investment firms were engaged in exploration for oil and natural gas in the country, and Russia’s stateowned natural gas company, Gazprom, claimed to have tapped into a field south of Dushanbe that contains up to 60 billion cubic meters of gas.[7] Still, although economic growth from 2006 through 2010 averaged 6.3 percent per year,[8] Tajikistan remains the poorest state in the former Soviet bloc on a per capita income basis. The poverty rate has reportedly fallen in recent years, with 50 percent of the population living below the World Bank–designated poverty threshold at the end of 2009, compared with 73 percent in 2003.[9] While the government would like to take credit for this drop, it appears that remittances from Tajiks working abroad have been the main cause. The transfers amounted to an estimated 35 and 40 percent of Tajikistan’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2009 and 2010, respectively, “a higher share than in any other country in the world.”[10] Meanwhile, the government has continued to devote undue attention and resources to symbolic nationalistic projects. In November, the authorities announced plans to install a 165-meter flagpole to surpass the world’s tallest, in Azerbaijan, by three meters.[11] In 2009, Tajikistan had supposedly already made history by unfolding what was then the world’s longest national flag, measured at 1.5 kilometers.

According to the preelection IFES survey, 64 percent of Tajiks favor a secular state, 25 percent approve of adopting some Islamic laws, and 7 percent desire an Islamic government. In several of his speeches in 2010, President Rahmon warned of the dangers of Islamic extremism and said there were fundamentalist clerics who could threaten the country’s peace. In August, he cautioned parents with children studying in madrassas (Islamic schools) abroad that their “children will become extremists and terrorists” and asked that they return.[12] By year’s end, over 1,000 students had complied. The government’s campaign, along with controls imposed on Tajikistan’s Islamic institutions, could indeed curb extremism if implemented wisely. But there are concerns that the state’s more repressive methods—such as the often arbitrary arrest, abuse, and imprisonment of supposed extremists—could be self-defeating and have the effect of spreading extremism instead.

In May, Abdujalil Homidov, a 65-year-old political opponent of President Rahmon and a former governor of Sughd province, died in a Dushanbe prison from unknown causes. He was serving a 16-year term for convictions on a number of charges, including treason and sabotage.[13] Homidov, who was once an ally of President Rahmon’s and one of the architects of the 1992 emergency parliamentary session that brought him to power, was arrested in 2001 while visiting Tajikistan to attend his sister’s funeral. He was later tried and convicted by the Supreme Court in a closed session. Homidov is the third prominent opposition figure to die in prison in recent years. A former deputy leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), Shamsiddin Shamsiddinov, died in 2008, and the former deputy leader of the unregistered Taraqqiyot (Progress) Party, Rustam Faiziyev, died in 2009.

Electoral Process: 

Despite a “guarantee” by President Rahmon that the February 28, 2010, parliamentary elections would be transparent and fair, observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) found that the balloting “failed to meet many key OSCE commitments [and] other international standards for democratic elections.” Irregularities included widespread proxy voting, suspected ballot stuffing, and sporadic intimidation of candidates. One observer described the elections as “a badly staged drama.”[14] The joint OSCE and European

Parliament observation mission, having sent 279 experts and election monitors to Tajikistan at an estimated cost of US$2 million to US$3 million, observed the activities of 720 (out of over 3,000) polling stations and 35 (out of 41) District Election Commissions.

Campaigning for the elections was hardly visible, especially given the concurrent state campaign to sell shares in the Roghun hydroelectric project. Ballot counting was assessed positively in less than half of the polling stations, and the neutrality of provincial and local election commissions was violated, as many were monopolized by members of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). On the positive side, voting was peaceful, voters had political alternatives, candidates had some free access to the media, and the Central Commission for Elections and Referenda (CCER), a body appointed by the president, had a “more inclusive” makeup, with members from all recognized political parties save the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which typically put a seal of approval on all member-state elections, positively assessed the voting.

The February elections were held primarily to determine the composition of the 63-member lower house of parliament, an entity with “limited competencies in practice” that tends “not to vigorously exercise the powers granted to it by the constitution,” according to the OSCE.[15] Voters also selected representatives on the district and jamoat (equivalent to municipality) levels. The membership of the 33- seat upper house of parliament was also determined at this time, though not through direct vote but by de jure and de facto presidential appointments. According to the CCER, over 85 percent of eligible voters participated in the elections. Parties  receiving votes above the 5 percent threshold on the national level were the PDP (70.6 percent), the IRP (8.2 percent), the Communist Party (7.0 percent), the Agrarian Party (AP, 5.1 percent), and the Party for Economic Reform (PER, 5.0). Notably, the AP and PER are openly progovernment and are generally thought to have been included in the parliament to simulate political pluralism. Two seats each in the lower house were allocated to the IRP, the Communists, the AP, and the PER, with the remainder going to the PDP.

Opposition parties rejected the official results. IRP leader Muhiddin Kabiri claimed that his party, which supposedly has 40,000 members, had in reality won 30 percent of the votes. Communist leader Shodi Shabdalov labeled the elections “a parody,”[16] and SDP leader Rahmatillo Zoirov, whose party reportedly received less than 1 percent of the tally and was thus left out of the parliament, called the elections “unfair and undemocratic.” He claimed that the SDP had in reality garnered 12 percent and accused the PDP of “expropriation of governance” that violated Articles 5 and 6 of the constitution.[17]

In a speech to the newly elected parliament, President Rahmon called the February elections “transparent and democratic.”[18] And the preelection IFES survey indicated that despite social and economic problems, over three-quarters of the public were satisfied with the electoral system. Economic issues were foremost in the public’s mind, with the top two concerns identified as the provision of electricity and natural gas (78 percent) and employment (74 percent).

The elections were governed by problematic electoral laws that had not been amended in any significant way since 2004. The government had at its disposal— but failed to implement—electoral reform blueprints based on the OSCE’s 2005 and 2006 observations, in addition to 2008 recommendations by political parties and 2009 recommendations by a coalition of 14 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). In its 2010 election observation report, the OSCE made a number of recommendations to the authorities. Among others, it advised the government to review and amend the election law prior to the 2013 presidential election; repeal Article 33 of the law, which bans criminal suspects from standing for office; ensure pluralist commissions at all levels; open election commission sessions to observers and media; lower the amount of the electoral deposit required of candidates; amend Article 55 to allow for publication of results by polling station and allow observers to receive certified copies of protocols; establish a centralized, computerized voter registration list; train law enforcement officials on campaign rights and noninterference; and consistently address election complaints.

Civil Society: 

The masjid (mosque), choikhona (teahouse), and bazaar (market) have historically been places for community discussions in Central Asia, and cooperation, referred to as hashar (assembling), is a societal norm that was also put to use by Sovietera authorities. Civil society entities both negatively and positively affected developments in post-Soviet Tajikistan. Ethno-nationalistic and politico-Islamic fervor were roused during the late Soviet and early postcommunist eras, and such sentiments fueled the 1992–97 civil war. However, by signing the 1996 Public Accord Agreement, a coalition of NGOs along with political parties encouraged the government and the opposition to pursue the 1997 Moscow peace accord that ended the conflict.

Competent and active NGOs are rare in Tajikistan. Most are lethargic, largely due to the inordinate amount of foreign aid (compared with the small number of capable NGOs) and insufficient monitoring and expectations by international donors. The government’s occasional threats to activists have also encouraged civil society’s self-censorship and lack of sustained focus on sensitive topics such as democracy-building and access to justice. Though loosely held together and normally willing to cooperate only for financial gain, a coalition of 14 NGOs, along with Amnesty International, Penal Reform International, and World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, asked President Rahmon in November to seek the abolition of the death penalty. The 2007 Law on Public Associations did

not dampen civil society activity, and the cooperation of the central government with key NGOs has even strengthened. Still, many local government officials view formal civil society groups as their rivals, or even enemies. In June 2010, for example, the head of the NGO Paralax was allegedly insulted and beaten by the chief of police in Kulob for supposedly expressing his concerns about the potential looting of abandoned homes.[19]

Other shortcomings affect the freedoms of conscience and assembly. The 2009 Religion Law obliged all religious organizations to register with the Culture Ministry by January 2010, imposed restrictions on number of mosques by region, instituted state appointment of Muslim imams, authorized censorship of religious literature, and required state permission for invitation of foreigners or travel abroad for religious reasons. Experts consider mandatory registration of associations to be a breach of international human rights laws, and the cumbersome bureaucratic procedure and groups’ likely unwillingness to pay bribes for registration has led to the arbitrary banning of some Muslim and non-Muslim (mostly evangelical Christian missionary) religious groups. In October, a suspicious fire destroyed the IRP’s cultural center, which had served as a de facto mosque for Friday prayers. An IRP official speculated on a link with a raid by the Religious Affairs Committee the day before, during which the party was warned that its prayer services in the building were illegal.[20] Another IRP mosque located in the party’s headquarters was also ordered shut down in November.

The authorities continued to intermittently arrest, prosecute, and convict suspected Islamists. In January, a district court sentenced Sirojiddin Abdurahimov (also known as Eshoni Sirojiddin), labeled as the leader of the banned Salafiya group, to seven years in prison. Tens of alleged members of Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation), a nonviolent but ideologically extreme organization, were tried and imprisoned. In August, a Hizb ut-Tahrir statement described its detained members as political prisoners who had been “arrested and tortured” solely for their beliefs and ideas. The statement was critical of Tajikistan’s executive branch, the media, the Muslim clergy, the judiciary, and human rights organizations, including the UN mission in Tajikistan, for their “silence and indifference.”[21] In March, the Supreme Court convicted 56 individuals, the majority of whom were arrested in April 2009, for membership in the banned Jamoati Tabligh (Proselytizing Group) Islamic movement. Most were charged under Article 307 of the criminal code, on forming an extremist group, and received prison sentences of up to six years and fines of up to US$5,700. Another 36 were convicted of the same offense in Khatlon province in May. Olivier Roy, a prominent expert on Islam, has in the past referred to the transnational Jamoati Tabligh movement as “completely apolitical and law abiding,”[22] while a 2010 U.S. embassy cable referred to the group’s members as “harmless missionaries.”[23]

Independent Media: 

There were some positive developments for the media in 2010, such as the launch of the first daily newspaper after two decades of independence (ImuruzNews), a surge of coverage of often sensitive topics, and rallying by journalists in favor of freedom of expression. But these were outweighed by setbacks, including a number of court cases involving accusations of libel, a temporary shutdown of several print outlets, the blocking of access to popular news websites, and bans on the distribution of a Russian-made comedy and two Tajik documentaries on migration.[24]

In the IFES survey at the end of 2009, 95 percent of respondents said Tajikistan’s television programming was their main source of news and information, followed by friends, family, and neighbors (84 percent); Russian television (58 percent); Tajik radio stations (49 percent); newspapers and magazines (38 percent); and Uzbekistan’s television (19 percent). Internet users form only around 7 percent of the population, but mobile-telephone users number some 6 million.[25]

Several publications were taken to court during the year: two for alleged violations of Articles 135 or 136 of the criminal law, on libel and defamation, and six in connection with Article 174 of the civil code, on “protection of honor, dignity, and business reputation.” The courts’ approval of large fines against independent journals threatened some with closure. In January, two Supreme Court judges and a Dushanbe City Court judge took three weekly papers—Ozodagon, Farazh, and Asia-Plus—to court for publishing the opinions of a lawyer who complained of an unfair verdict in a corruption case. The judges asked for US$1.2 million in reparations, promising to donate the sum to the Roghun hydroelectric project. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) described the case as harassment, while the OSCE’s representative on freedom of the media called it “a dangerous attempt at censorship.”[26] Also during the year, the leader of the SDP took the government papers Minbari Khalq and Jumhuriyyat to court, seeking an apology and reparations for their publication of a number of pieces in which they referred to him as a spy for Uzbekistan and accused him of involvement in a murder.[27]

Following the violent events in the eastern Rasht Valley in September, the government, particularly Defense Minister Sherali Khairulloev, had a falling out with the media, openly accusing journalists of inaccurate and biased reporting that was tantamount to “complicity with terrorists” and “committing a grave crime.” Similarly, President Rahmon reportedly said that some media were “taking their example from the 1990s and being bellicose,” and that “hoping for the support of their foreign protectors will not do them any good.”[28] The defense minister initially singled out a commentary in Farazh that had demanded his resignation and an apology to the families of conscripts killed in Rasht. By the end of September, in an apparent attempt to implement a policy on “informational security,” the government ordered internet service providers to block access to several websites (Avesta.tj, Tojnews.tj, Ferghana.ru, Tjknews.com, and CentrAsia.ru). A number of weekly papers (Farazh, Paykon, Nigoh, and Istiqlol) were also forced to temporarily shut down through means including the threat of tax inspections.[29]

In November, reporter Mahmadyusuf Ismoilov was detained at behest of the northern Asht district prosecutor a day after the publication of his article about an alleged corruption case. He was charged with libel, inciting religious and racial hatred, and blackmail. According to RSF, the New York–based Committee to Protect Journalists, and the National Association of Independent Mass-Media in Tajikistan (which assigned a lawyer to Ismoilov), the case was arbitrary and directly linked to Ismoilov’s coverage of alleged government corruption.[30] Press freedom advocates continued to call for the decriminalization of libel and defamation.

Local Democratic Governance: 

Among postcommunist Tajikistan’s persistent problems has been the inability of local governments—the country’s four provinces (viloyat), 56 districts (nohiya or hukumat), and over 400 smaller units (jamoat)—to provide for their inhabitants’ basic needs, including sufficient wages, health care, schooling, potable water, electricity, property rights, and access to justice. On paper, each of Tajikistan’s provinces and the districts they comprise elects its own legislature, and these in turn vote on the presidential appointees for governor or mayor. Although the local legislatures may veto such appointments, they never do in practice. As one NGO head stated, “province and district parliaments exist as mere formalities and achieve nothing of significance.”[31] As unelected officials, local executive leaders are normally not answerable to the population and are preoccupied with maintaining their positions by satisfying the formal and informal demands of the central government. Cronyism and corruption have led local authorities to take undue advantage of their positions, using the implied protection of the president to harass locals and illegally sell land and natural resources for personal gain.[32]

The privatization and market-based reforms encouraged by international financial institutions since the early 1990s have helped to drive a massive rise in income disparity to what is likely the highest level in Tajikistan’s 87-year history as a political entity. Three-quarters of Tajikistan’s people live in rural areas, and many are engaged in agriculture. Although cotton is referred to as “white gold” and a “strategic” cash crop, its cultivation in Tajikistan has become a cause of poverty, environmental degradation, and a throwback to pre-Soviet feudalism. In the last decade of communist rule, cotton was generating high yields, and farmers were provided with sufficient salaries as well as free housing, education for their children, and health care. This is no longer the case, as yields per hectare have fallen to 1930s levels, and the benefits of socialism are gone. While the central government touts its donor-orchestrated Freedom to Farm law, in reality farmers’ rights are regularly violated. The land deeds of poor collective-farm shareholders are often effectively stolen by the elite, and farmers are under pressure from local administrators who enforce “ambiguous land tenure rights, leading to high insecurity of land,” and who dictate the percentage of farms to be dedicated to cotton. Profits from the production and sale of cotton and, to a lesser extent, wheat grown on private collective farms normally bypass the average farmer and reach the pockets of the rich.[33]

For the majority of rural (and many urban) households, the main source of income is no longer farming but occasional wire transfers from relatives, for the most part husbands and sons, working abroad. An estimated one million economic migrants from Tajikistan live and work mostly in Russia. Despite the overall economic benefits, however, migration has also had its downsides. The migrants themselves face demands for bribes by foreign police, as less than 2 percent of Tajik migrants in Russia have their working papers, and the threat of ultranationalist xenophobic groups that harass and occasionally murder members of non-Slavic ethnic groups. Those left behind in Tajikistan endure their own hardships. Many children work in the bazaars and miss school, often filling in for fathers who have divorced their mothers and stopped sending remittances. As means of survival, some children have even turned to theft and prostitution.[34]

Judicial Framework and Independence: 

Violations of due process and the use of torture to extract real or false confessions are common, while acquittals are virtually unheard of. According to Tajikistan’s Supreme Court, of the thousands of appeals in 2010, only two were decided in favor of the appellant.[35] Two cases that received widespread attention in 2010, those of Nematillo Botoqoziev and Ilhom Ismanov, are telling of the state of justice in Tajikistan. Botoqoziev, an ethnic Uzbek human rights activist who was fleeing Kyrgyzstan, disappeared in Dushanbe on February 26 upon leaving the office of the UN refugee agency. After two weeks, his brother found him detained by the police, inbad health, beaten and tortured, and having difficulty walking.[36] Despite a powerful Urgent Appeal by five UN special rapporteurs and another by Human Rights Watch, Tajikistan’s government refused to allow Botoqoziev to meet with his lawyers and eventually deported him. In this process, Tajikistan likely violated a number of international norms, including the 1951 Refugee Convention, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), and the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.

In the second case, Ismanov, a dual Tajik-Russian national, went missing on November 3 and was later found to be held by the organized crime department of the police in Sughd. When his wife gained access to him, she noticed that he could not walk properly. He later told a judge that he had been tortured with electric shocks, beaten, and doused with boiling water. According to Amnesty International, Ismanov was held for double the time period allowed by law (72 hours) prior to being arraigned and was never given sufficient opportunity to meet with his lawyer, nor were such meetings private. The authorities dismissed allegations of torture and charged Ismanov with violating Article 187 of the criminal code, which prohibits organizing a criminal group. The Botoqoziev and Ismanov cases represent the modus operandi in Tajikistan and reveal the government’s disregard for international obligations and domestic criticism of its human rights practices.

The U.S. lawyer of Omar Abdulayev, the last Tajik citizen held at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, warned in 2010 that his client could face torture and long-term imprisonment if returned to Tajikistan, especially since Tajik security agents flown by U.S. authorities to Guantanamo had threatened as much. Two Tajik Guantanamo detainees who were repatriated in 2007, Rukhniddin Sharopov and Muqit Vohidov, were subsequently tried and sentenced to long prison terms. Their trial was marred by gross due process violations, including lack of timely, sufficient, and private access to competent lawyers. It was revealed in 2010 that the two had complained in court of having been tortured into signing their confessions, and some human rights analysts described the two as “victims of human trafficking” who had been duped and deceptively taken to Afghanistan to be sold for bounty to U.S. forces. There is reportedly no evidence that they engaged in violence while in Afghanistan.[37]

Aside from a nine-month period in 2004, Tajikistan has consistently denied access to prisons to independent bodies including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The government has also refused to ratify the Optional Protocol to the CAT (OPCAT), which would allow for a joint UN- and government approved inspection mechanism to prevent torture. There are a number of reasons behind the government’s intransigence on the issue of prison access. One is the fact that the state penitentiary system, functioning primarily under the Justice Ministry, is known for corruption. There have been 13 large-scale prison amnesties since Tajikistan’s independence, and according to Fattoh Saidov, head of the State Financial Control and Anticorruption Agency (formed in 2007), nearly all of the prisoners amnestied in September 2009 had to pay bribes.[38]

Ignorance and mistrust are the second reason. Key officials view prison inspections as a violation of their authority and of Tajikistan’s sovereignty by nonstate actors and foreigners. The third reason is fear of prosecution for alleged human rights violations. Fourth is embarrassment at the prospect of revealing the abhorrent, disease-infested prisons to outsiders, and at the potential negative reflection on Tajikistan in any resulting UN reports. Fifth is the near-total lack of international pressure to reform the penitentiary system. Indeed, while focusing on improving regional security by combating drug trafficking and extremism, bilateral and multilateral donors such as Russia, the European Union (EU), the United States, and the OSCE have offered no-strings-attached assistance to Tajikistan’s police and National Security Committee, the same bodies that consistently violate human rights—including through the use of torture,[39] often via elect ricity.[40] A sixth obstacle to prison inspections and reform is insufficient public demand and civil society activism, though this appears to be changing given increasingly bold media coverage of government abuses.

Despite initial hopes, the performance of Tajikistan’s first human rights ombudsman, Zarif Alizoda, appointed by the president in 2009, has been a disappointment. His office has refused to properly investigate serious human rights cases including allegations of torture, gross violations of due process, and confiscation of homes without adequate compensation. The ombudsman’s lack of engagement has come at a time when the international community has heavily invested in training and international travel for him and his staff, and referred unsuspecting citizens to his office. In addition, few if any of Tajikistan’s civil society bodies focusing on human rights actually defend people, and instead limit themselves to providing minimal consultation and writing impressive end-of-year reports for Western donors. While donors are also to blame given their lax monitoring, human rights lawyers worry for their own safety and professional longevity, especially if they are to defend individuals whom the government considers to be extremist or part of the opposition.[41]

Corruption: 

Like other Central Asian states, Tajikistan suffers from rampant cronyism, patronage, and corruption. An illegal waiver of mandatory military service, for example, can be purchased for around US$1,000, while admission to the country’s coveted medical school can cost up to US$20,000.[42] The public appears to be increasingly concerned about the ubiquitous corruption: 87 percent of those surveyed at the end of 2009 saw corruption as a serious social issue facing Tajikistan, compared with 75 percent in 2004. In its 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index, Transparency International assigned Tajikistan a score of 2.1 (on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 representing the best score). Despite its low ranking of 154 out of 178 states surveyed, Tajikistan improved from the previous year in both ranking and score. And for the second year in a row, the World Bank in its Doing Business report named Tajikistan among the top 10 improving economies out of 183 states; Tajikistan’s overall ranking improved by 10 places to 139. The three areas of improvement were ease in starting a business, protecting investors, and payment of taxes. The problematic areas were dealing with construction permits, access to credit, and cross-border trade.

Some efforts to fight corruption were made during 2010. In 2009, the Anticorruption Agency, then headed by Sherkhon Salimzoda, had dismissed or sought the prosecution of as many as 150 individuals on bribery and racketeering charges, including policemen, Justice Ministry employees, customs agents, two district prosecutors, and four judges. As the new prosecutor general in 2010, Salimzoda fired another 15 district prosecutors on suspicion of corruption, among them the Hisor district prosecutor, Faizullo Bobokhonov, who had been appointed by his father, former prosecutor general Bobojon Bobokhonov.[43] And in April, an Anticorruption Agency operation led to the apprehension of the deputy commander of Tajikistan’s border troops, Colonel Saimuddin Mirzoyev, who was charged with taking US$45,000 in bribes from drug traffickers.[44]

The Agriculture Ministry filed a libel case against the weekly newspaper Millat in 2010, seeking the equivalent of US$229,000 over an article that alleged corruption by the ministry. Millat filed a countersuit, accusing the ministry of violating Article 36 of the Media Law by obstructing its right to freedom of speech. In April, the Anticorruption Agency publicly took the side of Millat, and the agency’s investigation reportedly led to the recovery of US$1.7 million in misused funds.[45]

Some critics of the government’s anticorruption efforts remained unsatisfied, however. According to Abdughoni Mamadazimov, a prominent political scientist, the state’s objective is not to fight corruption but to nominally satisfy the international community’s concerns. Others have argued that for the Anticorruption Agency to be effective, it must be supervised not by the president, but by the parliament.

A newly installed toll system whereby motorists pay to travel on Tajikistan’s main north–south, Dushanbe–Khujand highway generated controversy during the year, as there was insufficient prior consultation with the public and a lack of transparency in the selection of the private contractor, Innovative Road Solutions (IRS), a company with undetermined ownership and supposedly registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI).

During 2010, Tajikistan produced an estimated 95,000 tons of cotton fiber and 375,000 tons of aluminum, nearly all of which was exported, for estimated earnings of around US$950 million. The two products constituted 80 percent of total exports. Aluminum is produced by the state-owned smelter, Tajik Aluminium Company (Talco). In June, the International Monetary Fund requested an audit Tajikistan 549 of Talco Management, which—like CDH, another Talco-related company, and IRS—is also registered in the BVI. Notably, Talco was audited by the British firm Moore Stephens in December 2009, and Talco claimed that the audit revealed its financial viability, “openness and transparency.”[46] And according to the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, Talco contributed the equivalent of US$63 million to the state budget (around 9 percent of the total, presumably in 2009). However, funds held in overseas bank accounts owned by Talco’s shell companies may exceed US$1 billion, and a local weekly, Fakti i Kommentarii, has called for transparency in the use of such revenues.[47]

Notes: 

[1] “US Embassy Cables: ‘Cronyism and Corruption’ Hinder Reform in Tajikistan,” Guardian, 12 December 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/248969.

[2] Struan Stevenson, “President Emomali Rahmon Should Be Widely Supported by the West—S. Stevenson,” Asia-Plus, 1 March 2011, http://news.tj/en/news/president-emomalirahmon-should-be-widely-supporte....

[3] Boris Bazhanov, Vospominaniia Byvshego Sekretaria Stalina [Memoirs of Stalin’s Former Secretary] (Moscow: III Tysiacheletie, 1992).

[4] H. E. Chehabi and Juan J. Linz, eds., Sultanistic Regimes (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1998).

[5] International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), Public Opinion in Tajikistan 2010: Findings from an IFES Survey (Washington: IFES, 2010), http://www.ifes.org/Content/Publications/Survey/2010/Public-Opinion-in-T....

[6] Emomali Rahmon, “Address by the President of the Republic of Tajikistan His Excellency Emomali Rahmon to the people of Tajikistan,” 5 January 2010, http://www.president.tj/eng/news_050110.html#.

[7] “Hafri chohi gozi ‘Sariqamish’ oghoz shud” [Excavation begun on ‘Sariqamish’ gas well], British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), 7 December 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/tajik/news/2010/12/101207_mm_miller_gazprom.shtml (in Tajik).

[8] Economist Intelligence Unit, “Tajikistan Country Report,” December 2010.

[9] Emomali Rahmon, “Annual Address of the President of the Republic of Tajikistan, H. E. Emomali Rahmon, to the Majlisi Oli of the Republic of Tajikistan,” 24 April 2010, http://www.president.tj/habarho_250410.html.

[10] “Remittances,” Economist, 11 November 2010, http://www.economist.com/node/17467174.

[11] Associated Press, “Tajikistan: A High-Flying Flag,” The New York Times, 24 November 2010,

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/25/world/asia/25briefs-Tajik.html.

[12] Economist Intelligence Unit, “Tajikistan: Country Report,” September 2010.           

[13] “Dargozashti raisi sobiqi viloyati Sughd” [Death of former governor of Sughd province], BBC, 25 May 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/tajik/news/2010/05/100525_if_homidov.shtml (in Tajik).

[14] Sojida Djakhfarova, “Letter from Dushanbe: A Town Called Apathy,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), 8 March 2010, http://www.rferl.org/content/Letter_From_Dushanbe_A_Town_Called_Apathy/1....

[15] Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), Republic of Tajikistan Parliamentary Elections, 28 February 2010: OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission Final Report (Warsaw: OSCE), 10 July 2010) http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/tajikistan/66974.

[16] Nargis Hamrabaeva and Lola Olimova, “Tajikistan: More Parties Don’t Make Pluralism,” Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), Reporting Central Asia, Issue 605, 7 March2010, http://iwpr.net/report-news/tajikistan-more-parties-dont-make-pluralism.

[17] 17 “Kabiri: Hizbi hokim intikhobotro bokht” [Kabiri: Ruling party lost the elections], BBC, 2 March 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/tajik/news/2010/03/100302_ea_mm_kabiri.shtml (in Tajik).

[18] “Rizoyati Rahmon az natoiji intikhobot” [Rahmon satisfied with election results], BBC, 16 March 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/tajik/news/2010/03/100316_zkh_tajik_parliamnet.shtml (in Tajik).

[19] Momen Ahmadi, “Lato kubi doktor Alimi az suyi sardori militsiya” [Beating of doctor Alimi by police chief ], RFE/RL, 15 June 2010, http://www.ozodi.org/content/article/2072202.html (in Tajik).

[20] Farangis Najibullah, “Islamic Party Cries Foul as Tajikistan’s ‘Women’s Mosque’ Burns,” RFE/RL, 25 October 2010, http://www.rferl.org/content/Islamic_Party_Cries_Foul_As_Tajikistans_Wom...

[21] “Tahrir: ‘Tarafdoroni mo zindoniyoni siyosiyand’” [Hizb ut-Tahrir: ‘Our followers are political prisoners’], BBC, 4 August 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/tajik/news/2010/08/100804_ea_tahrir_prisoners.shtml (in Tajik).

[22] Olivier Roy, “Search for a Perfect World of Islam,” Le Monde Diplomatique (May 2002).

[23] “US Embassy Cables: ‘Cronyism and Corruption’ Hinder Reform in Tajikistan,” Guardian, 12 December 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/248969.

[24] Jahongir Boboev, “Tajikistan bans ‘negative’ films on migrants,” IWPR, Reporting Central Asia, Issue 613, 24 May 2010, http://iwpr.net/report-news/tajikistan-bans-%E2%80%9Cnegative%E2%80%9D-f....

[25] “Dushanbe Campaign Against Mobile Phone Ads Draws Fire,” RFE/RL, 5 May 2010, http://www.rferl.org/content/Dushanbe_Campaign_Against_Mobile_Phone_Ads_....

[26] EIU, “Tajikistan: Country Report,” June 2010.

[27] “Zoirov: Az ‘Minbari Khalq’ ba dodgoh shikoyat burdaem” [Zoirov: We’ve taken ‘Minbari Khalq’ to court], BBC, 22 February 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/tajik/news/2010/02/100222_mm_election.shtml (in Tajik).

[28] Reporters Without Borders (RSF), “After Using Civil War Spectre to Gag Media, Government Urged to Dialogue,” news release, 15 October 2010, http://en.rsf.org/tadjikistan-after-usingcivil-war-spectre-to-15-10-2010....

[29] Lochin Karimov, “Tajik Government’s Fury over Conflict Reporting,” IWPR, Reporting Central A sia, Issue 632, 22 October 2010, http://iwpr.net/report-news/tajik-government%E2%80%99s-fury-over-conflic....

[30] RSF, “Provincial Reporter Held for Past Five Weeks for Covering Corruption,” news release, 28 December 2010, http://en.rsf.org/tajikistan-provincial-reporter-held-for-past-28-12-201....

[31] Interview with anonymous head of local NGO, Dushanbe, 9 December 2010.

[32] Abduqayum Qayumzod, “Odami prezident” [President’s man], RFE/RL, 1 December 2010, http://www.ozodi.org/content/article/2236200.html?page=3&x=1#relatedInfo... (in Tajik).

[33] Andreas Mandler, “The Influence of Local Governance on Agricultural Advisory Services in Tajikistan,” in Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Central and Eastern Europe (IAMO) Forum, Institutions in Transition: Challenges for New Modes of Governance, 16–18 June 2010, Halle (Saale), Germany.

[34] Zarina Khushvaqt, “Muhojirati volidon kudakonro majbur ba kor kardaast” [Migration of parents has forced children to work], BBC, 18 February 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/tajik/news/2010/02/100218_zkh_childlabor_migrants.s... (in Tajik).

[35] Farhod Milod, “Do hukmi ‘safedi’ dodgohhoyi Tojikiston dar yak sol” [Two ‘acquittal’ verdicts in Tajikistan’s courts during one year], RFE/RL, 14 January 2011, http://www.ozodi.org/content/article/2276465.html (in Tajik).

[36] “Botoqoziev dar bozdoshtgoh ba sar mebarad” [Botoqoziev being held in detention center], BBC, 15 March 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/tajik/news/2010/03/100315_zkh_kyrghiz_Nematillo.shtml (in Tajik).

[37] Dabiri Kabir, Daler Gufronov, and Parvina Khamidova, “Review Urged for Ex-Guantanamo Tajiks,” IWPR, Reporting Central Asia, Issue 618, 25 June 2010. http://iwpr.net/report-news/review-urged-ex-guantanamo-tajiks.

[38] “Saidov: ‘Kasi bepul afv nashudast’” [Saidov: ‘No one has been amnestied without payments’], BBC, 26 January 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/tajik/news/2010/01/100126_sq_corruption.shtml (in Tajik).

[39] For example, U.S. assistance to Tajikistan’s security apparatus during 2010 exceeded US$10 million. “U.S. Plans Military Training Centre in Tajikistan,” Reuters, 25 June 2010, http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/06/25/us-tajikistan-usa-idUSTRE65O49....

[40] In one case, Ismonboi Boboyev, a 30-year-old resident of Russia visiting his family in Tajikistan in February 2010, was detained by the organized crime police and died in their custody in Isfara shortly thereafter, allegedly as a result of being tortured with electricity. No police officials were punished for his death. Ramziya Mirzobekova, “Investigation or Inquisition?” Asia-Plus, 21 December 2010.

[41] Interview with anonymous head of a Tajik NGO, Dushanbe, 9 December 2010.

[42] Farhod Milod, “University Admission Criteria: Bribe or Intelligence?” RFE/RL, 12 July 2010. http://www.ozodi.org/content/article/2097756.html (in Tajik).

[43] “Tajikistan: Sherkhon Salimzoda became new Prosecutor General of the Republic,” Ferghana News, 1 February 2010, http://enews.fergananews.com/news.php?id=1554.

[44] Economist Intelligence Unit, “Tajikistan: Country Report,” June 2010.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Talco, “Press Release of the Audit,” August 2010, http://talco.com.tj/index.php?l=4&action=newslist&id=152&page=1&act_back....

[47] Economist Intelligence Unit, “Tajikistan: Country Report,” December 2010.