While Tajikistan has recently lifted almost all coronavirus restrictions, including mandatory mask wearing in public places and a temporary ban of traditional ceremonies and celebrations, this Central Asian nation still struggles for the freedom of speech as some Tajik journalists and activists face lengthy prison terms.
Tajik courts have been issuing sentences to journalists and activists that are deemed to be threats to the nation. Noted journalist Zavqibek Saidamini faced seven years in prison on charges of cooperating with two banned opposition groups. Saidamini was arrested in July and charged with having links to Islamic renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and the opposition Group 24 movement. Besides Saidamini, two other journalists Avazmad Ghurbatov and Abdusattor Pirmuhammadzoda are also detained under the same allegation, which the three of them had denied.
UN Special Rapporteur, Mary Lawlor will assess the situation of human rights defenders in Tajikistan during an official visit to the country from today, 28 November to 9 December 2022
Meanwhile, two activists face lengthy prison term on charges of calls for the forced changed of the constitutional order and being a member of a criminal group. Ramzi Vazirbekov faces a sentence of 13 years in prison, while his brother Oraz Vazirbekov 16 years. The Vazirbekov brothers, who also reject the charges, were forcibly taken to Tajikistan from Moscow in July, amid a crackdown on activist from their native Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region (GBAO).
On May 18, the Tajik government sent military forces into the GBAO, the region that borders Afghanistan, China and Kyrgyzstan, as part of an anti-terrorism operation. The GBAO is home to the Pamiris, an ethnic and religious Ismaili minority in the majority-Sunni Muslim country. Roads, schools, shops and the internet have been closed and shut down. Reliable sources report as many as 40 people have allegedly been killed in the security crackdown in the Rushon district.
As GBAO has long been the region with the highest poverty rate, highest unemployment rate and highest food prices, and electricity prices three times higher than those across Tajikistan, most families in the region survive on remittances sent by family members from abroad, primarily Russia. However, due to the ongoing Russian–Ukrainian war and subsequent economic sanctions, remittances that made up 27 percent of Tajikistan’s GDP in 2020 are expected to decline by 22 percent, as the World Bank estimates.
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon in 2015 delegalized the last opposition party in Tajikistan, which led to mass arrests and a large-scale exodus from Tajikistan to Russia and Europe, making the Pamiris as the remaining a beacon of resistance. Since then, Tajikistan has become a de facto one-party state. Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, who has been in the office since 1994, is currently the longest sitting post-Soviet Central Asian leader after the former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who resigned in 2019 after three decades in the office.
Although the 2020 Tajik election reelected Rahmon for his fifth term, the Tajik President has put in place the necessities to ensure a dynastic transition since 2016. In May 2016, a number of major changes were introduced to Tajikistan’s constitution in a nationwide referendum. One of the key amendments reduced the minimum eligibility age for presidential candidates from 35 to 30.
The constitutional amendment has opened the door of opportunity for Rustam Emomali, 34, Emomali Rahmon’s oldest son who was elected as chair of the Majlisi Milli (National Assembly), the parliament’s upper chamber in April 2021. The position formally places him second-in-line to the presidency should anything happen to Rahmon.
However, Rustam is not Rahmon’s only family member that holds public positions. Besides Rustam, Ozoda, 44, the first daughter and the oldest of Rahmon’s nine children, was a senator to the upper chamber in 2016 and was the head of the Tajik President’s executive office, third daughter Rukhshona was appointed as the UK Ambassador for Tajikistan in December 2021, and sixth daughter Zarina is the deputy head of Tajikistan’s largest commercial bank Orienbonk.
With various issues gripping Tajikistan, the future seems grim as this landlocked country has been locking its reform agents behind bars.