Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party is coping with serious problems. Two leading officials face charges of having committed grave crimes, and a mysterious rumor spread by state media has undermined the reputation of the party's leader. With a little more than a year until parliamentary elections, Central Asia's only legally registered Islamic party can ill afford to lose support.
Prague, 24 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The only legally registered Islamic party in Central Asia is facing a growing crisis.
Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), which many point to as an example of how political Islam can play a role in the region, has suffered some serious blows to its reputation. Two members face criminal charges, and very serious allegations involving party leader Said Abdullo Nuri have emerged under questionable circumstances.
The IRP was legalized in 1997 at the end of Tajikistan's five-year civil war, after being outlawed in 1993 following the outbreak of the war. It was the dominant faction of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), opposed to the government of mostly former communists.
Although the IRP lost some of its places in government in parliamentary elections in 2000, it remains active and influential.
Tajikistan's prosecutor last week formally filed charges against IRP Deputy Chairman Shamsuddin Shamsuddinov. These include high treason, forming an illegal armed group, illegally crossing the border, and bigamy. The Military Collegium of Tajikistan's Supreme Court will hear his case.
Shamsuddinov was forcibly taken from his apartment in June. Here is IRP Deputy Chairman Hikmatullo Saifullodza speaking at the time about Shamsuddinov's arrest: "Unknown people accompanied by officers from the Interior Ministry of Chkalovsk took [Shamsuddinov] from his apartment to an unknown location. We have no information about him, but we continue to look. No one in the government or police has said anything about it."
Another senior member of the IRP, Kasym Rakhimov, was arrested in July. He is charged with being part of a gang that raped 11 underaged girls and of running brothels in the capital, Dushanbe. He faces 15 to 20 years in jail if convicted.
The most recent challenge to the party involves IRP Chairman Said Abdullo Nuri.
A mysterious report appearing on the website of the state news agency "Khovar" on 12 September claimed Nuri ordered the murder of Sobirjon Begajanov, the chairman of the Jabor Rasul District of Tajikistan's northern Sogd Province. It offered no proof of the crime.
Khovar officials deny authorizing the report and it is no longer available on the website. Nuri has not been charged with any crime.
Nevertheless, the timing of the news -- just days ahead of an IRP party congress -- was damaging to Nuri's reputation. He denies the allegations and says he suspects a smear campaign run by elements of the security service.
"I believe the name of the [Khovar] correspondent is fictitious, and he does not exist. That this material was offered by security services about me, the person who convinced 100,000 heavy military opposition groups to lay down arms. I would never [order Begajanov's murder]."
The merits of the report and its origins remain unclear. But IRP member Shams Sayedov says arrests and the news about Nuri may be intended to discredit the party ahead of elections in February 2005.
"I call it a provocation connected with the forthcoming elections. Elections are ahead and [the mysterious report] is undoubtedly related to the elections."
Despite more than six years of official peace Tajikistan remains a potential powder keg. Narcotics trafficking from neighboring Afghanistan through Tajikistan, the easiest route to the north, have brought a host of problems.
Large parts of mountainous eastern Tajikistan are not under government control. Amid the 5,000- and 6,000-meter mountain peaks, paramilitary groups, many of them from the Islamic opposition, enforce their own law. And, apparently, not everyone is satisfied with the terms of peace.
(The Tajik Service contributed to this report.)