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Islamic Party Members Resign En Masse In Tajikistan

  • Farangis Najibullah

Rahmatullo Faizulloev, from the southern town of Kulob, says he's quitting the Islamic Renaissance Party. "I urge all other party members to quit it, because there is no need for such a party in Tajikistan," he says.

Rahmatullo Faizulloev, from the southern town of Kulob, says he's quitting the Islamic Renaissance Party. "I urge all other party members to quit it, because there is no need for such a party in Tajikistan," he says.

They stuck together through thick and thin, but members of Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) are suddenly leaving the party in droves.

Dozens of party members and heads of its regional offices have announced their departures from the IRP in recent days, often by way of online videos in what appears to be a coordinated campaign.

Some cited the party's poor performance in the March 1 parliamentary elections, which left the IRP without a seat in parliament for the first time since 2000. Others said they were disheartened by a series of sex videos involving party officials. Still others simply reasoned that there was no need for an Islamic party in Tajikistan.

Many of the online announcements end with expressions of support and gratitude for the policies of President Emomali Rahmon.

The IRP's leadership has blamed its current crisis on "government pressure" that has helped lead to the closure of regional offices one after another across the country.

"I'm the only one left in the ranks of the IRP in the town of Konibodom," says Dilafruz Sharofiddinova in a video posted on June 18.

Sharofiddinova, a long-term IRP member, was appointed as head of the party's office in Konibodom, in northern Tajikistan, in early 2015.

After expressing her disappointment with the IRP for not doing "anything concrete for Islam," Sharofiddinova goes on to praise the government for opening new mosques and Islamic schools, as well as for the "prosperous economy."

"I'm resigning from the party and I will join the ruling People's Democratic Party tomorrow," she announces at the end of a four-minute-long clip.

In a similar statement, an IRP member from the southern town of Kulob says he hasn't "seen the party doing anything for Tajikistan's development" over his 10 years as a member.

"I'm quitting the IRP," says Rahmatullo Faizulloev, as he displays a membership card bearing his name and photo, and the party's seal and insignia. "I urge all other party members to quit it, because there is no need for such a party in Tajikistan."

One video shows a meeting in northern Asht district in which the IRP's activities there are officially ended.

"The party claimed to have 1,567 members in Asht," an official is seen declaring. "Now it has only 30-32 members left."

"We decided to end the party's activity in [western] Aini district," another video explains, "after party members resigned, disheartened by IRP's poor performance in the elections [and] the scandalous videos that appeared online last year."

Aside from the sex scandals, which were seen as contributing to the party's poor election performance in March, the video cited "atrocities committed abroad by certain groups that associate themselves to the religion."

The last mention highlights party members' reluctance to be associated with hard-line Tajik Islamists who left the country to join the Islamic State group -- a complete turnaround from the IRP's registration in 1998, when it was hailed as Central Asia's only Islamic party.

The videos depict IRP officials and members representing nearly all regions of the country, including the party stronghold of the eastern Rasht Valley.

Several men claiming to be former IRP members and officials in eastern Tojikobod and Tavildara districts say the party has ended its activities and closed down its offices there after all its local members left.

Some claimed they had not even been aware that they were registered as IRP members, while others gave no reason for their decision to leave.

Adding to the party's woes, several influential religious figures have joined the campaign against the IRP.

In one video, a chief imam in eastern Nurobod district links accuses the party of working at the behest of outsiders.

"I think the IRP is a foreign hand in Tajikistan and it's funded from abroad," says Izomuddin Abdulhaev. "This party is for creating conflicts," adding, "We don't need such a party."

Most of the videos were posted online on June 18.

Party members and leaders are trying to put on a brave face amid the crisis.

IRP representative Muhammadali Hait tells RFE/RL that the apparent departures "don't reflect reality."

"These resignations were submitted under pressure and these videos were recorded under pressure by authorities," Hait claims, arguing that the resignations are thus not legally valid.

Hait says the relationship between the government and the IRP soured after the IRP won more than 8 percent of the vote in the 2010 parliamentary elections.

The representative alleges that the government, which he says does not "tolerate any criticism," fears the party's "rising popularity."

Although the IRP was once considered to be Tajikistan's second-most popular party, it failed to overcome the 5 percent threshold needed to retain parliamentary representation in the March elections.

The ruling party, Rahmon's People's Democratic Party, won as expected by a landslide in elections that were marred by violations, disputed by opposition parties, and criticized by international monitors.

IRP leader Muhiddin Kabiri subsequently left the country amid widespread speculation that the party would be shut down by authorities.