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Qishloq Ovozi

Witch Hunt In Tajikistan

Former party member Saidumar Husaini is now in jail.

Tajik authorities have unleashed an unprecedented crackdown on a group the Tajik government has identified as Islamic terrorists. Until this year, these terrorists were part of Tajikistan's government and partners in a peace deal that had lasted 18 years.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued a press release on November 2 criticizing "the Tajik government's ongoing efforts to control religious activities, [including]...the recent ban of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan [IRPT] due to allegations of extremism."

The USCIRF reported that, since early September, when the Justice Ministry officially closed down the IRPT, some 200 members had been arrested, many of them before a Tajik court that ruled in late September that the IRPT was a "terrorist" group.

The press release noted that among the IRPT members now in jail were "former parliamentarian Saidumar Husaini, IRPT Deputy Chair Mahmadali Hait, journalist Hikmatulloh Saifullohzoda, [and] Islamic scholar Zubaidullah Roziq."

According to Human Rights Watch, Husaini told his lawyer, Buzurgmehr Yorov, he was being tortured in jail.

Yorov recounted Husaini's claim in an interview on September 28 and was himself arrested later that same day. Yorov now faces charges of fraud and document forgery.

Yorov is not the only IRPT lawyer currently under arrest; there are several, including Nuriddin Mahkamov, who was arrested at the end of October.

An IRPT lawyer was also among those arrested. USCIRF reported that "jailed IRPT lawyer Zarafo Rahmoni informed her sister that she had been raped [while in custody]...." According to Rahmoni, she was released after she threatened to commit suicide.

Under amendments passed by parliament on November, Yorov and Rahmoni are likely to lose their legal licenses. The amendments require all lawyers to undergo certification by the Justice Ministry every five years and any attorneys who have previously faced charges will no longer be allowed to practice law.

Fayzinniso Vokhidova is a well-known lawyer in Tajikistan who has regularly defended opposition figures. She told RFE/RL's Tajik Service, known locally as Ozodi, that it will be the Justice Ministry's decision who can and cannot work as a lawyer. "Those lawyers who defend the interests of opponents of the authorities will lose the possibility of receiving permission to work [as an attorney]," Vokhidova said.

IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri was out of the country when, several months ago, it became clear Tajik authorities were preparing criminal charges against him. Kabiri has remained outside Tajikistan since, denying accusations against him and charges against other IRPT members.

But according to the USCIRF, Kabiri's relatives still in Tajikistan have been targeted. "Many of Kabiri’s relatives and his driver were tortured into confessing involvement in a deputy Tajik defense minister's violent attack on a police station."

There are many unanswered questions about the former deputy defense minister's attack on a police station and about his alleged connections to the IRPT.

The IRPT was part of a curious alliance during the 1992-97 Tajik Civil War. The IRPT is exclusively a Sunni Muslim group but during the war years its allies were a mainly Shi'ite group from eastern Tajikistan -- Lali Badakhshan -- and the Democratic Party of Tajikistan. Together they formed the United Tajik Opposition (UTO).

Their wartime opponents -- the Tajik government -- were overwhelmingly officials from the Soviet-era communist government, atheists with no exposure to representative democracy.

The conflict quickly became a standoff. According to some estimates, as many as 100,000 people were killed before the exhausted combatants reached a peace deal in June 1997. As part of the deal the UTO received 30 percent of the places in government and the IRPT was officially registered as a party, becoming the only legal Islamic party in Central Asia. The IRPT, as the major contributor to UTO forces, took the lion's share of the government positions. In the years since the peace deal the opposition's 30 percent dwindled.

At the start of 2015, the IRPT still had two members in Tajikistan's parliament. But despite being the second largest party in Tajikistan with a conservative estimate of some 40,000 members the IRPT failed to win even one seat in the March 1 parliamentary elections this year.

Since June 1997, the IRPT has upheld its pledge to keep the peace in Tajikistan. Any credibility as the Tajik government could claim was greatly enhanced by the presence of an opposition Islamic party and now that is gone.

Now the IRPT, the Tajik government's partners in peace, have been stripped of their political legitimacy and are being hunted and jailed.

As a result, amid myriad problems Tajikistan already faces, the durability of an 18-year peace is now an issue.

Radio Ozodi's Mirzo Salimov contributed to this report
Traditional Uzbek skullcaps on display in the country's Museum of Applied Arts. As cheap Chinese versions of these types of products become more widely available, some fear that museums will soon be the only place where traditional craft items like these can be found.

There are many advantages for Central Asia in doing business with China -- the financing of major and minor projects being chief among those reasons. But a group of merchants in Chust, in eastern Uzbekistan's Namangan Province, is learning the hard way about what Chinese economic interest can mean.

"Two years ago we sold a half million Chust knives as souvenirs," Agzamjon Usta, a master knife-maker from Chust, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik. "In the Canadian city of Montreal and the Turkish city of Izmir, Chust knives have won awards [for craftsmanship]. Now our bazaars are full of cheap Chust knives and tyubetekas made in China," Usta explained.

Usta and other merchants and craftsmen in Chust are upset that the products they worked so long to carefully produce, "in the tradition of our fathers," Usta said, are being undersold by cheap imitations being made in China.

Abbas Asad, a blogger from the city of Namangan, wrote recently about the tyubetekas, or in Uzbek "doppi," the skullcaps Uzbeks have worn for centuries and a typical souvenir for tourists (I own about 10 of them). Asad said an original Chust tyubeteka takes at least three days to sew by hand and sometimes, depending on the design it can take up to seven days.

Asad wrote that the average price of the handmade skullcap is somewhere between 50,000 to 70,000 Uzbek som [about $8 to $11] but the Chinese-made copies are selling for as low as 3,000 som.

Asad lamented that customs regulations, put in place to help defend locally made products, seem to have failed in the case of the handmade knives and skullcaps of Chust.

These prized knives and hats once were sold at souvenir shops in Tashkent, Bukhara, and Samarkand, Usta said, and it is in Samarkand, not China, that we find the source of these cheap knock-offs.

According to Usta, a local Samarkand merchant Usta identified only as "I." decided he could increase his profits by finding someone else to produce copies of the knives and hats. This merchant found such a place in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Usta said "I." took examples of the Chust knives and skullcaps to a factory in Xinjiang where a local entrepreneur agreed to make similar products at a much lower price.

The merchants and craftsmen in Chust seem resigned to the fact there is not much they can do to stop these imitation products from being sold in Uzbekistan. Namangan blogger Asad wrote, "If our customs policies are not changed, soon we will only find the original designs of Chust tyubetekas in museums."

This article is based on reporting by RFE/RL's Uzebek Service

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About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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