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Since Tajikistan's President Asked...


Tajik President Emomali Rahmon: "The impression is being created that everything is ideal, and we lack for nothing."

On October 25, during a visit to the country's northern Sughd region, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon called on the media to stop praising the authorities.

"The impression is being created that everything is ideal, and we lack for nothing," he said.

Rahmon suggested an absence of criticism risks encouraging serious mistakes, and he urged television and radio broadcasters to "expose the defects of authorities and look for ways to correct mistakes."

OK. I work for a television and radio station, and I will heed Rahmon's call.

Actually, I can't improve on some of the criticisms that have already been made, so allow me to bring them to the Tajik president's attention, just in case he has not yet heard these.

What is up with all these Rahmon family members in the government and business?

I mean, your daughter Ozoda is chief of the president's executive office. And she'll be, what, 41 years old just after the new year?

And your oldest son, Rustam, appointed mayor of Tajikistan's capital, Dushanbe, at age 29?

Some people could get the idea that the Tajik government is not a meritocracy.

Of course, there is also second son Somon Emomali. President Rahmon, it looks like you have given him a happy childhood. But considering a recent World Bank chart showing a poverty rate of more than 30 percent in much of the country and the hundreds of thousands of Tajik citizens working as migrant laborers, mainly in Russia, don't you think Somon should cut back on all those photos of himself and expensive sports cars?

And what about 36-year-old son-in-law Shamsullo Sahibov, the one who's married to your daughter Rukhshona?

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) published a lengthy report about Sahibov saying he owned a company called Faroz that had "interests in oil, gas, tourism, and foreign trade," was linked to some dubious mining deals in which one company collected a $2.7 million "success fee" for a contract, and "controlled" two companies in the British Virgin Islands that showed up in the Panama Papers.

If those reports are true, it sort of changes the traditional direction of "kalym," or bride price, don't you think?

Or, in the end, maybe not.

In a separate report, the OCCRP noted, "Whenever Faroz unveils a new project, Rahmon can be counted on to cut a ribbon, offer some kind words, or strike a photogenic pose."

All right, enough about family.

What about the Tajik government's perceived abuse of Interpol's red notices?

Edward Lemon, a fellow at the Kennan Institute in Washington and a leading authority on current events in Tajikistan, has tweeted that that country represents 0.12 percent of the world's population yet the Tajik government is behind 2.3 percent of the red notices in Interpol's database.

Exeter University has been tracking this practice for many months and in one report said: "Since 2015, the Tajik government, under the mantra of the 'war against terrorism,' is pursuing its most intense human rights crackdown with the banning of the country's main democratic opposition parties: IRPT (Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan) and Group 24."

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported: "Tajik officials, with the apparent acquiescence of Turkish authorities, have forcibly and extrajudicially returned a political activist (Namunjon Sharipov) from Istanbul to Tajikistan." HRW said Sharipov faced "a real risk of torture and other ill-treatment in Tajikistan."

And speaking of Turkey that was where Group 24 leader Umarali Kuvvatov was killed in March 2015 after he fled Tajikistan. Amnesty International wrote at the time: "Umarali Kuvvatov...was one of the founders of 'Group 24,' which has publicly criticized the widespread corruption under Tajikistan's President Rahmon," adding, "In Tajikistan, he faced charges of 'economic crimes' and 'extremism,' which appear to be politically motivated."

Statements like these might suggest the Tajik government has a grudge against Group 24. Any comment on that, President Rahmon?

And we shouldn't leave out the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT).

The IRPT was a partner in Tajikistan's 1997 peace deal, which ended the bloodshed and destruction of the 1992-97 civil war. You would remember that agreement, President Rahmon. It is the basis for the honorific "Founder Of Peace And Unity" (Асосгузори сулҳу ваҳдати миллӣ) that you now bear.

But Tajikistan's Justice Ministry canceled the IRPT's registration just months after the party lost its last two seats in parliament in the 2015 elections.

And allow me here to remind you that the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights wrote in its assessment of those elections that "imbalanced coverage by the state media, negative reporting on the opposition IRPT, and the absence of genuine political debate, considerably limited the possibility for voters to make an informed choice," and that, "After the elections, the [state-sponsored] Islamic Center called for the IRPT to be closed and expressed their support for a single-party system to ensure political stability.

Returning to the decision to annul the registration of the IRPT and later ban its activities, despite an appeal from HRW, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia for the "Tajik government [to] reverse its decision to order the closure of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan and allow the party to operate freely," a Tajik court then declared the IRPT to be an extremist group, although critics say there never was much public evidence to support branding the IRPT an extremist organization.

They had posts within the government for more than 15 years. The connection Tajik authorities drew between the IRPT and an allegedly mutinous general from Tajikistan's armed force appeared to be tenuous at best. There were never credible reports that IRPT members had been storing weapons or planning attacks.

How was the IRPT suddenly an extremist group? Further explanation would seem to be in order, don't you think, Mr. President?

When Tajik authorities started putting IRPT leaders on trial, the United States' mission to the OSCE issued a statement in June 2016 "to express concern over irregular court proceedings resulting in harsh prison sentences for members of the IRPT."

And also in June 2016, the UN special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, "expressed dismay" at the sentencing of two deputy IRPT leaders (Saidumar Husaini and Muhammad Hayit) to life sentences, saying, "Imposing such drastic and arbitrary measures against opposition and religious leaders is not only unacceptable but dangerous as it only helps to radicalize those pushed out of public debate."

So there you go, President Rahmon. I hope this eases some of your concerns that "the impression is being created that everything is ideal, and we lack for nothing," and that these examples of criticism toward Tajikistan will help to "expose the defects of authorities."

If not, there are plenty more I can find. Just ask.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.

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. Content will draw 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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