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Tajik Officials, Activists Scuffle At OSCE Meeting In Warsaw

Punches Thrown As Tajik Officials, Activists Scuffle In Poland
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Video has emerged of a scuffle that broke out this week between Tajik government officials and opposition activists outside one of Europe's biggest annual human rights and democracy conferences.

A member of the government delegation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)'s Human Dimension Implementation Meeting punched and kicked at activists as they confronted officials outside the Warsaw venue during a lunch break on September 11.

It appears to have started after the opposition activists handed a flyer that read "Free political prisoners" to government delegate Ayomiddin Sattorov, who used to belong to the opposition within the now-banned Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT) but recently renounced those ties.

Another member of the government delegation took the flyer from Sattorov and tossed it aside as one of the activists appeared to be trying to photograph Sattorov. The activist then seemingly touched the side of the second official's face before another government delegate struck him and kicked at the other activist.

Other delegation members and event organizers appeared to intervene and called for calm before any further violence.

The IRPT was banned after it lost the last of its parliamentary seats in widely criticized elections in 2015, and Tajik authorities have declared it a "terrorist organization" and jailed many of its former leaders and members on charges that have been questioned by rights groups.

The activists in the Warsaw scuffle accuse the Tajik officials of having "forced us out of Tajikistan" and "coming to Europe to beat us" before the activists try to hail police.

Event organizers say Warsaw police are investigating the incident.

A government delegation member called the incident a "provocation" by IRPT activists.

The activist who tried to take the picture before the scuffle, Sulaimoni Orzu, told RFE/RL that he was only after a photo.

Protested Invitation

Ahead of the Warsaw meeting, official Tajik news agency Khovar reprinted text criticizing the OSCE's invitation to IRPT figures and saying it risked a shutdown of the OSCE office in Dushanbe.

Government supporters organized a rally in front of the OSCE offices in the Tajik capital on September 7 demanding that the OSCE not allow the opposition group to the Warsaw event.

Dozens of IRPT officials and supporters have been jailed in the past several years, and some have been convicted of attempting to overthrow the government.

The exiled leader of the party, Muhiddin Kabiri, attended the Warsaw meeting but he was not present during the scuffle.

Long Central Asia's lone registered Islamic political party, the IRPT signed the peace deal that ended Tajikistan's five-year civil war in the 1990s before entering a de facto power-sharing agreement with the government.

It twice won two parliamentary seats in general elections and boasted a membership of tens of thousands.

None of Tajikistan's elections has been endorsed as free and fair by Western election observers, and longtime President Emomali Rahmon has kept a tight lid on dissent amid dissatisfaction over nepotism and other forms of corruption and high unemployment.