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Tajik Autocrat Mints 'Democracy' Medal Bearing His Own Image

Tajik president Emomali Rahmon (file photo)

The repressive ruler of a country with one of the postcommunist world's worst records on democratic freedom, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, has established a gold "democracy" award whose recipients will receive cash and a medal emblazoned with his image.

The "Emomali Rahmon -- Leader of the Nation" prize should honor "special contributions to the development of democracy," according to a presidential decree signed on February 2.

Tajiks and foreigners are said to be eligible.

Rahmon's decree says the medal and accompanying cash award of 125,000 somonis (currently about $14,000) will be delivered every three years, but it does not stipulate when the first winner will be announced.

None of Tajikistan's presidential or parliamentary elections since Rahmon took power in 1992 has ever been judged competitive and fair by Western observers.

For instance, a 2015 report on national elections by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) cited "restricted political space," a failure "to provide a level playing field for candidates," crippling restrictions on speech, the press, and assembly, and partiality in administering the election process.

Personality Cult

Rahmon has fostered his own cult of personality in a region rife with them among presidents seemingly ensconced for life with virtually unchecked powers.

The Nations In Transit report by Freedom House, a Washington-based independent watchdog, has consistently rated Rahmon's government as a "consolidated authoritarian regime" since 2008.

Its elections "serve to reinforce the rule of dictators who enjoy unlimited authority for prolonged periods of time" with highly centralized power, it says, and the government is "neither democratic nor accountable to the public."

Freedom House's latest report gave both national democratic governance and judicial independence in Tajikistan the worst possible scores.

The report's author, Edward Lemon, said Rahmon's government continued to consolidate "many authoritarian developments" and the country "resembles a one-party state."

In 2015, Tajik lawmakers passed -- and Rahmon signed -- a law granting the president and his family lifetime immunity from prosecution and bestowing on Rahmon the title "founder of peace and national unity of Tajikistan [and] the leader of the nation."

Tajik courts have routinely handed down long prison sentences against leading opposition figures, along with human rights lawyers who have defended them, on extremism charges.