Freedom in the World 2014 - Tajikistan


President Emomali Rahmon was reelected in November 2013 with 83.6 percent of the vote against a field of candidates that included his own supporters; the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) determined that the government had not offered voters a meaningful choice. Opposition parties—including the only legal Islamic party in Central Asia, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT)—had united to support the candidacy of a human rights lawyer, Oinihol Bobonazaroa. Bobonazarova’s candidacy, however, was disqualified by the Central Electoral Commission, which ruled that the signatures of migrant laborers, who make up nearly 45 percent of Tajikistan’s electorate, could not be used to meet the extremely high threshold for the nomination petition. 

Throughout 2013, the government continued to take steps to arbitrarily limit free speech, access to information, the right to civic organization, and took especially harsh measures against former elites who attempted to join the political opposition.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 


Political Rights:  8 / 40 [Key]

A. Electoral Process:  2 / 12 

Tajikistan’s 1994 constitution provides for a strong, directly elected president who enjoys broad authority to appoint and dismiss officials. In the Assembly of Representatives (lower chamber), 63 members are elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms. In the 33-seat National Assembly (upper chamber), 25 members are chosen by local assemblies, and eight are appointed by the president, all for five-year terms.

Shortly after independence from the USSR in 1991, long-simmering tensions between regional elites, combined with various anticommunist and Islamist movements, ignited a five-year civil war from 1992 to 1997. Emomali Rakhmonov, a senior member of the Communist Party, was installed as president in September 1992 by party hardliners in the midst of the conflict; he was elected to office in 1994 and has never left the position. (Rakhmonov changed his surname to “Rhamon” in 2007 to make it sound less Russian.)

Following a December 1996 ceasefire, Rakhmonov signed a formal peace agreement in 1997 with the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), led by Said Abdullo Nuri.  A coalition of secular and Islamist groups, the UTO emerged as the main force fighting against Rakhmonov’s government; both sides committed to a reintegration process to be overseen by a politically balanced National Reconciliation Commission. A September 1999 referendum that permitted the formation of religion-based political parties paved the way for the legal operation of the Islamist opposition, including the IRPT. Rakhmonov’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has consistently dominated legislative elections and important provisions of the 1997 peace accord were never unimplemented.

The ruling PDP won 55 of 63 lower house seats in February 2010 parliamentary elections for the current legislature; elections failed to meet basic democratic standards according to OSCE monitors.

In November, Rahmon was reelected to a fourth term in office with 83.6 percent of the vote; OSCE observers noted the election “lacked a real choice” and failed to meet international standards. Six candidates were on the ballot, but several of them supported President Rahmon, and opposition candidates were disqualified on technicalities. The incumbent administration took advantage of its nearly absolute control over media coverage, the extremely high threshold for signatures required to participate, and the exclusion of migrant workers—who make up a significant part of the country’s population and up to 45 percent of its electorate—from the nomination process to cement its dominance over the electoral process.


B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 4 / 16

Opposition parties were promised 30 percent of senior government posts as part of the 1997 peace accords, but this quota was never met. The Islamic and secular opposition are frequently persecuted and have become increasingly alienated from the political process. Several legal opposition parties, including the IRPT, united behind consensus candidate Oinihol Bobonazaroa in the presidential election; she was disqualified when the Electoral Commission rejected signatures of migrant workers from her petition to participate. Police reportedly harassed and arrested activists attempting to collect signatures on her behalf.

In May, businessman Zayd Saidov was arrested on charges of rape, statutory rape, theft, extortion, and polygamy shortly after announcing the formation of a new political party; in August, family members who protested his arrest were themselves jailed for “undermining public order.” Throughout the year, members of the IRPT were beaten, harassed, and imprisoned, and one member in Isfara was hospitalized after he “fell” from a third floor window during a police interrogation. 


C. Functioning of Government: 2 / 12

Corruption is pervasive. Patronage networks and regional affiliations are central to political life, with officials from the president’s native Kulyob region dominant in government. At least two of Rahmon’s children hold senior government posts, and various family members reportedly maintain extensive business interests in the country.

In January 2013, Tajikistani businessman and opposition leader Umarali Quvatov released a series of alleged phone records between himself and members of the presidential family that revealed the government’s deep nepotism and corruption. Quvatov had been apprehended in late 2012 in Dubai and was held until September 2013, at which time Dubai denied an extradition request from Tajikistan.

Major irregularities at the National Bank of Tajikistan and the country’s largest industrial company, TALCO Aluminum, have been documented. Tajikistan was ranked 154 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.


Civil Liberties: 16 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief:  5 / 16

Despite constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and the press, independent journalists face harassment and intimidation, and the penal code criminalizes defamation. Crippling libel judgments have been common, particularly against newspapers that are critical of the government. Though Tajikistan decriminalized libel in 2012, reclassifying it as a civil offense, the act of publicly insulting the president remains punishable by a jail term of up to five years and charges against critical journalists are not limited to libel or insult.

In March 2013, Salimboy Shamsiddinov, a journalist critical of the government and a leader of the Uzbek minority in Khatlon province, disappeared after publicly encouraging Uzbeks to support an opposition candidate in the presidential election. In July, officials claimed he was found dead in Uzbekistan. In October, journalist Mahmadyusuf Ismoilov was sentenced to 11 years in prison on bribery charges after publishing an article in March that criticized local authorities.

The government controls most printing presses, newsprint supplies, and broadcasting facilities, and most television stations are state-owned or only nominally independent. The government blocks some critical websites and online news outlets, and increased these obstructions in the run-up to the 2013 presidential election.

The government has imposed a number of restrictions on religious freedom. A 2009 law restricts religious activities to state-approved houses of prayer. Authorities limit the number of mosques allowed in the country’s towns, and in recent years have undertaken a campaign to shutter those that are not properly registered. Throughout 2013, Tajikistan continued to prosecute dozens of citizens for alleged membership in extremist religious organizations, and stepped up pressure against the IRPT.

Tajikistan’s limited religious education institutions have failed to integrate most of the 1,500 students who were pressured to return from religious schools abroad in 2010, and some have faced prosecution. In 2011, unprecedented new legislation on “parental responsibility” that came into force banned minors from attending regular religious services in mosques, and banned private religious education. Many religious leaders criticized the law or quietly refused to obey it. Wearing of the hijab (headscarf) in schools and higher educational institutions has been banned since 2005.


E. Associational and Organizational Rights:  4 / 12

The government limits freedoms of assembly and association. Local government approval is required to hold public demonstrations, and officials reportedly refuse to grant permission in many cases.

 Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) must register with the Ministry of Justice, making them vulnerable to shutdown for minor technicalities. In January 2013, Khujend city officials banned the NGO Civil Society after 11 years of operations on charges that the address on their registration form was incorrect; a regional court upheld the closure in April. Citizens have the legal right to form and join trade unions and to bargain collectively, but unions are largely subservient to the authorities.


F. Rule of Law: 3 / 16

The judiciary lacks independence. Many judges are poorly trained and inexperienced, and bribery is reportedly widespread. Police frequently make arbitrary arrests and beat detainees to extract confessions. Overcrowding and disease contribute to often life-threatening conditions in prisons. Tajikistan is a major conduit for the smuggling of narcotics from Afghanistan to Russia and Europe, which has led to an increase in drug addiction within Tajikistan.


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights:  4 / 16

Sexual harassment, discrimination, and violence against women, including spousal abuse, are reportedly common, but cases are rarely investigated. Reports indicate that women sometimes face societal pressure to wear headscarves, even though official policy discourages the practice. Despite some government efforts to address human trafficking, Tajikistan remains a source and transit country for persons trafficked for prostitution. Child labor, particularly on cotton farms, also remains a problem.


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology

2014 Scores


Not Free

Freedom Rating

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Civil Liberties

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Political Rights

(1 = best, 7 = worst)