Freedom in the World 2000 - 2001


While the February and March 2000 parliamentary elections represented the culmination of the 1997 peace agreement between the government and the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) that ended the country’s five-year civil war, Tajikistan’s future stability and prospects for national reconciliation remain uncertain.  Despite the inclusion of former warring parties in the electoral process, the poll was marred by serious irregularities and failed to meet minimum democratic standards.  Paramilitary forces and armed criminal gangs continued to compromise the security situation, with bombings, shootouts, and assassination attempts occurring throughout the year.

Conquered by Russia in the late 1800s, Tajikistan was made an autonomous region within Uzbekistan in 1924 and a separate socialist republic of the U.S.S.R. in 1929.  However, the ancient cities of Samarkand and Bukhara, the two main centers of Tajik culture, remained part of Uzbekistan.  Tajikistan declared independence from the U.S.S.R. in September 1991, and two months later, former Communist Party leader Rakhman Nabiyev was elected president.

Nabiyev’s increasing consolidation of power of the old guard, many of whom were from the more prosperous northern province of Leninabad, at the expense of other regional factions led to increasing opposition to his rule.  In May 1992, supporters and opponents of Nabiyev clashed in the streets of Dushanbe, with the violence quickly spreading beyond the capital.  Specifically, clans from the Garm and Kurgan-Tyube regions in the east and the Pamiris from the mountainous southern Gorno-Badakhshan area in the south sought to unseat the ruling northern Leninabadi and southern Kulyabis from power.  These long-simmering clan-based tensions, combined with various anti-Communist and Islamist movements, soon plunged the country into a five-year civil war for central government control by rival regional-political groupings.  In September, Communist hardliners forced the resignation of President Nabiyev, who was replaced in November by leading Communist Party member and ethnic Kulyabi Emomali Rakhmonov.  The following month, Rakhmonov launched attacks in the Garm and Gorno-Badakhshan regions, causing tens of thousands to flee into neighboring Afghanistan.

In November 1994, Rakhmonov won presidential elections with a reported 58 percent of the vote against Abdumalik Abdullajanov, a former premier from Leninabad.  Most opposition candidates were prevented from competing by the country’s election law, and the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) and Tajik Democratic Party (TDP) boycotted the poll.  March 1995 parliamentary elections, in which the majority of seats were won by pro-government candidates, were boycotted by the UTO, a coalition of various secular and Islamic opposition groups including the IRP.  Established in 1993, the UTO emerged as the main opposition force fighting against President Rakhmonov’s government during the war.

Following a December 1996 ceasefire, President Rakhmonov and UTO leader Said Abdullo Nuri signed a formal peace agreement in Moscow on June 27, 1997, officially ending the civil war, which had claimed tens of thousands of lives and left several hundred thousands as refugees.  The accord called for opposition forces to be merged into the regular army, granted an amnesty for UTO members, provided for the UTO to be allotted 30 percent of senior government posts, and established a 26-member National Reconciliation Commission (NRC), with seats evenly divided between the government and the UTO.  The NRC was charged with implementing the peace agreements, including preparing amendments for a referendum on constitutional changes that would lead to fair parliamentary elections.  By the end of 1998, nearly all exiled UTO leaders and Tajik refugees from Afghanistan had returned, although the government had pushed back parliamentary elections scheduled for June of that year. 

During 1999, the government and the UTO took steps towards implementing the peace accord.  Parliament adopted a resolution in May granting a general amnesty applicable to more than 5,000 opposition fighters; several members of the UTO were appointed to government posts; and the UTO announced that it had disbanded all of its military formations.  In a September nationwide referendum, voters overwhelmingly approved a series of constitutional amendments that considerably expanded the powers of the president.  At the same time, the amendments also permitted the formation of religion-based political parties, opening the way for the legal operation of the Islamic opposition, including the IRP, which constitutes the backbone of the UTO; a May 1998 law on political parties had banned religious parties.

In the November presidential election, two of the three opposition candidates to President Rakhmonov were barred from participating less than one month before the poll, ostensibly for failure to collect the necessary signatures to be included on the ballot.  A third candidate, Economics Minister and IRP member Davlat Usmon, withdrew from the race in protest.  According to official election results, Rakhmonov received 97 percent of the vote, and Usmon, 2 percent.  International election observers cited numerous irregularities, including widespread multiple voting and restrictions on opposition candidates’ access to the media.  The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) refused to send monitors because of serious flaws observed during the pre-election period.

As the final stage in the implementation of the 1997 peace accord, Tajikistan held parliamentary elections in February (for the 63-seat lower house) and March (for the 33-member upper house) 2000.  In the February poll, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of President Rakhmonov received nearly 65 percent of the vote, followed by the Communist Party with 20 percent and the IRP, which was plagued by internal divisions, with 7 percent.  Election officials claimed that voter turnout exceeded 87 percent, a figure widely believed to be inflated.  Although the participation of six parties and a number of independent candidates in the poll provided some political pluralism, international election observers, including a  joint OSCE-United Nations mission, cited a number of serious problems, including evidence of proxy voting, the exclusion of certain opposition parties, biased state media coverage, and a lack of transparency in the tabulation of votes.  In the March elections to the upper house of parliament, in which regional assemblies elected 25 members and President Rakhmonov appointed the remaining 8, the PDP obtained the overwhelming majority of seats.

With the conclusion of the 1997 peace agreement following the parliamentary elections, the NRC formally disbanded and the UN observer mission withdrew after about six years in Tajikistan.  However, not all of the provisions of the peace accord were implemented, as demobilization of opposition factions remained incomplete and the government did not meet the 30 percent quota of senior government posts to be awarded to the UTO.  The country’s security situation remained precarious as outbreaks of violence linked to regional clan feuds, political rivalries, and competition for the lucrative drug trade continued throughout the country.  Dushanbe’s failure to crush Islamic guerillas on its territory, thought mostly to be members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which is struggling to overthrow the Uzbekistan government and was blamed for armed incursions into the Kyrgyz Republic in 1999, has strained relations with the neighboring governments of Tashkent and Bishkek.

After years of economic devastation wrought by the civil war, Tajikistan remains the poorest nation in Central Asia.  The country’s worst drought in 70 years, which greatly reduced the annual harvest, resulted in urgent appeals for emergency aid to prevent mass famine.  Recent Taliban victories in northern Afghanistan fueled fears of large numbers of Afghan refugees seeking safety in Tajikistan, which would overwhelm the already impoverished nation.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Citizens of Tajikistan cannot change their government democratically.  The 1994 constitution provides for a strong, directly elected executive who enjoys broad authority to appoint and dismiss officials.  Amendments to the constitution adopted in a 1999 referendum further increased the powers of the president by extending his term in office from five to seven years and creating a full-time, bicameral parliament whose members would be appointed directly by the president or elected by indirect vote through local parliaments led by presidential appointees.  Neither the country’s presidential polls in 1994 and 1999 nor the parliamentary elections of 1995 and 2000 were free and fair.

Despite formal guarantees for freedom of speech and the press, media freedoms remain severely curtailed by the government.  Independent journalists continue to be threatened by  removal of their accreditation, denial of access to state printing facilities, unprosecuted violence, and the closure of the media outlets with which they are affiliated.  Consequently, self-censorship among journalists is widespread.  In May 2000, the director of state radio and television was killed by gunmen with automatic rifles as he arrived home from work; there was speculation that his murder may have been linked to his professional activities.  No independent radio stations have yet received operating licenses.  In June, Tajikistan’s first Internet café opened in Dushanbe.

Freedom of religion is generally respected in this predominantly Muslim country, although some restrictions exist.  The state Committee on Religious Affairs registers religious communities, largely to ensure that they do not become overtly political.  A constitutional referendum of September 1999 legalized the formation of religious-based political parties after an earlier ban in 1998.  During 2000, hundreds of alleged members of the banned extremist Islamic organization, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, were arrested on various criminal charges, including distribution of anti-state literature.  In August, seven were sentenced to several years in prison for membership in an illegal criminal group and planning to overthrow the government.  Reports from international and local sources indicated that the suspects had been physically mistreated and held incommunicado while in detention.

The state strictly controls freedom of assembly and association for organizations of a political nature.  Nongovernmental organizations and political groups must obtain permits to hold public demonstrations, which at times the authorities have used excessive force to disrupt.  Although a ban on religion-based parties was lifted in 1999, the government has stopped or limited the activities of certain other political parties.  Despite legal rights to form and join trade unions, labor rights are largely ignored in practice, and all trade unions in Tajikistan are state-controlled. 

The judiciary enjoys little independence from the executive branch, on which most judges depend for their positions.  Many judges are poorly trained and inexperienced, and bribery is reportedly widespread.  Police routinely conduct arbitrary searches and seizures and beat detainees to obtain confessions.  Prison conditions have been described as life-threatening because of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.   High levels of criminal and political violence and lawlessness continue to directly or indirectly affect the personal security of most citizens.  Numerous bomb attacks and killings committed by members of the security forces, the UTO, or unaligned armed factions occurred throughout 2000.  In the weeks preceding the parliamentary election, a series of bomb blasts in Dushanbe killed eight people, including a prominent pro-government candidate, and another ruling party member was shot dead in June.

The government generally respects the right of its citizens to choose a place of residence and to travel.  However, checkpoints manned by interior ministry troops and customs officials  have extorted money from drivers and passengers, limiting their freedom of movement.  Corruption is reportedly pervasive throughout the government, civil service, and business sectors.  Barriers to private enterprise, including the widespread practice of bribe payments, restrict equality of opportunity.  Although women are employed throughout the government, academia, and the business world, they continue to face traditional societal discrimination.  Domestic violence is reportedly common, and there are credible reports of trafficking of women for prostitution.

2001 Scores



Freedom Rating

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Civil Liberties

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Political Rights

(1 = best, 7 = worst)