Freedom in the World 2011

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Tajikistan (2011)

Capital: Dushanbe

Population: 7,450,000

Political Rights Score: 6
Civil Liberties Score: 5
Status: Not Free


President Emomali Rahmon oversaw the continued regimentation of matters of faith in 2010, as his government, citing the need to curb extremism, urged or compelled the return of students obtaining a religious education abroad. Security conditions deteriorated during the year, and the country suffered its first-ever suicide bombing in September. Nevertheless, the ruling party enjoyed a predictable landslide victory in February parliamentary elections that international monitors described as falling short of democratic standards.


Former Communist Party leader Rakhmon Nabiyev was elected president of Tajikistan after the country declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Long-simmering, clan-based tensions, combined with various anti-Communist and Islamist movements, soon plunged the country into a five-year civil war. In September 1992, Communisthard-liners forced Nabiyev’s resignation; he was replaced later that year by Emomali Rakhmonov, a leading Communist Party member.

Rakhmonov was elected president in 1994, after most opposition candidates either boycotted or were prevented from competing in the poll. Similarly, progovernment candidates won the 1995 parliamentary elections amid a boycott by the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), a coalition of secular and Islamic groups that had emerged as the main force fighting against Rakhmonov’s government.

After a December 1996 ceasefire, Rakhmonov and UTO leader Said Abdullo Nuri signed a formal peace agreement in 1997, with 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 Islamic opposition, including the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP). The referendum also extended the president’s term from five to seven years. In November, Rakhmonov was reelected with a reported 97 percent of the vote in a poll that was criticized by international observers for widespread irregularities.

In February 2000 parliamentary elections, Rakhmonov’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) received nearly 65 percent of the vote. Although the participation of six parties provided some political pluralism, a joint monitoring mission by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations cited serious problems. After the elections, the National Reconciliation Commission was formally disbanded. However, important provisions of the 1997 peace accord remained unimplemented, with demobilization of opposition factions incomplete and the government failing to meet a 30 percent quota for UTO members in senior government posts.

A 2003 constitutional referendum cleared a path for Rakhmonov to seek two additional terms, which would allow him to remain in office until 2020. The PDP easily won 2005 parliamentary elections amid reports of large-scale irregularities. In the run-up to the polls, a number of Rakhmonov’s prominent former allies were jailed, often on dubious charges.

Separately in 2005, Russian border guards who had long patrolled the frontier with Afghanistan completed their withdrawal. However, a Russian army division dating to the Soviet period remained in the country.

Rakhmonov won the November 2006 presidential election with more than 70 percent of the vote, although the OSCE noted lackluster campaigning and a general absence of real competition. The president broadened his influence to the cultural sphere in 2007, de-Russifying his surname to “Rahmon” in March and signing legislation in May to establishspendinglimits on birthday and wedding celebrations.

The country suffered extreme economic hardship in 2008 and 2009, and the security situation in 2010 experienced its worst deterioration since the 1992–97 civil war. In August, five prison guards were killed as 25 prisoners, some with extremist ties, escaped from a detention center in Dushanbe. In early September, a police station in Khujand was targeted in the country’s first suicide bombing. Later that month, nearly 30 soldiers were killed in an ambush on a patrol in the Rasht Valley.

The ruling PDP won 55 of 63 lower house seats in February 2010 parliamentary elections that failed to meet basic democratic standards, according to OSCE monitors.

Also during the year, Uzbekistan blocked rail shipments and issued numerous complaints over Tajikistan’s plans to build new hydropower plants, which Tashkent claimed would cause economic and environmental harm to Uzbekistan. Iran, meanwhile, continued to fund the construction of the Sangtuda-2 hydropower plant.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Tajikistan is not an electoral democracy. The 1994 constitution provides for a strong, directly elected president who enjoys broad authority to appoint and dismiss officials. A full-time, bicameral parliament was created in 1999, while amendments in 2003 allowed current president Emomali Rahmon to serve two additional seven-year terms beyond the 2006 election. 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. Elections are neither free nor fair.
Patronage networks and regional affiliations are central to political life, with officials from the president’s native Kulyob region dominant in government. In 2009, Rahmon’s daughter Ozoda was appointed deputy foreign minister, while his son became deputy head of the Youth Union.
Corruption is reportedly pervasive. Members of the president’s family allegedly maintain extensive business interests, and major irregularities at the National Bank have been documented. In a positive sign, newly appointed prosecutor general Sherkhon Salimzoda led an anticorruption drive in 2010 that included the dismissal of 15 regional prosecutors over graft allegations in the first half of the year. Tajikistan was ranked 154 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.
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 are common, particularly against newspapers that are critical of the government. The government controls most printing presses, newsprint supplies, and broadcasting facilities, leaving little room for independent news and analysis. The newspapers Farazh, Paikon, and Nigoh experienced difficulty finding printers in 2010, allegedly due to pressure from government officials. Most television stations are state owned or only nominally independent, and the process of obtaining broadcast licenses is cumbersome. In October, Defense Minister Sherali Khairulloyev accused independent media of siding with terrorists in their coverage of an ambush that killed nearly 30 government troops. Internet penetration is low. The government blocks some critical websites, and online news outlets are subject to criminal libel laws.
The government has imposed a number of restrictions on religious freedom. Wearing of the hijab (headscarf) in schools and higher educational institutions has been banned since 2005. In 2007, the authorities shut down large numbers of unauthorized mosques and instituted more restrictive rules for licensing religious leaders, and a 2009 law banned the promotion of any religion except the traditional Hanafi form of Islam. The authorities raided unlicensed religious schools in July 2010. In August, Rahmon called for Tajiks studying at religious schools abroad to come home, warning that such instruction created “extremists and terrorists.” The families of the students reportedly faced pressure from the government, and by December Tajik officials said that nearly 1,500 had returned to Tajikistan. In October, a women’s mosque affiliated with the opposition IRP was destroyed in a suspicious fire; the previous day, the government’s Religious Affairs Committee had visited and told the IRP to stop using the facility for prayers.
The government at times limits freedoms of assembly and association. Local government approval is required to hold public demonstrations, and officials reportedly refuse to grant permission in virtually all cases. All nongovernmental organizations must register with the Ministry of Justice. Citizens have the legal right to form and join trade unions and to bargain collectively, but trade unions are largely subservient to the authorities and indifferent to workers’ interests.
The judiciary lacks independence. Many judges are poorly trained and inexperienced, and bribery is reportedly widespread. Police often conduct arbitrary arrests and beat detainees to extract confessions. Conditions in prisons—which are overcrowded and disease-ridden—are often life-threatening.
Tajikistan is a major conduit for the smuggling of narcotics from Afghanistan to Russia and Europe. A side effect has been an increase in drug addiction within Tajikistan, as well as a rise in the number of cases of HIV/AIDS.
The government continued to pressure citizens to purchase shares in the planned Roghun hydropower project in 2010, with critics describing the campaign as state-sponsored extortion.
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. An Interior Ministry official told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that of 108 cases of suicide and attempted suicide by women in Khatlon province in 2010, more than half were related to domestic violence and violence against women. 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.