ACCORD – Austrian Centre for Country of Origin and Asylum Research and Documentation (Author)
The May 2018 US Department of State (USDOS) country report on international religious freedom (covering the year 2017) provides the following information on government measures against persons allegedly affiliated with “extremist” organizations or non-registered sectarian groups:
“The government continued to take measures to prevent individuals from joining or participating in what it labeled “extremist” organizations. The government arrested or detained more than 220 persons on extremism charges, many of whom the government said were ‘Salafis’ and/or ISIS [‘Islamic State’] supporters. NGOs stated authorities continued to refuse to register religious groups on technical or administrative grounds. Without registration, groups risked criminal or civil penalties for operating. […] Human rights activists again stated that authorities sought to ‘establish total control of Muslim activity’ in the country. The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) continued to conduct internal video surveillance of mosques in Dushanbe. Authorities remained vigilant against the appearance of ‘illegal’ prayer rooms and mosques around the country. NGOs reported authorities continued to harass women wearing hijabs and men with beards, and continued to conduct raids to shut down shops selling ‘nontraditional or alien’ clothing. Government officials continued to issue statements discouraging women from wearing nontraditional clothing.
Government officials continued to take measures they claimed were intended to prevent individuals from joining or participating in what they considered ‘extremist’ organizations and continued to arrest and detain individuals suspected of membership in or supporting such banned groups. Those groups included Hizb ut-Tahrir, al-Qaida, Muslim Brotherhood, Taliban, Jamaat Tabligh, Islamic Group (Islamic Community of Pakistan), Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkestan, Islamic Party of Turkestan (former Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan – IMU), Lashkar-e-Tayba, Tojikistoni Ozod, Sozmoni Tablighot, Salafi groups, Jamaat Ansarullah, and the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT). According to a CRA [Committee on Religious Affairs, Regulation of National Traditions, Celebrations, and Ceremonies] spokesperson, the committee defined extremism as agitating for the overthrow of the current government or the initiation of sectarian violence.
On July 21, Minister of Internal Affairs Ramazon Rahimzoda told the media that in the first six months of the year, authorities detained 228 individuals suspected of involvement in groups the government deemed terrorist. Included among them were 104 having connections with ISIS, 80 with Salafi groups, 17 with Jamoat Ansarullah, 16 with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and three with the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan. In addition, 13 citizens who joined ISIS voluntarily returned home. All of the voluntary returnees, according to national legislation, were exempt from criminal prosecution.” (USDOS, 29 May 2018, section II)
In an August 2018 article Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), a broadcaster funded by the U.S. Congress that provides news, information, and analysis to countries in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East, writes as follows:
“In official meetings and speeches in recent months, Tajikistan's interior minister has frequently warned about the dangers of the extremist Islamic State (IS) group. […]
IS is a ‘hot’ topic in Tajikistan, where the authorities say at least 1,200 people have gone to Syria and Iraq to join the extremist militant group since 2014. IS also claimed the deadly July 29 attack on Western cyclists in Tajikistan, although the government says the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) was behind the assault, which resulted in the deaths of four foreigners. [Interior minister of Tajikistan] Rahimzoda himself placed the blame for the incident - even before an investigation could be conducted - on the IRPT, a rival of the government headed by authoritarian ruler Emomali Rahmon. The IRPT rejected the government's charge as ‘shameless and illogical,’ and an IS video showed five young men swearing allegiance to the militants - including four who closely resembled four men killed by Tajik authorities shortly after the attack.
Rahimzoda's Interior Ministry is a key player in a state program to help return and rehabilitate Tajik citizens who voluntarily leave Syria and Iraq and prove they weren't involved in violence.“ (RFE/RL, 8 August 2018)
The April 2018 USDOS country report on human rights practices (covering the year 2017) provides the following information on detainees suspected of offenses against national security and on politically motivated arrests:
“Detainees suspected of crimes related to national security or extremism were held for extended periods without being formally charged. Arbitrary Arrest: The government generally provided a rationale for arrests, but detainees and civil society groups frequently reported that authorities falsified charges or inflated minor incidents to make politically motivated arrests.” (USDOS, 20 April 2018, section 1d)
In a July 2017 article RFE/RL reports the following on a July 2017 incident:
“Tajikistan’s authorities say four close relatives of a former police commander who joined the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in 2015 have been killed in a clash with security forces. Tajik police told RFE/RL the clash occurred late on July 4 in the country's Vose District, about 25 kilometers from Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan. […] The four had not been formally charged with being members of the IS militant group or suspected of any crime. But security officials told RFE/RL that Halimov’s brothers had been under surveillance in Dushanbe for some time and were followed by police after they left Tajikistan’s capital earlier on July 4.” (RFE/RL, 5 July 2017)
In a March 2017 article RFE/RL reports on the case of Jovidon Hakimov:
“A Tajik court is reviewing a complaint from a man who claims that his confession saying he tried to recruit fighters for the extremist group Islamic State (IS) was obtained under duress. Jovidon Hakimov, 29, claims he was severely beaten by police officers who interrogated him after his arrest in January, his lawyers said on March 29. ‘Hakimov told the court on March 28 that the officers beat him...and broke his nose during the interrogations in the basement of the police station,’ attorney Muhabbat Usmonova said. He added that Hakimov also said officers subjected him to electric shock. Several police officers who testified at the Dushanbe court hearing rejected Hakimov’s claims. Usmonova said the court has rejected a request from Hakimov's lawyers for him to undergo a medical test to examine the alleged mistreatment. Hakimov is accused of recruiting several Tajik citizens to fight for IS in Iraq and Syria. Prosecutors allege he was ‘in regular telephone contact’ in 2013 with his brother Abdujalil Hakimov and their neighbor Nusrat Nazarov, who they say were fighting alongside IS militants in Iraq at the time. Abdujalil Hakimov is believed to have been killed in fighting in Iraq. Tajik authorities say some 1,100 Tajik nationals have joined IS militants in the Middle East, with most of them recruited in Russia, which hosts hundreds of thousands of Tajik migrant workers.” (RFE/RL, 29 March 2017)
No further information could be found on the treatment of Tajik citizens with suspected ties to the Islamic state. The following sources contain information on the state treatment of Islamist groups/Islamist currents in society in general:
In a 2018 report on Tajikistan (covering the period 1 February 2015 to 31 January 2017) the Bertelsmann Foundation, a German non-profit think tank writes about the government’s repression of banned Islamic groups and groups which do not “adhere to the national brand of Islam”:
“The only known groups that question Tajikistan’s stateness are clandestine and banned radical Islamic groups (notably the Hizb ut-Tahrir) that aspire to create an Islamic state in Central Asia. The government has continued to brutally repress individuals suspected of supporting banned Islamic groups (notably Hizb ut-Tahrir, Jamaat-e-Tabligh, Jamaat Ansarullah and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan). The prevalence of these groups is unknown but they are unlikely to be widespread within the country due to effects of state surveillance and repression.” (Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2018, pp. 7-8)
“Religious groups that do not adhere to the national brand of Islam favored by the government are particularly targeted. During the period under review, hundreds of nonviolent Muslims were detained and sentenced to lengthy jail terms, mostly without a fair public trial, for alleged membership in banned Islamic groups.” (Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2018, p. 13)
“The period under review saw the political leadership continue to resort to openly prohibitive means to manage the cleavages along religious lines, potentially exacerbating them. The state detained and sentenced to lengthy jail terms hundreds of nonviolent Muslims for alleged membership in banned Islamic groups, particularly Hizb ut-Tahrir, Salafiyya and Jamaat Ansarullah.” (Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2018. p. 32)
On the same subject a March 2018 report by the Jamestown Foundation, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that provides information on terrorism, the former Soviet republics, Chechnya, China, and North Korea, quotes a November 2016 article by Central Asia-News as stating that:
“Over the last decade, both in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, legislative norms concerning terrorism and extremism underwent substantial changes. Specifically, the focus has shifted from soft methods of ‘enlightenment’ of the population to harsh measures designed to counter the spread of ‘non-traditional’ religious teachings as well as outright prohibitions. In Tajikistan, Article 1 of the law ‘On Fighting Extremism,’ adopted in December 2003, declared as one of the priorities the ‘protection of rights and liberties of an individual.’ But subsequent amendments to the law ‘On National Security Bodies’ gave the security forces a free hand to enter and search private properties without a warrant. In 2013, Tajikistan’s authorities closed down six madrassahs (Islamic religious schools), leaving untouched only the Islamic University. Moreover, thousands of Tajikistani students obtaining a religious education in Arab countries were forced to return home (Central.asia-news.com, November 15, 2016).” (Jamestown Foundation, 22 March 2018)
In a February 2018 report the Jamestown Foundation states partially with reference to other sources:
“[T]here is an alternative Islam, one that in Soviet times Western scholars like Alexandre Bennigsen called ‘unofficial’ or ‘underground’ Islam. It consists of all Islamic practice that the government does not allow. And as Bennigsen showed, the more tightly the Soviet authorities restricted what ‘official’ mosques and imams could do, the larger and more vital became this second face of Islam (Alexandre Bennigsen, Islam in the Soviet Union, London, 1967; Bennigsen, Islamic Threat to the Soviet State, London, 1983). […]
And the Tajiks of northern Afghanistan, many of whom are Islamists, have made inroads in Tajikistan in recent months as have Tajik Islamic State fighters now returning home (Asia Times, February 4, 2018).
Many in Moscow and the West have praised Dushanbe for its moves to control Islamist radicalism. But they have generally failed to understand that by its actions against Islam, the Tajikistani government is radicalizing far more of its citizens than it is reining in.” (Jamestown Foundation, 6 February 2018)
In a November 2017 article RFE/RL states:
“Tajik authorities have pledged to dismiss many foreign-educated imams across the country in a move they say is aimed at averting religious extremism. Tajikistan's state religious committee late last month set a deadline of mid-November for the heads of local government to replace imams who studied at religious schools abroad, outside of official channels, with ‘suitable’ people. The instruction further tightens the government’s grip on religious practices in the predominantly Muslim state of around 8 million, which until 2015 permitted post-Soviet Central Asia's only explicitly Islamic political party. The committee said ‘some foreign-educated’ religious figures had been involved in ‘spreading banned religious’ teachings that promote a strict form of Sunni Islam. Afshin Muqim, a committee spokesman, stressed on November 2 that the expulsion order does not apply to those who studied abroad ‘legally,’ with Tajik government approval. […]
Tajikistan repatriated more than 3,000 students from Islamic madrasahs and universities in Iran, Pakistan, and the Middle East in 2010 after President Emomali Rahmon said they could fall under the influence of extremists. The state religious committee said about 30 of the students who returned home were suspected of having ties with ‘terrorist groups’ and at least 18 subsequently left the country to join Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria. Tajikistan has outlawed Islamic head scarves at government institutions and frowned on them among the public as ‘foreign influences’ and introduced a limit on beard length, which is seen as an outward sign of the Islamic faith.” (RFE/RL, 6 November 2017)
The British weekly newsmagazine The Economist states in a September 2017 article:
“The young Tajik man does not want to leave home, despite his mother’s assurance that he looks fine. The day before he had sported a curly black beard, just like his friends from the mosque. But the police had frogmarched him and other bearded young men to the barber shop, where their beards were shaved off. A few of the onlookers laughed, but, once out of the police’s sight, many more grumbled. Such scenes have become increasingly common in Tajikistan, a landlocked country of 9m bordering Afghanistan and China. In 2015 an official in one of the country’s four regions reported forcibly removing the beards of 13,000 men. Con men have started selling certificates, complete with photographs and official-looking stamps, permitting holders to grow a beard. Initially, the Tajik government blamed the crusade against beards on local police, but it now admits that it instigated the practice to curb religious extremism. Shaving beards is just one tool the government uses to suppress Islam, even though more or less the entire population is at least nominally Muslim. In 2015 it closed more than 160 headscarf shops. Last year it outlawed Arabic-sounding names. Earlier this year it prohibited the production, import or export of religious books without permission. Obtaining a permit to set up a religious organisation, publish a book on Islam or go on pilgrimage to Mecca is an arduous process. In 2010 Tajikistan had 19 registered madrassas and hundreds of unregistered ones. The last was closed in 2016. Anyone providing unofficial religious teaching can be imprisoned for up to 12 years. Even studying in religious schools outside the country is prohibited. Almost 3,000 young men attending religious schools in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt and other countries have been coerced into coming home. There are about 3,700 mosques in the country. They are heavily regulated by the government, down to the subject of the weekly sermon. Using loudspeakers to broadcast the call to prayer is no longer allowed. Children younger than 18 and women are not permitted to attend the mosque. People under 40 are not allowed to go on the haj. Tajikistan was unique among the former Soviet republics of Central Asia in allowing an Islamist opposition party, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT)—the result of a peace deal that ended a civil war in 1997. But Emomali Rahmon, the country’s leader since 1992, was on the opposing side in the conflict and has gradually reneged on the deal. In 2015 he banned IRPT; since then, his campaign against the pious has intensified. The repression, inevitably, has helped to radicalise devout Muslims. More than 2,000 Tajiks are reported to have joined Islamic State. The former commander of an elite police force, Gulmurod Khalimov, is their most prominent recruit. In a YouTube video he threatened to return to Tajikistan to establish sharia (Islamic law). (Earlier this month Russia claimed that he had been killed in an airstrike in Syria.)” (Economist, 21 September 2017)
References:12 September 2018