The overnight murder of a wheelchair-bound former opposition commander has set off mass protests in Tajikistan’s restive eastern mountains, scene of fighting between militants and government forces last month that left dozens dead.
Imomnazar Imomnazarov was killed in his Khorog home early on August 22, Asia-Plus reported, by unidentified men who tossed in a grenade and opened fire with automatic weapons. Police have not commented on the killing, though many residents of Khorog, capital of Gorno-Badakhshan province, immediately suspected the central government had a hand in it. Authorities had accused Imomnazarov of involvement in July’s violence.
In the morning, about 100 people gathered at the local government headquarters in Khorog to protest the killing. When they grew rowdy, government troops opened fire, injuring two protestors in the legs, Asia-Plus reported. Radio Ozodi reports a crowd of 3,000 is demanding the president put an end to the violence.
This summer's unrest in Gorno-Badakhshan began with the murder of a security services general on July 21. On July 24, in Khorog, special forces targeted Tolib Ayombekov, the head of a border post on the Afghan-Tajik frontier and an opposition commander during Tajikistan’s 1992-1997 civil war. Officials in Dushanbe contend that Ayombekov was responsible for the general’s murder and was involved in drug smuggling.
Radio Free Europe estimates 70 died. On August 12 Ayombekov surrendered in exchange for the promise of a fair trial. Authorities say they have collected hundreds of weapons in a disarmament drive.
The Prosecutor General had also charged 47-year-old Imomnazarov, who was partially paralyzed during the civil war, and two other local commanders with drug trafficking and organizing criminal gangs. All four had fought against the central government during the civil war.
But observers are not convinced the recent operation was designed solely to silence opposition figures or boost the rule of law. Many believe senior officials in Dushanbe are trying to gain control over lucrative drug trafficking routes in the vast, sparsely inhabited province, which shares a long and porous border with Afghanistan.
Many are also certain to question the circumstances of Imomnazarov’s death. The term “extrajudicial killing” likely will float about. (Tajik authorities have methods for liquidating opponents that don't involve due process. Take the case of Alovuddin Davlatov, better known as Ali Bedaki, whose mysterious death in January 2011 apparently happened after soldiers caught him and made a videotape of him alive in the backseat of a car.)
Today's events are certain to increase tensions in Khorog. This week, Radio Free Europe reported that all males between the ages of 18 and 45 in Gorno-Badakhshan have been ordered to report to the military for questioning about their military backgrounds. Officials deny the call has anything to do with the recent violence.
And furthering suspicions the central government is not being completely transparent about recent events, Dushanbe has denied the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) permission to visit victims in Gorno-Badakhshan, BBC Tajik reported on August 21. It is still not known how many civilians have died since the violence began.