It’s never a good time to be an opposition figure in Tajikistan. But this election year looks particularly dangerous.
Unknown assailants attacked the deputy head of the country’s main opposition party, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), outside his home on Friday night, said a colleague.
“Some people attacked him, cruelly beat him and ran away. Relatives saw Mahmadali Hayit, who had lost a lot of blood, and called an ambulance. Now he’s hospitalized at the National Medical Center,” IRPT press secretary Hikmatulloh Saifullohzoda – himself brutally beaten two years ago by unidentified men outside his home – told Dushanbe's Asia-Plus news agency. Saifullohzoda believes the attack is related to Hayit’s political work.
The IRPT has not said whether it will field a candidate in presidential elections scheduled for November. Though incumbent President Emomali Rakhmon has not said he will run, and some challenge the legality of a run, few expect the strongman, who has served as head of state since 1992, to step aside.
The IRPT, with two seats, is the only opposition party in the country’s 63-seat legislature. With power so jealously guarded by Rakhmon and his loyalists, the party faces all sorts of trouble – from the mundane to the violent.
In January, party leader Muhiddin Kabiri lost a libel suit in a Dushanbe court after criticizing the capital’s mayor for cutting down too many trees. He was ordered to apologize.
Last year, during a military operation in the remote east, one IRPT leader was killed under mysterious circumstances. Another is being held and tried behind closed doors on charges related to organizing unrest during the military operation.
Authorities often use fears of radical Islam to harass the IRPT – the only legally registered Islamic party in Central Asia – targeting members and their meetings. Government critics urge caution, saying the party gives Muslims a moderate outlet for discussion and that pushing members underground could lead to radicalization.
It’s not only the IRPT facing trouble this election year. On March 15, Salimboy Shamsiddinov, the leader of Tajikistan’s minority ethnic Uzbek community, disappeared shortly after throwing his weight behind another Rakhmon rival, Rahmatillo Zoirov, and reportedly encouraging Uzbeks to vote for Zoirov. He's been missing since. Last year, Shamsiddinov was beaten in broad daylight outside the local offices of the national security committee – known colloquially by its Soviet-era initials, KGB.
Rakhmon’s administration has also reached further afield in recent months. Authorities are trying to extradite from Dubai a critic who formed an opposition movement last year, citing embezzlement charges. On April 5, an attempt to have a former premier extradited failed when a Ukrainian court turned down a request from Dushanbe.
All this leaves the impression that someone thinks Rakhmon has something to fear.