A court in Tajikistan has sentenced a former minister and fledgling opposition leader to 26 years in prison on charges his supporters say are politically motivated.
The Supreme Court found Zaid Saidov, 55, guilty of fraud, corruption, statutory rape and polygamy, local media reported. In a closed session on December 25, the court ruled that Saidov’s property should be confiscated.
Many saw in the ordeal a blatant attempt to silence a charming reformist, while seizing the assets – involving construction, textiles and real estate – of one of Tajikistan’s wealthiest businessmen. For certain, the case gaged Saidov before the carefully stage-managed presidential election in November, which President Emomali Rakhmon went on to contest without rivals. The OSCE monitoring mission described “a lack of pluralism and genuine choice,” noting "serious problems" with ballot box stuffing, interfering authorities, and a count that "often lacked transparency."
Similar charges are often leveled against Tajikistan’s courts.
Saidov, who came into government as part of a power-sharing agreement with the opposition shortly after Tajikistan’s 1990s civil war, was a controversial figure who built a business empire in a country where that is basically impossible without getting your hands dirty. When he announced the formation of the New Tajikistan Party in March, many thought Rakhmon had backed the former industry minister in an effort to present the appearance of plurality ahead of the election. Dushanbe-based political analyst Parviz Mullojonov believes Saidov was never a serious threat. “Saidov has never been a real opposition figure despite his links to the Islamic Revival Party," Mullojonov told Radio Free Europe. "First and foremost, he was a businessman who pursued his commercial interests."
"He might have political ambitions but he would never go against the government," he says. "Many people even believed that New Tajikistan actually was a government-backed project to gain support for the administration in regions where people traditionally support the opposition."
Others see the paranoid circle around Rakhmon as unwilling to stomach any opposition at all. Also from Radio Free Europe’s story:
Daler Ghufronov, the editor-in-chief of "Elita," a magazine that focuses on prominent Tajik personalities, believes there can be no doubt that the authorities saw Saidov as a threat.
"Saidov wanted reforms but the government is not ready for reforms, so authorities opted for an easy way out: to eliminate reformists," he says. " In my opinion, this is the main reason behind Saidov's arrest."
Some had hoped that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s sudden pardon and release of jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky last week after ten years might inspire Tajikistan’s authorities to be lenient with Saidov. Apparently not. After 21 years in power, it seems, Rakhmon doesn’t feel that confident.