With an eye, no doubt, on upcoming parliamentary elections in Tajikistan, authorities are trying to choke off revenue streams that can benefit Muhiddin Kabiri, the leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party, the leading opposition force in the impoverished Central Asian state. On April 21, a court in Tursunzoda, about 37 miles west of the capital Dushanbe, ruled that the state should confiscate a market belonging to Kabiri. The judge said the property had been illegally privatized 15 years ago. In a statement on its website, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) called the ruling “politically motivated.”
Earlier in April, as it became clear the property would be confiscated, the weekly Nigoh newspaper described “a process that is aimed at weakening the Tajik opposition financially” and reported that “approximately 10 companies” belonging to Kabiri’s relatives are being inspected by order of Tajikistan’s security services. Kabiri acknowledges six. The opposition “is about to be completely deprived” of its income sources, the April 9 article said.
“The government’s policy is to economically weaken its political opponents. The government is overestimating [our power], that’s why it is taking such measures,” Kabiri told EurasiaNet.org in a recent interview.
The pressure is not only economic. Two IRPT leaders were detained on April 15. Saodatsho Adolatov, head of the party in Badakhshan, was arrested and later charged with creating an “atmosphere of mutual hatred.” Adolatov (whose predecessor was murdered) faces 12 years in prison. The same day, the head of the Isfara party branch, Abdumannon Sodikov, was detained for allegedly trying to bribe a police officer. Kabiri called the episode a “setup.” In January, a party member in Isfara died in police custody under mysterious circumstances.
“Because this is a year of preparation for parliamentary elections, the pressure has increased,” Kabiri said. Elections are due in January or February.
The IRPT, Tajikistan’s second-largest party, is the only Islamic party in Central Asia that is allowed to legally operate. As part of a peace deal that ended Tajikistan’s civil war in the 1990s, the IRPT gained 30 percent of government positions. But since then, though its support is believed to be growing, it has gradually lost its influence within government and now holds only two seats in parliament’s 63-seat lower house. Tajikistan has never held elections judged free and fair by independent observers.
Reports attributing crimes to party members regularly appear on state television. For example, last autumn a report about the murder of an eight-year-old boy was shown on the state-run children’s television station and attributed to an IRPT member. The IRPT denies the suspect is a party member.
The anti-IRPT onslaught has included videos spread by social-networking sites purporting to show members engaging in extramarital affairs, including a sexual encounter between two men. More recently, on April 24 a report broadcast by state television linked the party to the civil war in Syria and Islamist radicals.
The deputy head of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDPT), which is not represented in parliament, told EurasiaNet.org that nowadays, when a person commits a crime, state media outlets tend to pay attention to the individual’s party affiliation instead of the nature of the crime. Crimes committed by members of the president’s ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDPT) are rarely discussed by state media.
“But if a crime is committed by [the PDPT’s] political opponents, it is widely discussed in mass media and sometimes, violating the principle of presumption of innocence, suspects are presented as criminals without a court decision,” SDPT Deputy Head Shokirdjon Hakimov said.
Usmon Soleh, a spokesman for the president’s party, insisted on April 21 that accusations against IPRT members are based on facts. “People think if a person is a member of this party [IPRT], he’s a supporter of Islam and knows Islam well. But when he does something wrong, he spoils the name of Islam and people need to be warned,” Soleh told EurasiaNet.org. He went on to dismiss allegations that his own party does not investigate crimes within its ranks.
Though opposition activists always have had to grapple with pressure coming from incumbent authorities, many believe long-serving strongman Emomali Rakhmon long tolerated the IRPT to provide his country with a thin veneer of democracy that he could use to blunt potential Western criticism. But he has never allowed free and fair elections, ensuring that opposition representation in parliament is insignificant.
In recent months, Rakhmon seems increasingly intolerant. During last year’s presidential campaign, when Tajik officials are traditionally jumpy, opposition leader Zaid Saidov was arrested on a variety of charges, including polygamy, that his supporters say were politically motivated. Shortly after the ceremonial vote guaranteeing Rakhmon another seven-year term, Saidov, who is seen as sympathetic to the IRPT, was found guilty, sentenced to 26 years in prison and had his property seized. Last month, Saidov’s lawyer was arrested on what are seen as fabricated charges.
After Saidov’s conviction, Tajikistan’s most prominent religious leader, Haji Akbar Turajonzoda, a supporter of the IRPT, reportedly sold a market he owned. Turajonzoda, some speculate, fears his property could be targeted next.