IRPT deputy leader Saidumar Khusaini speaks at a press conference in the capital of Tajikistan, Dushanbe, on August 27, 2015.
Authorities in Tajikistan stand accused of resorting to all means possible to prevent the only vaguely credible opposition force, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, from holding a general conference.
Officials swooped in on IRPT’s headquarters in Dushanbe on the evening of August 24 and ordered the premises to be sealed, leaving the party homeless. That has forced the party to relocate their base to the home of its leader, Muhiddin Kabiri, who is living in self-imposed exiled in Istanbul.
The official explanation for the closure of the offices was the the building is embroiled in an alleged long-term ownership disagreement. Authorities maintain that the premises are registered to a company called Tijorat, which it says acquired the real estate illegally.
The offices were closed so hastily that large amounts of personal property belonging to members, including a car, could not be retrieved.
“We hope that the office really is sealed and that nobody dares to go inside. But there is a fear that they will something there that didn’t actually belong to us,” said IRPT deputy leader Saidumar Khusaini.
Pressure against IRPT has been mounting and systematic. A branch of the party in the northern Sughd province was closed in July after what the government said were thousands of appeals to the Justice Ministry. A series of videos posted online featured party members suddenly announcing their intent to resign their membership. IRPT representatives say the members were acting under pressure from regional officials.
Efforts by the party to explain its plight at a press conference at the Sheraton Hotel in Dushanbe on August 27 ran into problems before the event could even begin. Twenty minute before the briefing began, management from the U.S.-owned hotel announced they had to cancel because of a power failure.
Journalists were then barred from entering the premises by security guards, but could all the same see that lights inside the building were blazing away.
Khusaini, who later spoke at an improvised press conference at a private property, said the party would not be deterred from continuing operations.
“There have been violations of our rights. But in the last few months this has taken on an awful flavor,” he said.
Khusaini said regional party offices have also been forcible closed in the city of Kulyab and in the Jaloliddin Rumi district in the southern Khatlon region.
IRPT has been a vibrant counterpoint to the government’s near-monopolistic grip over public discourse since the end of the civil war of the 1990s, so the question that arises is what has provoked the crackdown of late.
Khusaini said the party has posed more of perceived threat to the authoritarian government since 2006, when Kabiri took over leadership and ushered in a more dynamic style. Local observers and diplomats alike hailed the IRPT’s outreach-oriented campaigning style for the 2010 parliamentary election, which saw them still only win two seats. International observers determined that the vote was marred by rampant fraud, which watchers of the political scene explained the relative failure of a party that had accrued a genuinely broad following.
“Maybe the fact that IRPT became a real rival to the government is why they are doing what they are doing,” Khusaini said.
But this spring, IRPT was shut out of parliament for the first time in a vote that was again reportedly marred by fraud and government intimidation.
In June, state-run newspaper Jumhuriyat published a tirade accusing Kabiri, the IRPT leader, who was out of the country at the time, of breaking the law during a property transaction 16 years ago. Kabiri took the article as a clear warning and avoiding returning to the country for fear of falling prey to the kind apparently politically motivated charges that have seen other opposition representatives end up in jail for lengthy sentences.
IRPT’s political council has demanded that it offices be reopened in short order and that the party be allowed to pursue its activities in line with the constitution. Those include plans to hold its 12th general assembly sometime in mid-September.
The prospects look bleak, however, as even IRPT was forced to admit in a printed statement released to journalists on August 27.
“Any government body can, just with a verbal order from above, close the doors of any political party,” the statement said.
Tajikistan’s opposition forces remain pathologically averse to calling for public protests, and IRPT looks disinclined to break from that practice.
“The leadership has no plans yet to hold any demonstrations or protest actions. We still believe in reason, and hope that we are granted the space in which to hold our assembly,” Khusaini said.