The United States has broken its silence over Tajikistan’s obliteration of the Islamic Renaissance Party with an expression of anxiety at the “blanket persecution of all opposition.”
The U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe said in an emailed statement to EurasiaNet.org on September 30 that it is concerned that the government is “limiting the activities” of the IRPT and says it is monitoring the unfolding criminal case against party members.
Authorities have been moving fast against the IRPT – the last credible opposition force left in the country.
The pretext for the final crackdown on IRPT was provided by unrest in early September that the government attributed to an alleged armed uprising by a rebellious former deputy defense minister, Abduhalim Nazarzoda.
Prosecutors have said Nazarzoda acted in collusion with the IRPT. Those accusations were followed by the arrest of 13 members of the IRPT political council on September 13.
On September 29, the Supreme Court ruled to designate the party a terrorist organization at the request of the Prosecutor General’s Office. That decision will force the closure of the IRPT’s official newspaper, Najot, and stands to criminalize thousands of party members.
“Naming [IRPT] a terrorist organization now threatens its 40,000 members across the country with imprisonment," Freedom House executive vice president Daniel Calingaert said in a statement.
In its statement, the U.S. Embassy said it was vitally important to distinguish between peaceful political opposition parties and violent extremists.
“Multiple political parties and choices are an important part of a stable and healthy society,” the embassy said. “Blanket persecution of all opposition will only accelerate the growth of radicalism, as disenfranchised citizens seek other, often more negative ways to express themselves and their views.”
In one of the latest acts of intimidation against IRPT, the party’s lawyer, Buzurgmehr Yorov, was himself detained on charges of fraud on September 28.
“We are concerned by the apparent political motivations behind the government’s decision to charge their legal representative with large-scale fraud,” the U.S. Embassy said in its statement.
Apparent U.S. reluctance to take a position on IRPT earlier earned it criticism from advocacy groups, including Freedom House.
“The United States government has a close relationship with Tajikistan’s security services, providing more than $130 million just in counternarcotics assistance since 2007. Many of the recipients of that assistance are those that will now be hunting down the IRPT,” Calingaert said.
All that notwithstanding, state media in Tajikistan is demonstrating little gratitude for Washington’s restraint.
An op-ed written by Kamar Nurulhakov, head of the contemporary Islam research department at the Presidential Center for Islamic Studies, and published by state news agency Khovar on September 30 implicitly accused the United States, and Britain, of lying behind the recent troubles.
In his piece, Nurulhakov ventured the novel claim that the IRPT was created during the Cold War by the West and the United States as part of a plot to bring down the Soviet Union.
“The party, with the support of foreign powers, made their contribution toward the elimination of the Soviet Union, and today they could play a role in the implementation of the geo-strategic plans of interested parties in Central Asia,” said Nurulhakov.
The web of conspiracy theories offered by Nurulhakov is not always easy to disentangle, but the basic drift is simple.
His piece argues that despite the creation of various Islamic movements since the 18th century – including Wahabbism, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic State – the Arab world has been unable to resist absorption by the Western world.
“And so, nontraditional political and religious groups became the playthings of the big powers, which used them to fulfil their geopolitical goals in the Islamic east,” Nurulhakov wrote.
The article then goes on to link Nazarzoda’s alleged activities with events in neighboring Afghanistan.
“It is interesting that the IRPT general began his rebellion while on that side of the Amu-Darya River there are Islamic State militants that have long wanted to cross over into Tajikistan,” Nurulhakov wrote. “Nazarzoda attempted to worsen the political situation in the country and organize things in such a way that IS militants could enter Tajikistan.”
The culmination of this line of thought is that only one set of actors could be behind these moves.
“And the masters of both these extremist groups can be found in one power with geopolitical interests in Central Asia,” Nurulhakov said. “It is no accident that on the evening of Nazarzoda’s rebellion, certain diplomatic missions closed their doors, as if awaiting something.”
That is an unambiguous reference to the United States and the United Kingdom, who both shuttered their missions on September 4.