In what has been billed as a historic development, Tajikistan will later this month start stemming the flow of the Vakhsh River as part of construction work on the Rogun mega-dam.
Moscow-based ferghana.ru has reported, citing a source in Tajikistan’s energy sector, that a ceremony to begin diverting the river will be attended by President Emomali Rahmon on October 29.
Construction duties on Rogun were earlier this year assigned to Italian company Salini Impregilo. It is estimated that the project will cost $3.9 billion to complete, although it is far from clear where Dushanbe is to source such a vast quantity of funds.
The website cites energy industry insiders as saying that work on the Vakhsh River will not affect existing hydroelectric facilities downstream.
Salini Impregilo explained the purpose of diverting the Vakhsh — as well as how it will be done — in its project page on Rogun.
“The diversion of the Vakhsh River … will be done with confluence of two diversion tunnels in a mountainside in order to keep the foundations of the dam dry. It is a very complex task that, because of the strength of the river, will only be able to be done during the winter months when the mountains are covered in snow and the water level is lower,” the company said on its website.
The project is broken down into four components, with the most expensive one involving the building of a 335-meter-high rockfill dam — the tallest in the world — which will entail costs of around $1.95 billion.
China has conducted its first-ever joint bilateral military exercises in Tajikistan, a sign of Beijing's increasing concern about instability in Afghanistan and the capacity of other regional countries to contain it.
The exercise took place in Gorno Badakhshan, the remote eastern end of Tajikistan that borders both Afghanistan and China. Tajikistan's Ministry of Defense reported that the exercise involved 10,000 troops, but that the Chinese contingent was only a "mobile company." A company usually contains 100-200 soldiers, so the Chinese presence was not overwhelming. The exercise reportedly involved armored vehicles, aircraft, and artillery, though it wasn't specified if any of those were Chinese.
Still, the exercise represented yet another step in China's growing military presence in Central Asia. This is the first time that China and Tajikistan have held drills bilaterally in Tajikistan. (Chinese troops did conduct exercises in Tajikistan in 2012, but those were under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and also included other troops from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia.)
“The exercise has shown that servicemen of the two countries are ready to provide support to each other in the fight against international terrorism in case of necessity,” Tajikistan Defense Minister Sherali Mirzo said at the October 24 closing ceremony of the exercise.
Last month, Tajikistan announced that China would build 11 border guard posts along the border with Afghanistan, as well as a border guard training center.
A court in Tajikistan has doubled down of the hunt on the country’s banned Islamic party by sentencing two of its lawyers to more 20 years in jail in a startlingly draconian and unfounded punishment.
The Dushanbe court on October 6 ruled that Buzurgmehr Yorov and Nuriddin Makhamov should serve 23 and 21 years in a penal colony, respectively, after being found guilty of flagrantly trumped-up charges of fraud, inciting hatred and extremism, among other things. Both men will be barred from working as lawyers for five years after their release.
New York-based Human Rights Watch called the trial against the two lawyers, who had attracted the authorities attention after taking up the case of jailed members of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), “politically motivated.”
“The Tajik government is tightening the screws on lawyers it deems trouble, locking up those who represent the opposition, and even those who represent the ones who represent them,” Marius Fossum, Regional Representative at the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, said in a statement distributed by Human Rights Watch. “Each day these lawyers spend behind bars is a disgrace and brings shame on Tajikistan’s judicial system.”
Yorov and Makhkamov took up the cause of representing 13 leading members of the IRPT, whose entire leadership has since been convicted on charges of attempting to topple the government, when no other colleagues had the temerity to take the same risk.
In the days after the arrest of the IRPT leaders, in September 2015, Yorov public complained that one of the jailed men, party deputy leader Saidumar Khusaini had been tortured while in detention.
“At first they offered him a [position in government], but after he refused, they put a bag over his head and started to beat him,” Yorov said.
That kind of vocal representation on behalf of the IRPT did Yorov no favors.
In what looks like a move to tighten the screws yet further in Tajikistan, government officials wishing to travel outside the country are reportedly being required to first seek permission from the presidential administration.
The administration happens to be run by one of President Emomali Rahmon’s daughters, Ozoda Rahmon.
This new rule, which has been reported by news website Tojnews, extends to civil servants in the armed services, diplomats and journalists with state media, among others.
“These instructions were sent to departments in a letter from the office of the president of Tajikistan. The decree requires heads of department to coordinate all their staff’s trips with the presidential apparatus. For this, it is necessary to send a request to the presidential apparatus, and a response will be issued within five days,” Tojnews reported.
Previously, civil servants were granted clearance to leave Tajikistan by the Foreign Ministry. This new arrangement reportedly applies to work and leisure trips alike.
Many Tajik citizens already experience limitations on their right to travel.
For the last couple of years, Tajik students wishing to go abroad could only do so with express permission from the Education Ministry and the security services. The restriction is understood to be a reaction by the authorities to the perception of increased recruitment by terrorist organizations like the Islamic State group. Back in 2015, Rahmon stated that 18 students from Tajikistan had joined Islamic State. No more up-to-date figures are available on the purported recruitment by terror groups.
Any student leaving the country without proper authorization these days runs the risk of expulsion from their place of learning.
Kyrgyzstan’s security services detained the wife of a Tajik opposition figure over the weekend, sparking concern that governments in the region are collaborating to silence one another’s political opponents.
The State Committee for National Security (GKNB) detained Sobir Valiev’s wife, Janet Khamzaeva, for questioning in Bishkek on October 2 in relation to alleged offenses committed by Valiev.
The GKNB said in a statement on October 3 that Valiev had obtained a Kyrgyz passport illegally. Khamzaeva was released close to midnight on condition she remain in the country, according to Kylym Shamy, a rights group coordinating over her case.
The GKNB stated that there was international arrest warrant pending for Valiev, who currently resides in Poland, in relations to charges of “carrying out criminal acts” in Tajikistan.
Tajikistan has in recent years made ample use of Interpol to pursue its political foes, with the leader of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, Muhiddin Kabiri, the most prominent among recent additions to the international policing body’s Tajikistan list of wanted persons.
Unlike Kabiri, however, Valiev’s name does not appear on Interpol’s website, despite his Group-24 opposition movement being billed a “terrorist group” by Dushanbe after it called on Facebook and Russian social media for Rahmon’s overthrow back in 2014.
According to an RFE/RL report, Khamzaeva was only in Kyrgyzstan briefly to see her sick mother, who resides in Bishkek.
When Uzbekistan’s acting president Shavkat Mirziyoyev addressed a joint session of parliament earlier this month, he made a point of saying that his foreign policy priority was to boost relations with regional neighbors.
"We always remain committed to adopting an open, friendly and pragmatic position toward our immediate neighbors — Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan," Mirziyoyev said.
Since even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, leaders in Central Asia have been paying lip service to the notion of fostering fraternal ties in the region, but Mirziyoyev has tentatively lived up to his word in small if meaningful ways so far.
In an apparent start at trying to mend fences, Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov on September 29 visited Tajikistan, where he met with President Emomali Rahmon.
Discussions were confined to what might sound like meaningless generalities anywhere else. For these two countries, however, talk of positive trends in relations, increased trade, revitalized dialogue on trade and economic cooperation and “the importance of maintaining regular political consultations and dialogue at the highest levels” are more than noteworthy.
Rahmon and Karimov’s relationship was fraught by personal enmity, making reaching state-level agreement on a number of thorny sticking points — of which there are many — all the more difficult.
The biggest source of bilateral unease lies in Dushanbe’s determination to build the giant Roghun hydropower plant, which Tashkent has loudly complained will pose a potentially existential risk to its agricultural sector by stemming the flow of a major river.
A middling functionary at the state insurance company in Tajikistan has got the ball rolling on an initiative that may end up with President Emomali Rahmon’s face on what would become the highest-denomination banknotes in circulation.
Writing in national newspaper Tajikistan, Sharif Karim, head of local branch of Tajiksugurt in the town of Shahrinav, suggested that Rahmon have his image included on the heretofore inexistent 1,000 somoni note. (If that bill existed it would be worth $127).
The proposal is fully in keeping with the creeping cult of personality devoted to a president whose priorities have latterly focused on obliterating all opposition to this rule.
In typically effusive and inaccurate fashion, Karimov hailed Rahmon for making Tajikistan and Tajiks famous all around the world, as well as saving the country from certain famine and war. On state media, Rahmon is now referred to on every mention as “the leader of the nation and the founder of peace and unity.”
"On the threshold of Tajikistan’s 25th anniversary of independence it would be a good thing for the country, since a just and wise leader is a gift from God to the nation,” Karimov said.
While Karimov is low in the pecking order, it is in the normal course of things for such proposals to first be aired by relative nonentities so as to create the impression that the impetus for this idea is coming from the grassroots.
Then again, such is the sycophancy of Tajik functionaries that this may just as well be an exercise in self-abasement and greasy pole-climbing.
This is far from the first such exotic suggestion to be aired out loud in Tajikistan, and not all hare-brained proposals get to leave the drafting table.
In yet another fatal motor accident in Tajikistan involving the relative of a top official, the 23-year old son of the deputy prime minister this week crashed his Toyota Camry into a public utilities vehicle, killing two people.
Asia-Plus news website cited an unnamed security source as saying that one of the people killed was Faromuz Saidov’s passenger, a 25-year old woman, and that the other was a city worker. RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, reported that the Toyota was being driven at a high speed when it collided.
Saidov, who is the son of first deputy premier Davlati Saidov, was treated for his injuries at a hospital in Dushanbe.
The sight of expensive cars speeding unimpeded along the main thoroughfares of the capital is not an uncommon one. It is widely whispered that the drivers are more often than not the monied offspring of rich government officials.
Previously, Davlati Saidov served as head of the youth, sport and tourism committee, then was Tajikistan’s ambassador to Japan, later the head of the investment committee and, since 2013, has been first deputy prime minister. Unconfirmed media reports have suggested he is related somehow to President Emomali Rahmon.
The Interior Ministry has promised a fair investigation into the accident, but there are grounds to be skeptical. Similar things have happened before, only for those guilty to walk away scot free.
The president of Tajikistan this week granted a rare reprieve to a jailed member of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party.
As Zarafo Rahmoni told RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, on September 7, the politician was not released as part of an amnesty but is being pardoned outright.
Rahmoni was one — the only female — among the IRPT leadership jailed in 2015 on charges of involvement in an alleged attempted coup last September.
“A few months ago, I wrote a letter to the president of Tajikistan and I was certain that he would listen to the requests of a woman. And so he has pardoned me, for which I am grateful,” the 44-year old Rahmoni said.
Rahmoni said she was in good health but would need some time to recover from her experience in detention. Her activities in the IRPT focused on legal affairs, and she stood for parliament on three occasions.
She was sentenced to two-and-half years in jail for failure to disclose information to the authorities. But in May, news website Tojnews claimed Rahmoni was the only arrested IRPT member to provide evidence against fellow party members. Rahmoni is reported to have stated that she was forced into becoming an IRPT member through threats of violence and that the party was plotting violent acts of insurgency.
In the absence of concrete evidence underpinning such claims, it is unwise to give them excessive credence. It is however important to note that Tajik police and investigators are widely accused by rights groups of using torture, intimidation tactics and threats against family members as ways of extorting confessions. Female suspects are said to face threats of rape while in custody.
Tajikistan’s hunt against the opposition took a grim turn this week with the disappearance of the wife and son of the jailed deputy leader of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party, or IRPT.
This reported development follows an article published on the IRPT website on August 18 alleging Mahmadali Hayit had been severely beaten in prison and was pleading to see his relatives.
“Hayit asked to see his lawyers or his family, but the request was rejected. Afterward, he asked for a paper and pencil to write a complaint, after which he was beaten by law enforcement personnel. As a result of the beatings, he has sustained broken arms and legs,” Payom.net reported.
On August 20, Hayit’s wife, Savrinisso Jurayeva announced that the Supreme Court had given clearance for her to meet her spouse for half an hour. Her initial comment was to calm fears about the alleged beatings.
“Everything is normal with him, he wasn’t beaten, he is walking normally, he smiled all the time. He reads all the time. The only pain is in his heart, because of the lack of freedom,” she said.
But the BBC’s Russian service reported on August 22, citing Hayit’s relatives, that a group of people barged its way into the house where Jurayeva lives with her 17-year son Firuz Hayit.
“Several people in civilian clothing used to force to get into Mahmadali Hayit’s apartment, ransacked the place, and then took away his wife and son. They told them that they were taking them away to a precinct of the State Committee for National Security (GKNB). They refused to introduce themselves or show their documents. Nobody knows now where [Hayit’s] wife and son are or what has happened to them,” one relative told the BBC Russian service.