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.
Uzbekistan is relishing its best ever performance in an Olympic Games after some last-minute sporting victories handed the team an extra two gold medals.
The country’s haul of medals — four golds, two silver and seven bronze — put it ahead of Central Asian rival Kazakhstan and was helped in large part by its contingent of boxers. A stunning seven out of the 13 medals won by Uzbekistan came from boxing.
The first boxer to claim gold was light flyweight Hasanboy Dusmatov, who beat Colombia's Yuberjen Herney Martinez Rivas in the final of their category.
Uzbek state television broadcast a report from Dusmatov’s hometown in the Andijan region, where family and friends were watching the match. The boxer’s father said that although he family was confident Dusmatov would get the gold, they were affected by the nerves of the big Olympic occasion. Dusmatov’s could not bear to watch the broadcast and instead waited out the fight in another room.
But the best was left for last.
On the final day of competitions, Shakhobidin Zoirov won the men's Olympic flyweight boxing gold with a points victory over Russian Misha Aloyan. Later in the afternoon, Fazliddin Gaibnazarov edged out Azerbaijan's Cuban-born Lorenzo Sotomayor with a split 2-1 decision.
This last victory caught many by surprise. Sotomayor struck easily the more impressive figure with his height, long arms and confident strut.
Gaibnazarov’s win was all the more sweet for his underdog status and social media in Uzbekistan was accordingly set alight by the result.
Uzbekistan’s last Olympic gold for boxing came in the Sydney Games of 2000, courtesy of Mahammatkodir Abdullaev in the light welterweight category.
Abdullaev was one of the first to comment on Gaibnazarov’s achievement, saying that the whole country had cried with joy at the win.
A series of alleged tapped telephone conversations among senior Tajikistan diplomats discussing plans to cover up a purported rape in Turkmenistan is threatening to sour relations between the otherwise friendly nations.
The recordings appeared earlier this month on a 20-minute YouTube video edited clumsily to appear to like a news report on Turkmen state television. A link to the video — the origin of which is uncertain — is now being widely shared by exiled Tajik opposition groups, which are pointing to the claimed incident as evidence of moral corruption among officials.
None of the recordings could be independently verified and none of the governments involved have commented officially on the alleged events described.
The narrator of the YouTube video, whose voice has been distorted, possibly to disguise his identity, opens the account with praise for Turkmenistan and its leader, only to note “there are some who are prepared to do almost anything to spoil relations with our country” — a reference to Tajik diplomats.
The speaker claims in the narration that the third secretary of Tajikistan’s Embassy in Turkmenistan, Golibshoh Kayumov, was earlier this year detained by police in the city of Chardjou on suspecting to rape a minor earlier this year.
As supporting evidence, there is a lengthy recorded telephone conversation between people identified as Tajik Embassy second secretary, H. Rahimov, and then-ambassador Mahmudjon Sobirov. After some initial pleasantries, Rahimov explains to this superior that Kayumov was caught in flagrante delicto with the young girl and was later forced to sign a statement admitting to having sexual relations with her.
Police in Tajikistan have taken to drawing up lists of women known to wear the hijab in a fresh measure to combat signs of what they perceive as excess Islamic piety.
Asia-Plus news last week cited the head of police in the northern city of Khujand, Emin Jalilov, as saying that raids have been mounted in markets with the aim of maintaining security and upholding national customs. That translates in practical terms to clamping down on any clothing deemed suggestive of radical Islamic beliefs.
“During raids we found that at 38 retail points in the city there were saleswomen wearing (veils),” Jalilov said.
Jalilov noted with regret that many bazaar directors are failing to clamp down on the phenomenon.
“At the moment, the city police has a list of 643 women that wear the hijab. Of those, 513 are residents of the city. These neighborhoods are under the close supervision of the police,” he said.
Authorities are always eager to stress that the threat is not hypothetical but real.
As Jalilov noted, 30 residents of Khujand have been detained on suspicion of associating with radical and terrorist Islamic groups so far this year. At least 245 members of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir group and 226 followers of the Salafi movement have been recorded in Khujand, he said. Most of those have received criminal sentences of some kind.
These figures are of questionable value, however, given how arbitrarily police and courts assign membership status in underground groups to anybody they deem even mildly suspicious. True membership or affiliation figures may be much smaller, or for that matter, much greater.
A high-ranking member of a banned opposition party in Tajikistan jailed for purportedly masterminding the hoisting of an Islamic State flag in his town has died in prison, Ozadagon news website has reported.
Ozadagon reported on August 16 that Kurbon Mannonov, who was head of the local branch of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan in the town of Nurek, died at detention facility (SIZO) NO. 1 in Dushanbe overnight. At the time of his sentencing, in February, Mannonov was 73 years old.
Ozadagon cited sources in the IRPT as saying that Mannonov had recently complained of ill-health and bleeding.
A couple of cases involving Islamic State flags over the past year have revealed the new depths being probed by the arch-paranoid government as it seeks to crush all those opposed to its rule. Tajikistan’s Western partners have registered only mute condemnation of the regime embrace of outright authoritarian practices and the United States continues to lavish the government with security assistance.
The Khatlon regional court in February sentenced Mannonov and 12 others to jail terms between 10 and 25 years for putting up the terrorist group’s distinctive black flag. Formally, the group was charged with membership in a criminal organization, public calls for the overturning of the constitutional order and extremist activity.
The group was arrested in August, just as the authorities were beginning to ratchet up their pressure against the IRPT, which has since been banned.
Barely day passes at Tajikistan’s most troubled bank without some grim or bizarre news.
At the start of the week, Firdavs Berdiyev, the would-be fugitive deputy chairman of Tajikistan’s troubled Tojiksodirotbank, resurfaced to give interviews to local media about his whereabouts and plans.
As people close to Berdiyev told EurasiaNet.org last week, the banker has said he is on an international tour in search of potential investors to Tajikistan.
Speaking to Asia-Plus, Berdiyev said that he was in New York looking for people willing to put money into Tojiksodirotbank and its daughter company, the Development Bank of Tajikistan.
“It is indispensable that we attract cheap and long-term resources (ie. funds) and to settle things with our account-holders. I and (Tojiksodirotbank part owner and former chairman) Tojidin Pirzoda have already been in Saudi Arabia, China, Kazakhstan and Russia. I myself was in Moscow for a week and met with bankers there. After that I flew to Europe and from there to New York, where I am holding talks with representatives of American banks,” Berdiyev said, adding that he planned to return to Dushanbe on August 25.
Berdiyev insisted that he was allowed to leave the country unimpeded and that he informed Tojiksodirotbank temporary administration of his plans.
These remarks are transparently addressed at constantly rumbling rumors that the authorities might at some stage initiate legal proceedings against the banks’s management over its chronic insolvency issues.
There are more rumblings of discontent at Tajikistan’s doomed Tojiksodirotbank.
Online news outlet TojNews reported on August 11 that deputy chairman Firdavs Berdiyev had fled the country to Switzerland.
There are a few theories circulating about Berdiyev’s flight, according to the website. One is that he has made himself scarce for fear of being made target of criminal investigation, possibly over the bank’s slow-motion meltdown. Another is that he has left in a mutual agreement with the bank’s management.
Workers at Tojiksodirotbank, which is the country’s second largest lender, say Berdiyev was suspended from his post before his departure, TojNews reported.
Tojiksodirotbank has declined to comment on the report, leaving the banker’s whereabouts in doubt.
Meanwhile, people in Berdiyev’s inner circle have told EurasiaNet.org that he is currently in New York, supposedly in talks to drum up investment in Tojiksodirotbank and a daughter institution of the bank from New York-based Citibank.
“Berdiyev is the deputy chairman and deals with investments,” the source close to the banker told EurasiaNet.org. “In relation to this position, he has spent the last month and a half on business trips. He has been in Moscow and in European countries, and now he is in the United States. On [August] 20, he should be back in Dushanbe. If he wanted to flee, he would have taken out his family first, but all his relatives are still in Dushanbe. The rest of the management at Tojiksodirotbank is also in Tajikistan.”
Then again, what interest Citibank could possibly have in investing in a deeply indebted bank halfway across the world in the former Soviet Union’s poorest economy is anybody’s guess.
The end of a trial this week in Tajikistan has again highlighted the ongoing campaign against outward displays of pious Islamic behavior and the anger it is provoking.
A court in Dushanbe this week sentenced 18 residents of the town of Roghun — site of the planned giant hydroelectric dam — to jail terms of between three-and-a-half and 10 years. The charge appears to have been for “calling for the forcible overthrow of the government.”
RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, reported that the defendants were aged between 20 and 35.
The arrests were carried out in March and sparked an immediate backlash from residents of the Firdavsi district, who picketed the police station. This rare impromptu rally inspired an official statement of remarkable Orwellian linguistic truth-bending.
“None of the close relatives of the detained or witnesses gathered at the police station in the Firdavsi district since unsanctioned meetings are banned under the laws of Tajikistan, and the people are aware of this,” the Interior Ministry said at the time.
Relatives had told reporters that the men were detained at a local mosque for displaying Salafist behavior. Among the reported detainees were an imam for the village of Kalai Nav and a doctor. Asia-Plus reported that there were two imams among those convicted.
Salafist behavior can imply any number of things, from style of praying and dietary choices to dress and the adoption of beards.
An Interior Ministry press officer at the time was clear about the consequences for anybody perceived to be a Salafist.
Tajikistan’s General Prosecutor is considering prosecution for a Russian journalist for “inciting ethnic hatred” over an article that mocked the country and its president.
Sergei Ponomaryov’s piece in Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda about a visit to Tajikistan was published last month and featured numerous crude stereotypes. The article has already led to the shuttering of the local edition of the newspaper, which had a circulation of 5,000 in Tajikistan.
Likely most troubling for authorities in Dushanbe, however, was the fact that the article reveled among other things in ribald observations about President Emomali Rahmon. A concerted exercise in personality cult building has made Rahmon, who is alluded to exclusively in state media as the “Leader of the Nation,” off-limits to any critics.
Asia-Plus website cites General Prosecutor Yusuf Rahmon as saying Ponomaryov’s article, which was sarcastically titled “Tajikistan: Out of the Soviet Waste to a Bright Future,” will be studied for evidence of incitement to interethnic hatred.
The piece was certainly patronizing and insulting. Ponomaryov bases some of his caustic observations on a pair of Tajik characters from a popular Russian sketch show, Nasha Russia.
“On the plane from Moscow to the ancient city of Khujand, the capital of northern Tajikistan and the second city in the country, mine was the only Slavic countenance. The rest was straight-up Ravshan and Jamshuds,” he wrote.
The Nasha Russia characters are a pair of Tajik migrant laborers distinctive for their primitiveness and stupidity.
The chiefs of staff of the armed forces of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, and Tajikistan watch military exercises in Urumqi. (photo: Inter Services Public Relations)
Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, and Tajikistan have set up a "Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism" to jointly combat terrorism, further advancing security cooperation between the unlikely group of countries.
The chiefs of general staffs of the four armed forces met in Urumqi, China, on Wednsday and announced the formation of the mechanism, which will coordinate efforts on "study and judgment of counter terrorism situation, confirmation of clues, intelligence sharing, anti-terrorist capability building, joint anti-terrorist training and personnel training," according to a joint statement by the four sides.
Recall that when this idea was first publicly broached in March, Russian analysts reacted with some alarm, calling it a "Central Asian NATO" representing an unprecedentedly bold move by China into Central Asian security while excluding Russia. (Some Russian media then blamed this blog for fomenting discord between China and Russia by reporting on those analysts' comments.) Thus far there seems to be no further comment from the Russian government or press on this development.
The four representatives also observed a Chinese military exercise at Korla. "Exercise encompased a very effective neutralization of a terrorists' base in a remote mountainous region employing all the modern aerial and ground equipment and gadgets. [Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan] appreciated [the People's Liberation Army] troops for their skills and enhanced abilities to counter all categories of terrorism," according to a Pakistani military press release.