Tajikistan’s justice system has set a disconcerting precedent by jailing an independent reporter for an offense purportedly committed when he was around six years old.
Human Rights Watch in a statement on September 1 decried the two-year sentence handed down to Amindzhon Gulmurodzoda, who was convicted on charges of forgery on August 18.
A court in Dushanbe found Gulmurodzoda, 33, who was formerly a reporter from the Tajik language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, guilty of obtaining falsified birth certificate in 1989. Prosecutors also accused Gulmurodzoda of obtaining a fake passport in 1998.
“The verdict is sending a chill throughout Tajikistan’s journalistic community as yet another example of the crackdown on free speech and independent voices,” Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in the statement.
The jailing fits into a broader pattern of suppression of dissenting or independent voices on Tajikistan’s political and media scenes.
On August 28, the Justice Ministry sent a letter to the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan informing it that it was being abolished over alleged technical violations of legislation on political parties.
Less than two weeks earlier, IRPT’s printing house was closed over claimed health code violations, Interfax news agency reported. The government sanitary standards body said workers had not undergone regular medical checks and were not equipped with uniforms or provided with medical nutrition, as required by law.
Some of Tajikistan’s myth-building is out of this world, but it has really taken that literally this time.
Khovar state news agency reported on September 1 — to mark the post-Soviet-wide “Day of Knowledge” holiday no less — that a "small planet" in the solar system has been named after Tajikistan.
This rare honor was bestowed upon the country by something called the International Astrophysicists Union for contributions made by Tajikistan’s scientists to astrophysics and the study of the heavens, Khovar reported.
A certificate confirming that the planet is definitely real and that it has certainly been named after Tajikistan was handed to President Emomali Rakhmon by the president of the Academy of Sciences, Farhod Rahimi.
Where is the planet? Khovar gives pretty specific coordinates: 250 million kilometers from earth and 436 million kilometers from the sun.
Tajikistan — the planet not the country — orbits the sun once every five years, which is coincidentally equivalent to the term of the country’s parliament. The two Tajikistans are currently at peak proximity, so Tajik scientists are eagerly peering through their telescopes to work out what’s up there, Khovar reported:
“Tajik scientists are studying its physical and chemical composition, as well as the processes taking place on this planet.”
Authorities in Tajikistan have followed through in their mounting campaign against their strongest political opponent by banning the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan.
The statement on August 28 from the Justice Ministry was curt and categorical.
"The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan is no longer a republican party,” the statement said, according to a report carried by state news agency Khovar.
IRPT now has 10 days to wind down operations.
Authorities argue that legislation regulating the operations of political parties mandate that there be representative offices of a party in most cities and district. The Justivce Ministry said IRPT has suspected its activities in 58 cities and districts, meaning it falls short of requirements.
“So it is that IRPT cannot present itself as an all-republican party and hold its congress,” the statement said.
The writing has for months been on the wall for IRPT, the only Islamic party in Central Asia.
On the evening of August 24, officials swooped in on the party headquarters in Dushanbe on the evening of August 24 and ordered the premises to be sealed. 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.
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.
IRPT deputy leader Saidumar Khusaini said at a press conference on August 27 that the party would not be deterred from continuing operations, however.
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.
On August 25, a court in Khatlon province ruled that Oigul Pardaeva and Safargul Hodjaeva conspired to murder and burn the remains of Norgul Azimova, their shared mother-in-law, in circumstances that remain a mystery.
Pardaeva was sentenced to 22 years in jail for the killing, which was committed in December. Hodjaeva got 21 years.
Azimova’s sons, residents of the village of Takhti Sangin, had phoned the police with a missing person report in January. Her charred remains were later found in a river by investigators.
News of the sentencing and the gory death, relayed by Tajikistan’s Asia Plus news agency and other independent outlets, throws up more questions than answers.
For one, what role if any did the sons play? Asia Plus’ report provides few clues, but mentions that Pardaeva’s husband, Dilovar Azimov, was sentenced to two years of correctional labor for bigamy as part of the same case.
Hodjaeva was presumably not Azimov’s second wife as the report refers to their husbands in the plural. But the report does not explain the connection, if there is one, between his bigamy and their murder.
Most importantly, the motive for this ghastly crime is unclear.
The typical kelin, or live-in daughter-in-law is expected to be the epitome of servitude in most rural Central Asian families. Her mother-in-law on the other hand, is a character of unrelenting wickedness, as evidenced by her portrayal in many Central Asian films.
Tajikistan’s war on the wrong clothes looks set to step up a gear as the authorities resolve to crack down on anything they perceive as dangerous, radical Islam.
Asia-Plus website reported that a meeting in Dushanbe on August 19 brought together the mayor, members of parliament, city deputies, police, traders and religious leaders for discussions touching on areas of concern, including the flourishing of radical Islam.
Dushanbe mayor Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev appealed to meeting participants to help combat “displays of religious extremism and terrorism” and for all city residents to assist in the battle.
To that end, Ubaidulloev issued instructions for government officials to put an end to the import and sale of clothes alien to Tajiks. That is typically code for conservative Islamic clothing worn by women, anything from hijabs to the niqab, which covers almost the entire face.
What those clothes might be was also spelled out by President Emomali Rahmon during a Mother’s Day speech in February.
“Since ancient times our people have had beautiful women’s dresses, our girls have never worn black clothes. Traditionally, black clothes are not welcome,” Rahmon told mothers ahead of Mother’s Day, which has replaced International Women’s Day in Tajikistan and is marked on March 8.
State television tried to spice up that message some days after the speech by airing a report telling of prostitutes who use the veil to enhance their appeal.
Police in Tajikistan are busy naming and shaming renegade members of the pop star class, who have somehow managed to accumulate dozens of unpaid fines for driving violations.
Like many cities across the former Soviet Union, Dushanbe has a driving culture straight out of a Fast and Furious movie. Potholed roads encourage swerving at speed. And it is often the city’s well-heeled and privileged that are the worst offenders.
But running red lights and hanging illegal U-turns is riskier than it used to be thanks to the installation of around 1,000 closed-circuit television cameras.
The ‘Safe City’ project, which has been almost completely financed by deep-pocketed neighbor China, has transformed Dushanbe into a surveillance hotspot. Officials claim it has halved the number of traffic accidents.
If the Interior Ministry is to be believed, it seems famous musicians are particularly egregious lawbreakers, and they often ignore the consequences.
As Asia Plus reported on August 13, citing the Ministry’s website:
Popular Tajik pop star Noziyai Karomatullo, driving a Mercedes Benz ML350 (registration number 1234 AT 01) committed 38 traffic violations from November 1, 2013, to August 9, 2015. The singer paid fines totaling 3,160 somoni [roughly $500] that have already been transferred to the state budget. However, fines for another 21 traffic violations remain unpaid.
In a sign of how close the unrest in Afghanistan has crept to Tajikistan, two stray shells flew across the border during a recent bout of fighting, forcing Kabul to issue a blushing apology.
Interfax news agency cited a source in Tajikistan’s military as saying the 82-millimeter shells fell in the Farkhor district, which is situated along a wide section of the Panj River, a water course that straddles the frontier.
“Happily, nobody was injured and we have no objections to raise with Afghanistan. We support their fight to restore stability to the long-suffering land of Afghanistan,” the source told Interfax. No date was specified for when the incident took place.
Dushanbe-based newspaper Asia-Plus quoted Afghan media, which in turn cited an unnamed and high-ranking army source, as saying that security operations have successfully expunged Taliban forces from villages in the border area.
That will provide only scant comfort to Dushanbe, which has been in a state of intense anxiety for some months over the trouble rumbling to the south.
In May, Tajikistan’s Defense Ministry reacted to the worsening situation in Afghanistan’s Kunduz Province by ordering the formation of a secondary defensive line along the border. An official quoted by Asia-Plus said that additional forces and equipment had been dispatched to the southern Khatlon province to make up the numbers.
In an indication of the level of concern, President Emomali Rahmon ordered that reservists be drafted into reinforcing the security presence.
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have in close succession come up with a new punishment for people suspected of involvement with terrorist organizations. If official accounts are anything to go by, however, the authoritarian governments are also trying their hand at less harsh measures to attack the intensely hyped specter of Islamic terror.
Uzbek news website Anons.uz has reported that President Islam Karimov on August 10 signed off on amendments to the law detailing when somebody can be stripped of their citizenship.
Under the revised law, the penalty will now apply if a given person “has caused substantial harm to the interests of society and the state by engaging in activities in the interests of a foreign state or by committing offenses against peace and security.” Crimes against peace and stability are interpreted in Uzbekistan as acts that include incitement to conflict and terrorism, or any other activity related to terrorism and mass murder.
The U.S. Department of Defense-funded regional military propaganda unit Central Asia Online, meanwhile, reports on the purported good cop part of Uzbekistan’s anti-terrorism campaign.
The National Security Council, a body affiliated to the presidential administration, is spearheading a program aimed at “debunking extremist ideology, supporting traditional Islam” and “promoting harmony among members of different faiths.”
That such a unabashedly approving report should appear in a service funded by the U.S. taxpayer is a stark illustration of the profoundly confused nature of Washington’s stance on Uzbekistan.
Two Russian soldiers accused of killing a taxi driver in Tajikistan have gone on trial at a military court inside the base where the men were deployed.
The taxi driver, Rahimjon Teshaboev, was killed in August and ihs body was discovered near a lake with his throat slashed. Two Russian soldiers, Fyodor Basimov and Ildar Sakhapov, were arrested and charged with the crime. Shortly thereafter the two Russians were transferred to Moscow for psychological tests, which Teshaboev's relatives feared was a pretext for letting the men escape justice in Tajikistan.
The case then dropped out of the news until this week, when it emerged that the two men were on trial in Tajikistan, albeit at a military court at Russia's 201st military base, where they had been serving.
The trial is starting at a time of particular controversy in Tajikistan over the legal status of the Russian base and its soldiers, after a street brawl last month involving some drunk Russian soldiers in their underwear caused a local scandal. As is often the case with foreign military bases around the world, the story became a touchstone for discussion about Tajikistan's sovereignty vis-a-vis its massive ally.
It's also an interesting comparison to a far larger controversy in Armenia over a Russian soldier's murder of seven members of a local family. That case got a lot more public attention than the murder in Tajikistan in large part because of the circumstances: the Armenian family was killed randomly and one of the victims was a baby, while in Tajikistan the victim knew the alleged killers, who reportedly owed him money.