Developments put into motion this week are setting the stage for Tajikistan’s irreversible transformation into an autocracy where all power is concentrated in the hands of the president.
On May 22, the country is to hold a referendum to approve amendments to the Constitution that will allow President Emomali Rahmon to run for office indefinitely. Since elections are but a mere formality, the change will in effect allow Rahmon to become a president-for-life.
The existing Constitution limits the president to a two-term limit, but Rahmon is being exempted under the newly enshrined Leader of the Nation title.
Asia-Plus news website reported that the referendum date will be confirmed in parliament on February 10. The legislature is overwhelmingly dominated by the ruling National Democratic Party, while the other deputies all belong to pocket opposition parties.
A few other provisions are envisioned. Amendments to Article 28 of the Constitution, which regulates the creation of political parties, will bar the formation of parties on a religious or atheist basis. That could potentially presage not just the return in a different form of a party built from the ashes of the banned Islamic Renaissane Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), but even the toothless Communist Party, which has two seats in the lower house of parliament.
The role of parties is in any case to be devalued in accordance with a change to Article 1 of the Constitution, which will, once the referendum is approved, designate Tajikistan as a presidential system, according to a draft seen by EurasiaNet.org.
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.
A court in Tajikistan has jailed yet another top opposition figure — a member of Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan’s leadership council, Jaloliddin Mahmudov.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik service said Mahmudov was sentenced on July 20 to five years in a maximum security jail by the Hissor district court for the illegal trade and possession of weapons.
Mahmudov has for several years served as IRPT’s representative on the central election commission. He was detained in February, some three weeks before the parliamentary elections.
IRPT lost the only two seats it had in parliament in that vote, which was roundly condemned by international monitors. The party described Mahmudov’s arrest at such an important juncture for its fate as a politically motivated move.
With its leader fearing to return home for fear of prosecution and another leading party light now behind bars, IRPT looks more than ever like a spent force inside Tajikistan.
Other political figures placed behind bars in Tajikistan in recent times include:
- Maqsood Ibragimov, a Russia-based opposition activist who was earlier this month sentenced to 17 years in jail on extremism charges;
- Zaid Saidov, a former minister-turned-government foe sentenced to 26 years in prison in 2013 on charges of fraud, corruption, statutory rape and polygamy;
A court in Tajikistan has sentenced an opposition activist to 13 years in jail as the authorities continue to pursue an indiscriminate campaign to stifle all dissent.
The sentencing of Maqsood Ibragimov, 37, which has so far been reported only by France-based human rights activist Nadezhda Atayeva, brings a close to an episode that highlights the extent to which the Tajik government is going to silence its critics.
Ibragimov must have thought his Russian passport and self-imposed exile status in Moscow would keep him safe, but that was not to be.
He began attracting unwanted attention after founding the "Youth for the Revival of Tajikistan" opposition movement last year.
In October, Dushanbe demanded he be handed over to face charges of extremism, which is how it characterises the political activities of staunch government critics.
That same month, Ibragimov was stabbed by an unknown assailant near his home in Moscow. It might have been worse. The handgun that was found on the site of the attack seems to have malfunctioned.
Quite how Ibragimov actually ended up in Tajikistan is subject of confused accounts.
In the latest version outlined by Atayeva on July 15, Ibragimov was confronted in January outside a prosecutor’s office in Moscow by a group of unknown people, who proceeded to confiscate his Russian passport. He was later taken to an airport and flown to Dushanbe. Atayeva said Ibragimov was tortured and forced to confess that he had returned to Tajikistan of his own will.
There is an interesting piece posted recently on Foreign Policy’s website that highlights how authoritarian-minded leaders in Eurasia are becoming adept at leveraging thuggish behavior.
The article, titled “The League of Authoritarian Gentlemen,” is written by Alex Cooley, a Central Asia specialist at Columbia University. It examines the ways in which Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan have used the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to stifle dissent.
You might imagine that Astana would want to keep off the world stage amid the international outcry over an ongoing bid to extend the rule of Kazakhstan's Leader of the Nation.
But fresh from steering his country through the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – during which he fondly reiterated Astana's commitment to the OSCE’s democratic values – Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev is heading to the United States, which has been a vociferous critic of the bid to prolong the rule of President Nursultan Nazarbayev to 2020 (by which time he’ll have been in power for three decades) by referendum.
During his three-day trip, which gets under way January 24, he'll be meeting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with whom he shared a podium at a press conference at the OSCE summit in Astana in December. The two described to journalists how they’d discussed Kazakhstan’s commitment to democratization, which now looks somewhat ironic as the bid to keep Nazarbayev in office until the age of 80 steamrolls ahead.