Last July, authorities in Tajikistan confiscated the only manuscript of a little-known novelist’s latest book. In what can only be described as an Orwellian sequence, after the manuscript was seized at a Dushanbe printing house, the author was hauled in for interrogation and asked questions like, “who ordered you to write this book?”
Two recent criminal cases concerning Muslim religious leaders promising mystical cures are helping to focus attention in Tajikistan on the phenomenon of faith healing. The cases in question involved a “possessed” teenager who was bled and beaten to death, and a woman who was sexually molested while seeking fertility treatment.
No one in Dushanbe doubted who would win Tajikistan’s presidential election on November 6; most did not expect a free and fair vote. But President Imomali Rahmon’s administration tried to put on a good show.
Authorities in Tajikistan have worked overtime in recent years to discredit the country’s small political opposition, and keep public attention away from politics. But the opposition coalition’s unexpected nomination of prominent human rights advocate Oynihol Bobonazarova has, if nothing else, succeeded in generating buzz during the early days of the presidential election campaign.
Official recognition as a member of the intelligentsia in present-day Tajikistan means lots of perks, including apartments and access to state-funded vacation resorts. In exchange, members – described as the “conscience of the nation” – are expected to support incumbent authorities. But one journalist is kicking up a storm by shining light on intellectual corrosion in the existing system.
Russian politicians and state-controlled media outlets have been taking lots of potshots at Tajikistan lately. Some observers believe the barrage of verbal darts may be a precursor to retaliatory measures by the Kremlin for Dushanbe’s delay in ratifying a military basing agreement.
The concept of term limits seems like a contradiction in terms when it comes to Tajikistan. The Central Asian state’s constitution specifies that the president can serve only two consecutive terms. Yet the incumbent, Imomali Rahmon, has been in office since 1994, and is widely expected to secure another seven-year term when a presidential vote is held in November.
Tajikistan is not a place that sees a lot of protests these days. So it is a cause for wonder when demonstrators spontaneously gather outside the US Embassy and United Nations offices in Dushanbe to air complaints that mirror authorities’ stated views – without facing any serious challenge from law enforcement authorities.