The United States has broken its silence over Tajikistan’s obliteration of the Islamic Renaissance Party with an expression of anxiety at the “blanket persecution of all opposition.”
The U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe said in an emailed statement to EurasiaNet.org on September 30 that it is concerned that the government is “limiting the activities” of the IRPT and says it is monitoring the unfolding criminal case against party members.
Authorities have been moving fast against the IRPT – the last credible opposition force left in the country.
The pretext for the final crackdown on IRPT was provided by unrest in early September that the government attributed to an alleged armed uprising by a rebellious former deputy defense minister, Abduhalim Nazarzoda.
Prosecutors have said Nazarzoda acted in collusion with the IRPT. Those accusations were followed by the arrest of 13 members of the IRPT political council on September 13.
On September 29, the Supreme Court ruled to designate the party a terrorist organization at the request of the Prosecutor General’s Office. That decision will force the closure of the IRPT’s official newspaper, Najot, and stands to criminalize thousands of party members.
“Naming [IRPT] a terrorist organization now threatens its 40,000 members across the country with imprisonment," Freedom House executive vice president Daniel Calingaert said in a statement.
In its statement, the U.S. Embassy said it was vitally important to distinguish between peaceful political opposition parties and violent extremists.
In providing updates to its would-be insurgency and smears of the opposition almost daily, Tajikistan’s government has succeeded mostly in undermining its own credibility.
A dispatch circulated by Khovar state news agency on September 26 reaches new heights of implausibility. The story contends that the alleged renegade deputy defense minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda had plotted his uprising since 2010 in collusion with the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT).
From 2005 onward, Nazarzoda occupied numerous high-ranking positions in the security establishment. Between then and 2007, he served as first deputy commander of the ground forces, and from 2007 to 2014, he headed the Defense Ministry’s military security services. His elevation to deputy defense minister came in January 2014.
Allegations that plotting should have been happening for so long at the highest level is at best an astonishing admission of incompetence by Tajikistan’s security structures. Alternatively, Dushanbe is spinning a yarn in full confidence that nobody within the country, including all the diplomatic stations based there, will dare to question its narrative.
Some details in the latest account are recycled versions of earlier, barely credible, accusations, but there are some new aspects.
Khovar cites prosecutors as saying Nazarzoda teamed up with IRPT leader Mukhiddin Kabiri to create 20 organized crime groups comprising a total of 300 members, who were paid $100 or more each monthly with funds of unknown provenance.
Prosecutors in Tajikistan have accused the leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party of instigating the recent unrest that culminated in dozens of deaths between government troops and loyalists of a former deputy defense minister accused of mounting a rebellion.
It is a dismal epilogue to the political career of Mukhiddin Kabiri, who pursued a liberal and accommodating line in relations with the government, drawing the criticism of those who believed he should have taken more hardline positions.
The Prosecutor General’s office said on September 17 that Kabiri headed 20 small-scale criminal groups and directly supervised their activities. Former defense minister and major-general Abduhalim Nazarzoda, a former member of the armed United Tajik Opposition, was taking his instructions directly from Kabiri, prosecutors said.
“The decision about the armed attack was taken in August 2015 and so for this purpose a large amount of money was funneled through so-called charitable organizations based in a number of countries,” prosecutors said in a statement.
The criminal gang being described by the government faces criminal charges including theft of weapons, ammunition and explosives, murder, hostage-taking, terrorism, threatening law enforcement officers and military personnel, and abuse of official positions.
No Western governments have to date issued any comment on the events unfolding in Tajikistan.
The U.S. State Department released only messages for American citizens warning them to take precautionary measures in the days following September 4. That appeared to serve as tacit confirmation of the official narrative, which has been supported by little actual evidence.
A freeze has been placed on all property belonging to Kabiri and the alleged leaders of the September 4 unrest.
The government in Tajikistan has banned its only viable opposition, driven its leader into exile and linked it to recent violent unrest, thereby leaving it open to grave criminal charges.
With the bulk of its work done in dismantling the Islamic Renaissance Party, the authorities are now busying themselves expropriating the party’s property and goods.
IRPT told EurasiaNet.org that police entered their offices on September 14 and demanded that the safe be opened. Police proceeded to seize 7,000 somoni ($1,100) and the party’s computer archives, an IRPT representative said.
The offices had been sealed and inaccessible to IRPT staff since August 24, when it ordered shut by a Dushanbe court ruling.
The building belonged to Nematullo Saidov, the son of Said Abdulloh Nuri, who founded the IRPT. Prosecutors have said, however, that the property, which was bought by Saidov from a company called Tijorat, was originally acquired by illegal means.
To compound matters, the prosecutor’s office is measuring the premises in what IRPT representatives believe could be the prelude to fresh accusations of the illegal snatching of a few meters of land.
Authorities are also going after property linked to exiled IRPT leader Mukhiddin Kabiri.
Prosecutors and anticorruption officials over the weekend sealed real estate belonging to Kabiri’s relatives. No explanation has been provided for that action.
Other property targeted included the offices of a construction firm belonging to Kabiri’s brother and a paper napkin and toilet paper factory.
“They confiscated a whole array of production equipment, but because these were fastened down, they were unable to carry them away,” an IRPT representative told EurasiaNet.org.
A former leading armed opposition figure, a businessman and a man trusted by President Emomali Rahmon.
Former deputy defense minister and general Abduhalim Nazarzoda was all these things before his sudden and inexplicable transformation into what Tajikistan’s state media have described as a terrorist bent on sowing unrest.
In a television report aired on September 7 on state television, Nazarzoda, who is also widely known by the name Hoji Halim, was depicted as a figure of the criminal underworld. He owns three illegally built dachas in the elite Varzob area outside Dushanbe, a construction business, and severals homes in the capital, the report said. Nazarzoda also has a bakery, expropriated land in Dushabe and illegally privatized a raft of other property across the country.
Nazarzoda was one of the very few remaining former opposition warlords that had managed to hold onto the government positions granted as part of the peace agreement that followed the civil conflict of the 1990s.
He was born to a family of manual laborers on January 1, 1964, in the collective farm settlement of Guliston, in the Rudaki district, near Dushanbe.
He completed his middle school studies in Dushanbe in 1981, and from 1983 he worked at a textile factory in the city. From May 1983 to May 1985, Nazarzoda served in the Soviet army.
After that brief stint in the military, he worked initially as a laborer in a construction company and then, through the year of Tajikistan’s acquisition of independence, as the head of a warehouse facility in Dushanbe.
In 1992, Nazarzoda became an active member of protests rally movement in Dushanbe. His associates have said Nazarzoda, always an eager hunter, took up his rifle to begin waging combat that year and joined the ranks of the armed opposition as a commander.
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.
Imprisoned opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov has been targeted for harsh punitive measures for alleged violations of prison rules, including “speaking ill” of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, his wife told EurasiaNet.org on July 27.
The timing of the punishment could be intended to deny parole eligibility to Kozlov, who is serving a seven-and-a-half year sentence on charges of fomenting fatal violence in western Kazakhstan in 2011 and plotting to overthrow the state.
Aliya Turusbekova told EurasiaNet.org that prison authorities have characterized her husband as a “persistent offender” and transferred him “to a strict-regime cellblock” on July 27.
Kozlov is accused of “threatening the [work] team leader with physical reprisals and speaking ill of the country’s president,” she explained, citing information she received from his lawyer. The change in his status means greater restrictions on telephone calls, visits and parcels, Turusbekova said.
An official at the prison colony in Zarechniy in south-eastern Kazakhstan, where Kozlov is being held, declined to confirm or deny the change in status when contacted by EurasiaNet.org. “We do not give out any information by telephone,” the official said, before hanging up.
Kozlov briefly declared a hunger strike last week in protest at his treatment after he was placed in solitary confinement, the Open Dialog Foundation, a Poland-based human rights watchdog, said on July 21.
The watchdog added that Kozlov is suffering from health problems in jail, where he has been held in cramped conditions and forced to stand for long periods in temperatures approaching 50 degrees Celsius.
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.
Tajikistan’s strongman President Emomali Rahmon has silenced the opposition at home without much of a fight. Abroad, his administration is employing help of Interpol – the avowedly non-political international police organization – to stifle dissident voices.
Acting on an Interpol all-points-bulletin, a so-called red notice, the Finnish authorities detained 31-year-old Sulaimon Davlatov on February 20. A long-time resident of St Petersburg, Russia, Davlatov was travelling to Lithuania when he was seized. The Tajik authorities accuse Davlatov of being a member of the outlawed Group 24 – and, without publicly presenting evidence, of sending citizens to fight in Syria.
Currently, the Interpol website lists 127 red notices for Tajik citizens. Their alleged crimes range from robbery and drug trafficking to terrorism.
Critics say the Interpol system is open to manipulation by authoritarians determined to track down their political rivals. The Warsaw-based Open Dialogue Foundation wrote in a February 24 report: