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:
The only question to ask about Tajikistan’s upcoming parliamentary elections is whether the authorities will allow any opposition parties to win seats in the rubber-stamp body. A victory for the president’s party is guaranteed. But, just in case, authorities are making it almost impossible for anyone else to run.
Eight parties are fielding 288 candidates to contest 63 seats in parliament’s lower house on March 1. Tajikistan has never held an election judged free and fair by impartial observers.
During the previous election, in 2010, President Emomali Rakhmon’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) won 55 of the 63 seats. The only opposition party to enter parliament, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), won just two seats. The other seats went to members of the loyal opposition—parties that bestow on Tajikistan the trappings of democracy, but kowtow to the president.
For starters, the Central Electoral Committee disqualified over half of the IRPT’s 160 proposed candidates – including Rakhmon’s former math teacher – on the grounds they allegedly failed their mandatory Tajik language test. Meanwhile, the State Television and Radio Committee blocked the IRPT’s attempt to air their promotional videos on television. An official explained to Asia Plus that the studio that produced the clips is not registered.
Yet another dissident who has angered Tajikistan’s authorities now languishes in prison.
Maqsood Ibragimov, the 37-year-old head of the Russia-based opposition movement "Youth for the Revival of Tajikistan," was arrested in Moscow on January 20 and promptly appeared in a Tajik prison.
A rights activist who spoke with Ibragimov after his arrest wrote that five men entered Ibragimov’s Moscow apartment dressed as members of Russia’s migration service. On January 30, the Tajik prosecutor general’s office confirmed to Radio Ozodi that Ibragimov had indeed been extradited on charges of extremism. It did not explain how he got home.
Dushanbe had been pursuing Ibragimov since he established the movement last October. At the request of the Tajik government, Russian authorities arrested him in November. But as a dual Russian national, he was released. According to France-based human rights activist Nadezhda Atayeva, the Russian authorities then forced him to relinquish his citizenship. Then followed the detention and extradition in January. (Meanwhile, in late November, an unidentified assailant stabbed Ibragimov in Moscow.)
Ibragimov’s arrest appears to be part of a pattern, whereby the hypersensitive government of strongman Emomali Rakhmon accuses critics of “extremism” and uses the servile judiciary to lock them up.
An exiled Tajik opposition leader who heads a group Dushanbe classifies as “extremist” has reportedly been detained in Turkey.
Umarali Quvvatov’s wife told RFE/RL’s Tajik service December 20 of a raid on the family’s Istanbul home the day before. She said his passport and computers were confiscated and a group of guests was also detained. Turkish officials have not commented.
Quvvatov is a former oil trader and business partner of Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon’s son-in-law. He now heads the anti-government and social media-savvy Gruppa 24. Though it appears to have little popular following at home in Tajikistan, the group of exiles has made authorities edgy in recent months.
This is the second time Quvvatov has been nabbed by a foreign government, likely at Dushanbe’s request. In December 2012 he was arrested in Dubai on accusations of mass fraud raised by the Rakhmon regime before being released without explanation in September 2013. Quvvatov calls the charges politically motivated.
Quvvatov has applied for asylum in Turkey. Nadejda Atayeva, France-based leader of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, has called on Ankara to respect the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (CRSR). Steve Swerdlow of Human Rights Watch told EurasiaNet.org that HRW “is closely following the situation.”
The man convicted of ordering the murder of an opposition leader eight years ago is to be released on parole, a court in Astana has ruled. The decision raises, yet again, questions about the judiciary’s independence.
Yerzhan Utembayev will be released after serving eight years of his sentence over the brutal killing of Altynbek Sarsenbayev, an opposition leader and former government minister, in 2006, Tengri News reports.
Sarsenbayev’s brother, Rysbek Sarsenbay, had asked the court not to release Utembayev, claiming that he is concealing the names of those really responsible for the murder. “We want those who are really guilty to be exposed and convicted,” Sarsenbay said. But his arguments fell on deaf ears.
At his trial in 2006, Utembayev – who originally confessed to contracting the murder, but later recanted – was jailed for 20 years after being found guilty of hiring a hitman to kill Sarsenbayev for $60,000 in revenge for a newspaper article making unflattering revelations about him.
The trial found that Utembayev (who was at the time was head of the Senate secretariat) contracted Rustam Ibragimov, a former Interior Ministry officer, who set up a death squad comprising rogue members of elite Kazakhstani anti-terrorism units, which kidnapped Sarsenbayev and two aides and delivered them to Ibragimov, who killed the three men.
A band of treacherous radicals will swoop into Tajikistan’s capital and seize power tomorrow at 3 p.m.—at least that’s what senior government officials seem to fear. To thwart their nefarious plans, prosecutors are visiting schools, telling children to avoid provocations; someone in government has shut down a bunch of Internet sites; and with a straight face the nation’s highest court has branded the hazy, little-known Facebook group terrorists.
Last weekend, Group 24, as the proto-opposition movement is known, called on Facebook for supporters to gather in one of Dushanbe’s main squares on October 10 and demand free elections and an end to the rule of long-serving strongman Emomali Rakhmon. Within hours, dozens or possibly hundreds of websites including Facebook and YouTube became inaccessible. Authorities would not say why. Instead, riot police closed off a large patch of Dushanbe, the capital, and, in a rare show of police strength, dispersed a mob – actors they’d brought in for the occasion, as it later turned out.
On October 8, the Interior Ministry deployed armored personnel carriers at entrances to the city. Ministry officials say the troop movements – which are anything but routine – are related to the president’s trip to a CIS Summit in Belarus.
A court in Tajikistan has sentenced a former minister and fledgling opposition leader to 26 years in prison on charges his supporters say are politically motivated.
The Supreme Court found Zaid Saidov, 55, guilty of fraud, corruption, statutory rape and polygamy, local media reported. In a closed session on December 25, the court ruled that Saidov’s property should be confiscated.
Many saw in the ordeal a blatant attempt to silence a charming reformist, while seizing the assets – involving construction, textiles and real estate – of one of Tajikistan’s wealthiest businessmen. For certain, the case gaged Saidov before the carefully stage-managed presidential election in November, which President Emomali Rakhmon went on to contest without rivals. The OSCE monitoring mission described “a lack of pluralism and genuine choice,” noting "serious problems" with ballot box stuffing, interfering authorities, and a count that "often lacked transparency."
Similar charges are often leveled against Tajikistan’s courts.
One of Kazakhstan’s few remaining opposition leaders has announced that he is quitting politics, a move that comes amid Astana’s ongoing crackdown on dissent and leaves a dearth of dissenting voices in the country.
Bolat Abilov said in a statement quoted by Tengri News on September 19 that he had taken the “difficult decision” to leave politics (at least for a few years) and concentrate on media, movie and book projects around Kazakhstan.
Abilov, one of the country’s most prominent opposition leaders, had been head of the Azat (Freedom) party, which was in a prickly alliance with the OSDP social democrats. That union collapsed earlier this year amid much acrimony, with OSDP leader Zharmakhan Tuyakbay falling out publicly with his deputy, Amirzhan Kosanov, leaving the party in tatters.
Abilov’s departure from politics and the collapse of the OSDP Azat alliance mean that Kazakhstan now has no genuine, functioning opposition parties to take on the difficult job of holding President Nursultan Nazarbayev to account.
The opposition has always struggled to operate in Kazakhstan’s restrictive environment, where it is shut out of the rubber-stamp parliament and has little access to mainstream media, but until a couple of years ago it was given limited room for maneuver.
All that changed after a bout of fatal unrest in December 2011, when an oil strike in the western town of Zhanaozen turned violent and 15 people died in clashes with the security forces.
In Uzbekistan, where courts are widely believed to bend to the will of prosecutors, sexual assault charges seem like a convenient way to target critics. The charges are difficult to disprove, believable in principle, and have the added benefit of tarnishing the accused's character.
A member of the opposition Erk party, Fakhriddin Tillayev, says a naked female neighbor turned up at his doorstep last week and started screaming that he was raping her, the independent Uznews.net website reported on August 28. The woman said she would seek a medical examination to back up her allegations.
But adding to the impression that Tillayev had been set-up, during the mayhem several unidentified men rushed into Tillayev's apartment where they destroyed his computer and two mobile phones, he said. Tillayev went to his neighborhood committee and police to report the incident: The neighborhood committee did not take it seriously because of the naked neighbor's well-established drinking habits, says Uznews.net, and Tillayev was unable to find a police officer to investigate.
"I am certain that this is a provocation staged by authorities and is linked to Tillayev's public activities," Uznews.net quoted human rights activist Abdullo Tojiboy-ugli as saying.
This isn’t the first time in recent weeks that allegations of sexual assault have come close to an opposition figure.
Hasan Choriyev tried in secret: Human rights activists say Uzbek authorities have set him up on rape charges to punish his son, an exiled opposition leader with designs on the presidency.
The elderly father of an exiled opposition leader is reportedly being tried behind closed doors in Uzbekistan on rape charges that his supporters say are intended to punish his son.
Hasan Choriyev, 71, was arrested on June 17 and later charged with raping a 19-year-old woman. He has been held incommunicado since his arrest over seven weeks ago, the independent Uznews.net website says.
Hasan is accustomed to harassment from officials. He is the father of Bahodyr Choriyev, the leader of the opposition Birdamlik (“Solidarity”) movement, who has lived in American exile since 2004. In November 2012, a local court fined him $11,000 for slander. When he failed to pay the extraordinary sum, his farmland, livestock and house were seized. Earlier, in 2011, authorities fined him $8,500 for “stealing” electricity – that is, using it without meter – after the meter was stolen.
Uznews.net reported on August 5 that the hearings into Choriyev senior’s case started on July 26 behind closed doors but were postponed indefinitely because of the alleged victim’s failure to appear in court.
The defendant’s family has struggled to glean details about the case. Choriyev's lawyer – whom family members fear is colluding with authorities – has cited “investigative secrecy.”