Recently, Tajikistan’s Foreign Ministry officials have been busy, meeting with high level representatives from Washington and the United Nations to discuss increased foreign investment and the Western powers’ interest in maintaining a politically stable Central Asia amidst the Russia/Ukraine war. Just back in February, US Secretary of State Antony Blinkin met with Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin to discuss Afghanistan, and in March the United Nations’ UNCTAD released a new economic analysis which aims to realize Tajikistan’s long-term sustainable development plan. This might sound like relatively good news for central Asia’s poorest country, but it comes all the while Tajikistan’s civilian population has come under siege by its own government.
The US and UN may be primarily focused on international issues regarding Tajikistan, but various human rights watch groups (and the UN as well) have sounded the alarm: basic rights and freedoms in the country have come under violent crackdown by president Emomali Rahmon’s autocratic regime.
The CIVICUS Monitor, a global consortium of civil society organizations, has downgraded Tajikistan’s rating from ‘repressed’ to ‘closed’, the lowest possible rating available. Since the beginning of Tajik president Rahmon’s over 30-year reign over the country, the government has always repressed individual human rights, such as freedom of expression or freedom of the press, but 2022 marked a new low, when widespread protests broke out in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) following the public killing of an unarmed man by the police. On command of the president, police and military responded brutally, targeting local leaders and political opponents, and leaving scores of protesters dead or injured. During the onslaught, the internet was cut off to the vast, mostly-rural region, and numerous journalists, lawyers, bloggers, and political dissidents were arrested and prosecuted in closed courts.
NGOs associated with civil society, as well as human rights defenders were also targeted and imprisoned with lengthy sentences. Among those caught up by Rahmon’s repressive apparatus were the well known journalist Ulfatkhonim Mamadshoeva, and Manuchehr Kholiknazarov, Director of the Pamiri Lawyers Association. Other NGOs, such as the Independent Centre for Human Rights Protection have been forcibly closed by the government.
CIVICUS is of course not the only organization to take notice of Tajikistan’s inner turmoil. The International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), the World Organisation against Torture (OMCT), and many other groups continue the effort to draw international attention to the plight of the Tajik people. And while Tajikistan faces new challenges arising outside its borders–from a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan to potential economic disruptions arising from the Russia/Ukraine war, inside the country the greatest threat to society is its own ruling elite.