Tajikistan’s Pamiri minority has been brutally oppressed for almost a year and a half. But it is not just this group that is suffering from the regime’s increasingly hardened authoritarianism. NGOs, activists, bloggers and homosexuals have also been targeted by the authorities in recent months.
On February 16, on the recommendation of the Ministry of Justice, the activities of the Independent Center for Human Rights Protection in Tajikistan were suspended. This is reported by Radio Ozodi , Radio Free Europe’s Tajik service. A practice “consistent with tactics of administrative and bureaucratic harassment by NGOs in Tajikistan that have been practiced for five to seven years ,” according to Syinat Sultanalieva , a researcher at the NGO Human Rights Watch.
The Independent Center for the Protection of Human Rights was one of the few public bodies where it was possible to get free legal assistance, the Tajik news portal Asia-Plus explains . It dealt in particular with the entitlement to social housing. According to the Ministry of Justice, around 500 public entities were liquidated in 2022. That is almost 350 more entities than in 2021.
But the censorship of civil society does not stop at NGOs. Bloggers and activists are also victims of accelerating repression. United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, Mary Lawlor , visited Tajikistan from 28 November to 9 December. The repression of journalists and bloggers is being carried out indiscriminately with “little reliable evidence, after inadequate investigations and trials that take place behind closed doors ,” she told Bruce Pannier, a journalist with Radio Free Europe, in December .
Arbitrary arrests of bloggers in Tajikistan have also risen steadily in recent months, with no fewer than three of them being accused of “immorality” . As Radio Ozodi reported on January 18, influencer Habibullo Himmatsoda was detained for five days in Dushanbe for “insulting videos”. A similar fate befell blogger Saida Latifova, who was fined in December for the same allegations. According to the police, she “obscenely insulted other interlocutors during a live broadcast on the social network Tik-Tok” .
According to Syinat Sultanalieva, it is clear that the regime is becoming more restrictive every year: “Where there was a vibrant civil society just a decade ago, the few remaining NGOs and bloggers in the country are being forced to find ways to continue their work without being arrested become.”
LGBT rights still taboo
Ten LGBT community leaders have been arrested in Dushanbe on suspicion of infecting citizens with the immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Radio Ozodi reported on February 15. “What was interesting about this article was that law enforcement agencies admitted to having somehow ‘monitored’ LGBT communities, which contributes to the rumors of police ‘gay lists’,” analyzes Sultanalieva . However, she confirms that there are still groups of LGBT activists working undercover in Tajikistan.
For their part, the Tajik authorities continue to deny any harassment or persecution of sexual minorities. However, Mary Lawlor explained that Tajikistan does not follow the recommendations of international organizations on LGBT rights because, according to the law, these people are “above the moral and ethical standards of human relations in the country” .
moralization of public life
In fact, an intensification of conservative moral values is taking place in Tajikistan, with the reasons for these arrests not really being given, analyzes Cabar . Under the pretext of “raising citizens’ awareness of the use of social networks and preserving culture and national identity” , the government’s goal is to reduce the scope for freedom of expression in public space.
” The first goal is to increase control over public opinion, or those who can influence public opinion ,” explains Tajik media expert Abdumalik Kadyrov in the Cabar article. However, he believes that the authorities “have gone so far in this effort that they no longer know what they are doing” .
The repression of the Pamiris remains topical
Another sign of an authoritarian drift is that Tajik authorities have been targeting members of the Pamiri community since the November 2021 protests . The ethnic minority lives mainly in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province in the east of the country . The government responded to peaceful protests with a “security operation” that left dozens dead and hundreds arrested.
According to local media Pamir Daily, the Supreme Court President on January 16 described the demonstrators in Nagorno-Badakhshan as “criminal gang leaders from Khorugh and Rushon “ (the places where the demonstrations were concentrated, ed.) . He explained that they were all prosecuted under the country’s laws and sentenced to prison terms ranging from one year to life imprisonment. The trials took place behind closed doors, with no transparency or independence from the authorities.
However, according to Syinat Sultanalieva, it is very difficult to speak of a turning point in repression. “This is likely an act of brute force aimed at regaining control of the region and sending a signal to the rest of the critically minded people in the country . ” Authorities are held accountable for the human rights abuses they have committed against ordinary citizens, human rights defenders and others . ”