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Nations in Transit 2009 - Tajikistan

Publisher Freedom House
Author Raissa Muhutdinova
Publication Date 30 June 2009
Cite as Freedom House, Nations in Transit 2009 - Tajikistan, 30 June 2009, available at: [accessed 5 August 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

by Raissa Muhutdinova

Capital: Dushanbe
Population: 6.7 million
GNI/capita: US$1,710

The data above was provided by The World Bank, World Bank Indicators 2009.

Nations in Transit Ratings and Averaged Scores

Electoral Process5.505.
Civil Society5.
Independent Media5.755.505.755.755.756.
National Democratic Governancen/an/an/an/an/a6.
Local Democratic Governancen/an/an/an/an/a5.755.755.756.006.00
Judicial Framework and Independence5.755.755.755.755.755.755.755.756.006.25
Democracy Score5.755.585.635.635.715.795.935.966.076.14

* Starting with the 2005 edition, Freedom House introduced separate analysis and ratings for national democratic governance and local democratic governance to provide readers with more detailed and nuanced analysis of these two important subjects.

NOTE: The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 7 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year.

Executive Summary

In 2008, both the government and the population of Tajikistan continued to rely on external sources of support. While the government depended on the global commodities market (particularly cotton and aluminum exports), aid from international financial institutions, humanitarian assistance from Western states, and direct investment in infrastructure (by Russia, China, and Iran), the population relied increasingly on remittances sent home by over a million Tajik migrants working in Russia and Kazakhstan. The drug trade also continued to act as a source of sustenance for many. By the end of 2008, the global economic crisis led to a precipitous fall in the number of migrants working abroad and a corresponding sharp decline in foreign remittances. Tajikistan also experienced the coldest winter in decades, during which the government was unable to provide the majority of the population in outlying areas with heat and sufficient electricity.

President Emomali Rahmon, in power since 1992, remained generally popular but was criticized by some observers for using ethnic (Tajik) and religious (Hanafi Sunni Islam) rhetoric as nation-building tools. The government was also criticized in 2008 for spending over US$125 million on attorney fees to settle a case involving the state-owned Tajik Aluminum Company (Talco). The next major test for democracy in Tajikistan is the February 2010 parliamentary elections, which opposition political parties, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and some international diplomatic missions are viewing as a litmus test for the country's political progress.

Local and international civil society organizations were required to reregister with the Justice Ministry in 2008; some encountered problems or were denied registration, and the work of several well-established international humanitarian NGOs was suspended. Despite ongoing barriers, the media saw some openings, with several new outlets allowed to function. No outlets were closed, and journalists exercised less self-censorship. Progress in local governance remained stalled, while citizens' land and labor rights were routinely violated. Likewise, the justice system saw no progress as executive pressure on the courts and overall corruption appeared to increase despite the presence of the new government-funded Anticorruption Agency.

National Democratic Governance. President Rahmon remained generally popular during 2008 but continued his idiosyncratic form of nation-building using ethnic and religious rhetoric, emphasizing the Tajikness of the nation and dedicating 2009 as the year of Emomi Azam (Great Leader) in reference to the historic figure of Abu Hanifa, who was of supposed Persian/Tajik heritage and founded the Hanafi branch of Sunni Islam. These dual nation-building tools, by purpose or by default, discriminate against ethnic minorities such as ethnic Uzbeks and non-Hanafis (such as Ismaili Muslims and non-Muslim minorities). The year also saw increased convictions of alleged radical Islamists in what human rights advocates have labeled a flawed judicial process. Given the president's use of particular ethnic and religious rhetoric as nation-building tools and the government's continued difficulties in providing basic services to the population, the rating for national democratic governance remains unchanged at 6.25.

Electoral Process. In the lead-up to the next nationwide test of democracy, the February 2010 parliamentary elections, Tajikistan's political parties (assisted by the International Foundation for Election Systems) proposed a series of necessary electoral law reforms in the summer of 2008, including a reduction in the electoral threshold for party list candidates, inclusion of opposition party representatives in election commissions at all levels, and elimination of the exorbitant fees for registering candidates. By the end of the year, however, the Parliament had given no indication that it would consider changes to the existing election laws. Given the government's reluctance to consider positive changes to its election laws and, in general, to opening up the political spectrum, the rating for electoral process remains unchanged at 6.50.

Civil Society. Tajik authorities continued to exert control over the activities of civil society, including both NGOs and religious groups. By April 2008, as a result of a 2007 law requiring the reregistration of all civil society groups, the total number of registered local NGOs dropped by 55 percent to 1,390 (though the real figure of active NGOs is likely much smaller); and the number of international organizations fell by 20 percent to 116. In May, the government denied registration to the U.S.based National Democratic Institute, which subsequently closed its office in Tajikistan. The activities of three other NGOs – U.S.-based Mercy Corps and Care International and the German faith-based development organization Orphans, Refugees, and Aid International – were also suspended, albeit temporarily. The authorities clamped down on religious groups, reaffirming bans on the Jehovah's Witnesses and Hizb ut-Tahrir, and seeking a ban on the Salafi Islamic movement. A strict new draft Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations was also completed and presented to Parliament for review. Given the increased measures to control the activities of nongovernmental development and religious organizations throughout 2008, the rating for civil society worsens from 5.50 to 5.75.

Independent Media. In 2008, the government continued to tolerate independent media, which at times reported critically on government activities with no major or systematic repercussions. Several new print- and Internet-based outlets were given permission to operate, though no new independent radio or television stations were allowed to do so despite a backlog of applications. Reporters Without Borders rated Tajikistan in 2008 as having the freest media among all post-Communist states of Central Asia, ranking it 106 out of 173 countries surveyed worldwide, an improvement over 2007. Although a general trend in loosening controls over the media could be observed, no major steps were taken by the government to liberalize the media or encourage reporting on critical matters; thus the rating for independent media remains unchanged at 6.00.

Local Democratic Governance. In Tajikistan, attempts at democratic practice are confined mostly to the national level, where the president and the Parliament are elected. At regional and local levels (i.e. province, district, town and village), where most officials are virtually appointed, the semblance and reality of democracy are nonexistent. Nearly three-quarters of Tajikistan's population live in rural areas and rely on agriculture-related employment. For years, the country has undergone a problem-riddled and corrupt land reform process, and while nearly all farmland has been privatized, for the average farmer, the process has been on paper only, especially in cotton-growing regions. The central and local governments call the commodity "white gold," but the cotton industry accounts for an accumulating debt of over US$500 million and has caused much poverty for local communities. Despite declining yields and negative social and economic impacts at the local level, the central government, through local cronies, enforces a de facto rule in favor of cotton cultivation. Given the lack of democratic rule at the local level, lack of progress in equitable land reform, and continued exploitation of the rural population (especially in cotton-growing areas) by mostly unelected local leaders, the rating for local democratic governance remains unchanged at 6.00.

Judicial Framework and Independence. According to the Tajik NGO Bureau of Human Rights and Rule of Law, torture and abuse were routinely practiced by Tajikistan's law enforcement agencies during 2008. Another local group, the Human Rights Center, reports that one in five defendants claimed to have been abused by interrogators to confess to crimes they may not have committed. Judges are appointed largely by the president and remain under the direct and indirect influence of the executive. Corruption in the judiciary is widespread and, based on anecdotal evidence, has increased. The penitentiary system has undergone an incomplete reform and has remained closed to independent inspectors, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross. Although the law on establishing a human rights ombudsman was passed in March 2008, no progress was made in its implementation. Owing to allegations of torture, abuse, and widespread corruption in law enforcement sectors, the heavy influence of the executive branch on the judiciary, and the continued resistance of the government to allow independent inspectors into detention facilities, the rating for judicial framework and independence worsens from 6.00 to 6.25.

Corruption. Aside from its pervasive nature among most public services, corruption is also part of the main system of goods and commodities transported and exported out of Tajikistan – namely, the trafficking of Afghanistan-originated drugs and the domestic production and export of cotton and aluminum. Despite the fact that the cotton sector has been losing money and thousands of rural households have become poorer while being forced to grow it, its production is still identified by authorities as "strategic." Aluminum production by state-owned Talco is also problematic, with some claiming that hundreds of millions of dollars in profits never reach government coffers. Owing to the continued serious nature of corruption, which affects nearly all aspects of domestic life, as well as the minimal impact of the government's anticorruption efforts, the rating for corruption remains unchanged at 6.25.

Outlook for 2009. Tajikistan (both its government and its population) will be forced to radically tighten its belt as sources of regular support continue to at least partially dry up – namely, the plummeting cotton and aluminum markets and significantly decreased remittances from the shrinking numbers of Tajik migrant workers in Russia, estimated at 36 percent of Tajikistan's gross domestic product in 2008. Furthermore, the population and the media appear to be less timid in expressing its dissatisfaction over the government's endemic corruption and violations of economic and human rights, including a near lack of justice in the courts, illegal evictions, and a closed and abusive prison system. Much may depend on an external push from the international community and its financial assistance and investment. Though key powers are interested in seeing a secure and strong Tajikistan that would serve as a barrier to the export of drugs and terrorism, much of it emanating from Afghanistan, some experts argue that the best methods for fighting drug trafficking and religious extremism in Tajikistan are increased social, economic, and political freedoms, including respect for the individual and group rights of ethnic and religious minorities, detainees, and the population at large.

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