Status: Not Free
Freedom Rating: 6.0
Civil Liberties: 6
Political Rights: 6
Two years after the formal end of Tajikistan's five-year civil war in 1997, the government and the United Tajikistan Opposition (UTO) took several important steps towards implementing the nation's fragile peace process. However, the November presidential election, in which incumbent President Emomali Rakhmonov ran essentially unopposed, highlighted the continuing lack of progress in establishing a democratic political system in this strife-torn country.
Conquered by Russia in the late 1800s, Tajikistan was made an autonomous region within Uzbekistan in 1924 and a separate socialist republic of the USSR in 1929. However, the ancient cities of Samarkand and Bukhara, the two main centers of Tajik culture, remained part of Uzbekistan. The four leading regionally based clans in the country are the Leninabadi in the north, the Kulyabi in the southeast, and the Gharm and Badakhshan in the south. Tajikistan gained its independence in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Former Communist Party leader Rakhman Nabiyev defeated six challengers in a November 1991 presidential election marred by vote rigging and other electoral irregularities. In May 1992, the ruling Communist government rejected a power-sharing accord with the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) and the secular, pro-Western Tajik Democratic Party (TDP), an alliance based upon the Gharm and Badakhshan clans. Fighting between supporters and opponents of the accord broke out in June, plunging Tajikistan into what was to become a five-year civil war for central government control by rival regional-political groupings based on clan loyalties. Specifically, the ruling Leninabadi elite and its Kulyabi allies were pitted against an opposition of anti-Communist, nationalist, and Islamist movements, centered around the Gharm and Badakhshan clans. In September, Communist hardliners forced the resignation of President Nabiyev, who was replaced in November by leading Communist Party member Emomali Rakhmonov, an ethnic Kulyabi from Leninabad and the leader of pro-Nabiyev forces in Kulyab. The following month, Rakhmonov launched attacks in the Gharm, Badakhshan, and Pamiri regions, causing some 60,000 people to flee into neighboring Afghanistan.
On November 6, 1994, Rakhmonov won presidential elections with a reported 58 percent of the vote against Abdumalik Abdullajanov, a former premier from northern Leninabad. However, the IRP and TDP boycotted the poll over violations of the country's electoral law and harassment of their candidates. A public referendum held concurrently approved a new constitution vesting strong executive powers in a directly elected president and creating a 181-member parliament directly elected for a five-year term.
Elections to the new national legislature were held on February 26 and March 12, 1995, although the vote was boycotted by the UTO, a coalition of secular and Islamic groups formed in December 1993. The poll resulted in a parliament dominated by supporters of President Rakhmonov, with the Communist Party winning some 60 seats.
On June 27, 1997, President Rakhmonov and UTO leader Said Abdullo Nuri signed a formal peace agreement in Moscow officially ending the five-year civil war. The accord called for opposition forces to be merged into the regular army, granted an amnesty for UTO members, provided for the UTO to be allotted 30 percent of senior government posts, and established a 26-member National Reconciliation Commission (NRC), with seats evenly divided between the government and the UTO. The NRC was charged with implementing the peace agreements, including preparing amendments for a referendum on constitutional changes that would lead to fair parliamentary elections.
Despite continuing local insurrections and political assassinations which threatened to undermine the country's fragile peace, by the end of 1998 nearly all exiled UTO leaders and Tajik refugees from Afghanistan had returned, and the government had largely kept its pledge to fill 30 percent of senior government posts with UTO members. However, in early 1998, the government pushed back parliamentary elections scheduled for June of that year; elections are currently due to take place in February 2000.
Throughout 1999, both the government and the UTO took several important steps towards promoting reconciliation and implementing the peace process. In May, the Tajik parliament adopted a resolution granting a general amnesty applicable to over 5,000 opposition fighters, and in mid-1999, several members of the UTO were appointed to government posts in response to the opposition's demands for a greater share in the coalition. On August 3, the UTO announced that it had disbanded all of its military formations. This development paved the way for the supreme court's lifting of a ban on August 12 of four opposition parties, the Democratic Party, the Islamic Revival Party, and the Rastakhez and Lali Badakhshan movements, which had been imposed during the civil war.
In a nationwide referendum on September 26, voters overwhelmingly approved a series of constitutional amendments in a poll reportedly marred by widespread proxy and open voting and falsification of voter registration lists. The amendments considerably expanded the powers of the president by extending his term in office from five to seven years and creating a full-time, bicameral parliament whose members would be appointed directly by the president or elected by indirect vote through local parliaments led by presidential appointees. More importantly for the peace process, the amendments also permitted the formation of religion-based political parties, opening the way for the legal operation of the Islamic opposition, including the Islamic Renaissance Party, which constitutes the backbone of the UTO. The existing law on political parties dating from May 1998 had banned religious parties.
In the run-up to the November 6 presidential election, the government quashed any hopes for a democratic vote by attempting to obstruct the registration of opposition candidates and imposing restrictions on access to the media. The three opposition candidates to President Rakhmonov, Saifiddin Turayev of the Justice Party, Sultan Kuvatov of the Democratic Party, and Economics Minister Davlat Usmon of the Islamic Renaissance Party, threatened to boycott the elections, arguing that they were not given enough time to collect the required number of signatures to register as candidates. However, the Central Election Commission (CEC) barred them from participating less than one month before the poll for failure to collect the necessary signatures. Usmon was subsequently given permission to compete, although he refused, claiming that the decision was merely an attempt to legitimize the elections. A UTO boycott of the vote was lifted only in the eleventh hour by UTO leader Said Abdullo Nuri, reportedly in exchange for the release of 93 UTO members still in prison and for key concessions ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections. According to official election results, Rakhmonov received 97 percent of the vote, and Usmon, who had withdrawn from the race, 2 percent. However, the results of the election were heavily criticized by opposition members and election observers, who cited numerous irregularities, including multiple voting. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe refused to send monitors because of various significant flaws observed during the pre-election period.
The security situation in northeastern Tajikistan became more acute during the summer following the announcement of a plan to expel approximately 1,600 Uzbek nationals who had fled government crackdowns in Uzbekistan after a series of bombings in Tashkent in February. In August, hundreds of armed members of the group, many of whom appeared to be followers of Uzbek Islamic leader Juma Namangani, joined by former members of demobilized UTO military units, entered the Kyrgyz Republic twice, capturing several villages and taking both local and foreign hostages. After the release of the last hostages in October, Tajikistan deported hundreds of the remaining Uzbeks on Tajik soil.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties
Citizens of Tajikistan cannot change their government democratically. The 1994 constitution provides for a strong executive who enjoys broad authority to appoint and dismiss officials. Amendments to the constitution adopted in a 1999 referendum further increased presidential powers. The 181-member national legislature is in practice dominated by the Rakhmonov government. Neither the country's presidential polls in 1994 and 1999 nor the parliamentary election in 1995 were free and fair.
Despite formal guarantees for freedom of speech and the press, media freedoms remain severely curtailed by the government. According to Human Rights Watch, independent journalists and broadcasters continue to face unprosecuted violence, pre-publication censorship, arbitrary denial to print at state printing facilities, penalties for libel and "irresponsible" journalism, and burdensome licensing procedures. Consequently, self-censorship among journalists is widespread. Although approximately 200 newspapers are officially registered, few are published regularly and there are no daily papers, in part because of financial difficulties. The country's few independent television stations continue to experience administrative and legal harassment by the authorities. No independent radio stations have yet received operating licenses.
The constitution formally guarantees freedom of religion. While the state Committee on Religious Affairs registers religious communities in this predominantly Muslim state, several minor unregistered groups operate with limited restrictions. The constitutional referendum of September 26, 1999, legalized the formation of religious-based political parties.
The state strictly controls freedom of assembly and association for organizations of a political nature. Nongovernmental organizations and political groups must obtain permits to hold public demonstrations, which at times the authorities have used excessive force to disrupt. Although four opposition parties were legalized and a ban on religion-based parties was lifted in 1999, the government has sought to stop or limit the activities of certain other political parties, including the Agrarian Party and the National Unity Party. Despite legal rights to form and join trade unions, in practice labor rights are largely ignored. All trade unions in Tajikistan are state-controlled, including the Confederation of Trade Unions for state enterprise workers, the Trade Unions of Private Enterprise Workers, which represents employees in small and medium-sized enterprises, and the Union of Agricultural Workers.
The judiciary enjoys little independence from the executive branch, on which most judges depend for their positions. Many judges are poorly trained and inexperienced, and bribery is reportedly widespread. Local and international observers at the trial of the murderers of four United Nations Mission to Tajikistan personnel in July 1998 recounted torture of the accused and flagrant violations of basic legal principles. Police routinely conduct arbitrary searches and seizures and beat detainees to obtain confessions. Prison conditions have been described as life-threatening due to overcrowding and unsanitary conditions. High levels of criminal and political violence and lawlessness continue to directly or indirectly affect the personal security of most citizens. Numerous assaults, killings, and abductions occurred throughout 1999, many committed by members of the security forces, the UTO, or unaligned armed factions. Among the year's high-profile assassinations were those of former Deputy Procurator General Tolib Boboev and Socialist Party Chairman Safarali Kenjaev.
The government generally respects the right of its citizens to choose a place of residence and to travel. However, checkpoints manned by interior ministry troops and other armed units have extorted money from drivers and passengers, limiting their freedom of movement. Nearly all of the estimated 600,000-700,000 refugees who fled the country during the civil war subsequently have returned to Tajikistan. Corruption is reportedly pervasive throughout the government, civil service, and business sectors. Barriers to private enterprise, including limited access to commercial real estate and the widespread practice of bribe payments, continue to restrict equality of opportunity. Although women are employed throughout the government, academia, and the business world, they continue to face traditional societal discrimination. Domestic violence is reportedly common, and there are credible reports of trafficking of women.
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