Countries at the Crossroads 2007 - Tajikistan

  • Author: Lawrence P. Markowitz
  • Document source:
  • Date:
    25 September 2007

(Scores are based on a scale of 0 to 7, with 0 representing weakest and 7 representing strongest performance.)


Tajikistan's civil war concluded in 1997 with a peace agreement between ex-Communists and the United Tajik Opposition (UTO). The conflict left a devastating imprint on the country's politics, society, and economy from which Tajikistan has yet to emerge. Installed in late 1992 as the head of an extremely weak government whose initial authority drew heavily upon Russian support, President Imomali Rahmon has successfully consolidated presidential power and edged out political rivals. Rahmon's institutionalization of authoritarian rule under the veil of post-conflict stability and state building has ushered in a status quo style of politics that supersedes efforts at genuine political reform. The Tajik government has been able to legitimize stasis over change by invoking memories of the political turbulence that preceded the country's civil war. While this strategy has sustained Rahmon's rule, a growing economy, combined with a contracting circle of the regime's supporters, may generate new challenges in the future.

Tajikistan's economy has experienced sustained growth at the rate of 7 to 10 percent annually since 2001 – primarily driven by lucrative commodity exports and labor remittances from abroad.1 At the same time, the country's exports have steadily increased and inflation has been brought under control. Between 1995 and 2005, Tajikistan's GDP nearly doubled from US$1.2 billion to US$2.3 billion.2 The regime, however, has been unable to translate economic growth into democratic development, in part because political liberalization would threaten elites' ability to siphon off national wealth derived from cotton and aluminum exports. These profits and other spoils of public office have been crucial in securing elite allegiance to the Rahmon government.

Despite economic growth, Tajikistan's elections have consistently fallen short of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's (OSCE) norms, civil society organizations remain weak, and concentration of power in the executive (nationally and locally) has prevented land reform and privatization from achieving their intended effect. As a result, most people's economic situation remains dire. Poverty afflicts over half the population, 75 percent of whom are rural and suffer from the effects of undernourishment. The average annual income is approximately US$330 (GNI per capita) – well below the average even in low-income countries.

The Tajik civil war also fundamentally reordered the country's social structures, heightening the salience of regionalism (mahallagaroie) and local identities such as "clan." Rahmon's systematic and overt concentration of political power and national wealth among natives of his home region of Kulob (now part of Khatlon province) has exacerbated these divisions and raises the specter of renewed conflict. As Rahmon reneges on the 1997 power-sharing agreement between ex-communists and UTO and asserts regional hegemony, grinding poverty and rising discontent in other parts of the country have fueled regional and local tensions within Tajikistan. In Soghd province, as well as in several localities directly subordinated to the national government, concentrations of ethnic Uzbeks (who constitute 16 percent of Tajikistan's population) remain a source of anxiety for the regime. Recently, resettlement policies have sought to assert an ethnic Tajik influence in Tursonzade district by relocating 1,000 Tajik families from Khatlon province. Tursonzade contains Tajikistan's leading source of export revenue – its massive aluminum smelter.3 Similarly, the national government's control over the Rogun hydroelectric plant and other energy initiatives in eastern parts of the country are also tenuous, as these areas were opposition strongholds during the civil war. The central leadership has sought to increase foreign direct investment (entertaining proposals from Russia, the United States, and China) as a means of extending its influence over key resources based in these areas. Justified as government-sponsored development, such initiatives often use foreign investors to subsidize unwanted state presence.

Against this background, Tajikistan's domestic politics was dramatically affected by the forced abdication of President Askar Akaev of Kyrgyzstan in the wake of parliamentary elections in March 2005. Despite broad-based support, Rahmon stepped up efforts to solidify his dominance in national politics by undercutting and dividing the political opposition, driving out international nongovernmental organizations and tightly controlling local ones, harassing human rights organizations, marginalizing independent media, and strengthening his political party's majority in the legislature. As a result, Tajikistan has experienced setbacks in certain aspects of democratic development, raising doubt about the regime's commitment to genuine political change.

Accountability and Public Voice – 1.51

Free and fair electoral laws and elections: 1.25
Effective and accountable government: 1.50
Civic engagement and civic monitoring: 1.67
Media independence and freedom of expression: 1.63

Although the Tajik government has reformed legislation concerning elections, in practice, elections have failed to meet many OSCE standards. Large-scale irregularities during the 2005 parliamentary elections and 2006 presidential election undermined several promising procedural and legal changes that were enacted in 2004. The changes – including amendments to the Constitutional Law on Elections – incorporated provisions for political party observers, improved candidates' access to mass media outlets, and provided for the immediate posting of election results at each polling station. If fully implemented, this revamped legislative framework has the potential to serve as a basis for democratic elections. However, the intimidation and arrest of leading opposition figures, glaring errors in tabulating ballots, and extensive interference by local authorities ensured that neither election held under the new system was open and competitive.

Tajikistan's electoral administration enjoys only limited public confidence; it lacks both transparency and political balance. Tajikistan has a three-tiered system of election commissions: a national-level Central Commission on Elections and Referenda (CCER), district election commissions (DECs), and polling state commissions (PSCs). A total of 41 DECs and 2,953 PSCs administered the parliamentary elections, whereas 68 DECs and 3,059 PSCs ran the presidential election. Members of the CCER are proposed by the president and elected by parliament's lower house, the Majlisi Namoyandagon, although the dominance of the president's party, the People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan (PDPT), in the legislature ensured PDPT control over the body. Despite electoral law requirements for open meetings, the decision making and functioning of the CCER have not been transparent. Similarly, the staffing of local electoral commissions has been so compromised by local government interference that it was at times difficult to distinguish between the two.4

The legislative elections held on February 27, 2005, consolidated PDPT control over the legislative branch. The Majlisi has 63 seats, to which 22 members are elected from party lists and 41 members from single-member constituencies. For three seats in the latter group, failure to reach a majority led to run-off elections on March 13. Of the six parties that entered candidates, the PDPT took an overwhelming 52 seats, whereas the progovernment Communist Party won 3 seats, the Islamic Renaissance Party won 2 seats, and independent candidates took the remaining 6 seats.

Election observers from the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) found major shortcomings in the conduct of the legislative election, noting widespread instances of multiple voting and unmonitored tabulation processes in district commissions, where many protocols were illegally altered. Moreover, restrictive registration criteria (including a newly imposed US$500 deposit, a higher education requirement, and the need to gather 500 signatures from eligible voters in the candidate's constituency) resulted in the exclusion of approximately 100 prospective candidates by DECs. In addition, just months before the election criminal charges were brought against prominent candidates, including Mahmadruzi Iskandarov (head of the Democratic Party) and Sulton Kuvatov (head of the unregistered Taraqqiyot Party), disqualifying them from electoral competition. Both the timing of the criminal charges and the disqualification of opposition candidates raised serious concerns about the openness of the election.

Immediately following the election, three opposition parties (IRP, DP, and the Social Democratic Party) declared that they would not recognize the election results, although their ability to contest the validity of the election was diluted when winning IRP and CP candidates accepted their seats. In addition, complaints filed with the CCER and in several district courts were either overruled or ignored.5 Analysts have noted that while these developments indicate a willingness to challenge government in court, the government response has been muted at best.6

In terms of Tajikistan's presidential election on November 6, 2006, changes to the constitution in 2003 gave President Rahmon the legal basis to run for two additional seven-year terms in office, possibly extending his tenure until 2020. The election returned Rahmon to office with a reported 79.3 percent of the vote, followed by Olimjon Boboev (6.3 percent), Amir Karakulov and Ismoil Talbakov (each with 5.2 percent), and Abduhalim Ghafarov (2.8 percent). None of the major opposition parties ran in the election, leaving Rahmon facing a field of unknown candidates.7 Not suprisingly, the OSCE reported that the election campaign lacked real debate and competition. The weakness and rudderlessness of the opposition was partially due to the arrests of Iskandarov and Kuvatov and the death of IRP leader Said Abdullo Nuri in August 2006.8 But it was also a result of limitations imposed on candidates' access to media outlets, basic security concerns when traveling, and the heavy involvement of local authorities in organizing local PDPT political machines.9 While Rahmon did not officially campaign, his four challengers held no independent rallies and campaigned in joint gatherings organized by local government or the CCER.10

In one positive contrast to earlier elections, presidential candidates were allowed to use limited airtime on state-run television and radio stations and advertise in government newspapers. However, an OSCE report heavily criticized the presidential election for ad hoc voter registration methods, limitations imposed on candidates seeking enough signatures to reach the 5 percent threshold necessary to enter the competition, negative voting (in which voters strike out those candidates they do not want), the absence of female candidates, proxy (usually family) voting practices, failure to follow counting procedures, and significant discrepancies between official figures and local tallies at DECs.11 In contrast to the parliamentary election a year earlier, no serious attempts were made to challenge the election results. Instead, opposition voices have raised concerns that Rakhmon's reelection will be used to further extend his personal power and divest the country of its resources.12

Presidential power in Tajikistan continues to be organized around local and regional affiliations and sustained through the distribution of patronage and the manipulation of institutional rules. Political elites from Khatlon province (especially those from Rakhmonov's home district of Dangara) have enjoyed favored access to key political and economic posts in the national government. Although the 1997 Moscow peace accord that ended the civil war allocated 30 percent of national government posts to the opposition, Rahmon has systematically excluded them from national politics in recent years. Systematic exclusion of elites from other areas of the country in favor of selected Khatlon elites has limited accountability in government and become a potentially destabilizing factor.

This predominance of executive authority is replicated at local levels as well. District governors and local economic elites – particularly in the cotton-growing regions – exercise undue power over production quotas, privatization, and land reform. As the International Crisis Group concluded, "[l]ocal administrators (raises) are appointed and have no accountability to those they govern."13 As a result, in most parts of the country, the power of local administrators is unchecked by oversight by the legislature, judiciary, or other national institutions. Tajikistan's civil service is generally more effective than political offices and law enforcement bodies, although low salaries leave many government workers open to bribery and corruption.14

In addition to restrictions imposed on candidates in Tajikistan's elections, civil society groups and media outlets have also faced obstacles, compromising opportunities for public accountability. Since the end of the civil war, Tajikistan has seen a significant rise in the number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), many of which focus on post-conflict peacebuilding, socioeconomic development, and humanitarian projects.15 From the start, these groups were limited in their capacity to testify against government or influence policy, and recent actions by the government have placed further restrictions on NGOs' scope for action. In the spring of 2005, the government ordered financial audits of several international organizations in Tajikistan, and later that year authorities refused registration to a number of NGOs, including Freedom House and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. In March 2006, the government extended its restrictions by passing the Law on Public Associations, which requires NGOs to register annually.16 Through these and other mechanisms, government authorities continue to pressure both local and international civic organizations.

Although freedom of speech is guaranteed by Tajikistan's constitution and the Law on the Mass Media, government authorities have used various methods to restrict access to information that is potentially of public interest. A new requirement that non-state media outlets obtain licenses from the Ministry of Culture was only one of 40 amendments to Tajikistan's media laws in 2005.17 Since 2004, independent print newspapers have been forced out of circulation; Nerui Sokhan, Ruzi Nav, and Odamu Olan were all denied accreditation for failure to pay taxes or for technical violations.18 The government has arrested and intimidated editors and reporters, including correspondents from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Sardoi Mardum (Tajikistan's parliamentary paper), and Nerui Sokhan.19 The editor of the latter was convicted of theft (for siphoning electricity from street lights), sentenced to two years in prison, and stripped of 20 percent of his earnings during this time.20

In early August 2006, the BBC's application for a broadcasting license was refused by Tajikistan's licensing commission for failing to meet the 2005 law On Licensing Certain Types of Activities.21 Since the shutdown of Tajikistan's last independent television station, Somonien, in 2005, the broadcast media has been dominated by three state-run television stations that have received a 25 percent increase in government funding.22 In October 2006 (one month before the presidential election), the Ministry of Communications blocked domestic access to five news websites published abroad: Centrasia, Ferghana, Arianastorm, Charogiruz, and Tajikistantimes.23 One positive development is that three independent provincial television stations in the cities of Isfara, Panjakent, and Istaravshan were allowed to operate after negotiations with government authorities. Nonetheless, public access to information is extremely limited, as evidenced by the absence of any daily newspapers (independent or state-owned) published in the country.24

Posing a further challenge to media freedoms, the Tajik state has also intensified its use of onerous registration requirements, tax liabilities, and libel laws that impose fines and imprisonment on print and broadcast media outlets that attempt to scrutinize government policies. Alongside these tactics, state authorities have stifled press and broadcast media freedoms through the use of extralegal intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and detentions. In rare cases, journalists have successfully appealed their arrests and convictions in court, occasionally overturning previous court verdicts.25 On balance, however, accusations against journalists are not investigated by authorities fairly or expeditiously. Cultural expression is monitored by the government and enjoys only limited autonomy; access to media is highly regulated, and music, art, and theater that diverge from progovernment themes are rarely, if ever, allowed.


  • The government should make more genuine efforts to include and promote other regional voices and interests in its political structures and decision-making processes. Toward that end, the government should appoint a more balanced distribution of regional politicians to cabinet-level positions.
  • All opposition parties should be permitted to hold public meetings, campaign for support, and have adequate opportunities to disseminate their message without fear of harassment, intimidation, and arrest.
  • Elections should be carried out without interference from the ruling party or local government authorities. Specifically, district and local election commissions should be staffed by people from different political parties and from outside the locality in order to enhance transparency and political balance.
  • Foreign and domestic NGOs, particularly those devoted to strengthening democracy and civil society, should be allowed to register and renew their activities. The Law on Public Associations, which requires NGOs to register annually, should be repealed and avenues for NGO input into policymaking should be established.
  • The Law on Licensing Certain Types of Activities should be rescinded and independent media – print, broadcast, and internet-based – should be allowed to register and operate without government intimidation or undue tax and regulatory inspections.

Civil Liberties – 2.51

Protection from state terror, unjustified imprisonment, and torture: 1.71
Gender equity: 3.75
Rights of ethnic, religious, and other distinct groups: 2.50
Freedom of conscience and belief: 2.00
Freedom of association and assembly: 2.6

Tajikistan continued to be a focus of criticism, at home and abroad, for the execution of prisoners, for reports of torture and ill-treatment by police, and for a tradition of impunity for such violations. Procurators continue to rely on extracted confessions rather than thorough and impartial investigation as evidence against defendants. In cases in which inmates were mistreated by police or prison officials and complaints were filed with the General Procuracy, the latter rarely pressed charges.26 On the positive side, police and procuracy officials have been actively participating in OSCE seminars promoting the protection of human rights during investigations and pretrial detention.27 Without access to those detained by authorities, however, independent monitoring will yield little systematic evidence of whether a real change in attitudes among law enforcement personnel is occurring.

Prison conditions in Tajikistan are extremely poor, with overcrowding a major concern; there are 100 prisoners per cell in certain prisons.28 After a jump from 6,000 inmates in 1996 to 11,000 in 2001, the prison population in Tajikistan stabilized and remains at 11,000 today.29 The International Committee of the Red Cross, which had previously been able to visit and provide aid to inmates, has not been granted access to prisons by the Ministry of Interior since 2004.30 In August 2005, a prison disturbance in Kurgan-Teppe – allegedly provoked by the appointment of Izzatullo Sharipov as head of the prison system – was primarily a result of the long-term deterioration of conditions and the use of torture in prisons. Government authorities responded to this incident by handing down harsh sentences to the ringleaders of the revolt but showed little zeal for prison reform.31

In the months leading up to the 2006 presidential election, various members of the political opposition were arrested and detained, revealing a clear pattern on the part of government authorities of using the state's law enforcement and judicial organs as a means of reining in the opposition. In December 2004, Mahmudi Iskandarov, leader of the Democratic Party and likely presidential candidate, was arrested in Moscow by Russian authorities at Tajikistan's request. Immediately after his release by Russian authorities in April 2005, he disappeared (allegedly abducted), and ultimately resurfaced in the custody of Tajik government. On October 5, 2005, he was sentenced to 23 years in prison and fined 1.5 million Tajik somoni (US$470,000) for terrorism and unlawful possession of weapons.

Taraqqiyot Party Deputy Chair Rustam Faziev and Chair Sulton Kuvatov were both arrested and sent to prison on charges of insulting the president after publishing an open letter critical of President Rahmon. In mid-2005, Social Democratic Party parliamentary candidates Nizomiddin Begmatov and Nasimjon Shukurov were arrested and sentenced to a year and 18 months, respectively, for hooliganism (allegedly for using foul language during a court hearing).32 In early 2006, Islamic Renaissance Party member Tojiddin Abdurakhmonov – convicted of involvement in organized criminal activity, possession of weapons, and possession of forged documents – was sentenced to 16 years' imprisonment.33

Public order and safety are poorly maintained by government and law enforcement, primarily because Tajikistan's law enforcement entities cannot provide adequate and immediate assistance to citizens in need. Limited manpower, low wages, few resources, and poor training contribute to the lack of professionalism and undermine a sense of public service.

Due to outdated legislation and prevailing legal norms in Tajikistan, women have limited legal protection in certain areas. The police, for example, have no special training in rape investigations, and few cases actually go to court. Moreover, the criminal code does not address domestic violence, which is typically viewed as private problem that is outside the state's responsibility. Moreover, women remain underrepresented in public positions in Tajikistan, though they have historically constituted a significant minority in parliament and other national offices.34 Following the 2005 parliamentary election, women filled 17.5 percent (11 seats) of the 63 seats in the lower house of parliament and 23.5 percent (8 seats) of the 35 seats in the upper house.35 However, no women serve in leadership posts within the executive branch at either the national or sub-national level.

In February 2005, Tajikistan's Parliament approved a law on gender equality that is designed to address many of these shortcomings. The law establishes several enforcement mechanisms, including a unified national gender policy, the supervision of executive organs and city councils (hukumats) in selecting women for higher government posts, the supervision of the law by the general prosecutor, and the authority of juridical organs to adjudicate violations of the law.36

Conditions for women and youth in Tajikistan have been worsened by the country's civil war and a permeable border with Afghanistan. The former led to a problematic demographic outflow of men, forcing women to become second or even third wives; in major cotton-growing areas, women make up 85 percent to 90 percent of the rural work force. Extremely low pay scales for rural labor have forced some younger women to resort to prostitution. Cotton production has also led to the institutionalization of child labor in Tajikistan (as in other Central Asian countries).37 Thus far, the state has made little effort to ameliorate these problems.

A permeable border with Afghanistan has fostered cross-border human trafficking. While Tajikistan does not fully meet standards for eliminating human trafficking, it has taken significant steps to implement a national plan aimed at improving its anti-trafficking law enforcement capacity. The number of investigations into trafficking increased from 14 in 2004 to 81 in 2005. In February 2006, the Ministry of Interior opened an Intelligence and Analytical Center for Counter-Narcotics and Trafficking in Persons, which trains border guards to screen better for human trafficking. Recent arrests, however, have implicated low-level law enforcement officials in the trafficking of underage girls for sexual exploitation.38

Freedoms of conscience and belief are guaranteed by the constitution. There is no official state religion, though the government recognizes two Islamic holy days, Eid Al-Fitr and Idi Qurbon (Eid al-Adha in Arabic), as state holidays.39 Nonetheless, government authorities have attempted to curtail certain fundamental freedoms since 2005. In March 2006, the government prepared a single law on religion that would codify existing practices and add new restrictions on religious freedoms, including a 200 signature requirement to register religious associations, state control over religious education, a limit on the number of mosques in Tajikistan, and the imposition of state control over pilgrimages to Mecca. To date, this law has not been passed due to opposition from religious communities.40 In March 2007, headscarves were banned in educational institutions, though women are allowed to wear a hijab when photographed for official documents.41

In addition, some local government bodies have displayed a bias against religious organizations. The State Committee on Religious Affairs (SCRA), under the Council of Ministers, is supposed to register religious groups of 10 persons or more. In at least one case, however, local authorities in Tursonzade District refused registration to Jehovah's Witnesses despite national registration and pressure from SCRA.42 As this case illustrates, the protection of religious, ethnic, and other minorities in practice is difficult to enforce and extends only as far as the government's writ.

Furthermore, state monitoring of Islam has steadily increased since the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) used Tajikistan to launch armed incursions into Uzbekistan. Under Article 187 (which bans the arousal of religious and ethnic dissension) and Article 307 (which bans calls to overthrow the government) of Tajikistan's criminal code, government authorities have arrested about 500 alleged members of the international Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir between 2000 and 2005. Although only 189 cases were brought to court, there are an estimated 150-200 Hizb ut-Tahrir members currently imprisoned.43 The targeting of Hizb ut-Tahrir as a security threat, subsequent arrests, and the lack of transparency in court proceedings have raised serious concerns over the government's restriction of religious observance and affiliation.44 Nevertheless, there have been no arrests of high-profile religious leaders, and SCRA has even loosened some of its institutional controls over the selection of imams.45

The government's monitoring and pressure on Islamist groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir may carry ethnic overtones as many of the group's activities reportedly involve members of the Uzbek minority population in Tajikistan.46 As a result, crackdowns on Islamists have fallen disproportionately on the Uzbek minority. Moreover, ethnic minorities, particularly Uzbeks and Russians, continue to be underrepresented in national government, despite the constitutional guarantees and government efforts to protect minorities – especially Uzbeks – against discrimination in public life.

Tajikistan's 1991 Law No. 459 calls for the social defense of individuals with disabilities, yet the disabled continue to experience widespread discrimination in everyday life. This problem is particularly acute in Tajikistan, where there has been a dramatic increase in the disabled population due to injuries sustained during the civil war and from landmines. Between 1990 and 2000, the number of disabled persons registered with Tajikistan's Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare rose from 67,832 to 104,272.47 In addition to the inaccessibility of public transportation and most buildings, the disabled face a very low degree of public acceptance.

The constitutional right to assembly and association continues to be curtailed by the state. The law "On assemblies, meetings, demonstrations and rallies" stipulates broad restrictions on public rallies, though it also places some limitations on government and law enforcement agents seeking to ban demonstrations. In practice, though, the government has sought to prevent public gatherings through the use of force and through rhetoric associating demonstrations with the outbreak of civil war in 1992.

The government has interfered in the formation of free and independent trade unions; currently, such organizations are parastatal entities. Citizens are often compelled to join trade unions and, as a consequence, these organizations rarely address citizens' genuine concerns, even regarding the egregious labor violations among Tajik migrants in Russia and Kazakhstan.48


  • The government should create more effective mechanisms – by setting up an oversight system of autonomous legislative and judicial organs and empowering an internal affairs office with monitoring and investigative practices – to hold law enforcement agencies accountable for human rights violations.
  • The government should devote more resources to genuine prison reform, beginning with the construction of new facilities and the provision of regular access to healthcare.
  • Politically motivated arrests of members of the opposition should cease immediately, and those who have been imprisoned should be released.
  • The government should increase enforcement of its national action plan against human trafficking with a particular focus on addressing corruption among border patrol officers.
  • New laws limiting freedoms of assembly and association should be repealed; groups espousing views different from those of the government should be allowed to meet without fear of arrest; and peaceful demonstrations should be permitted.

Rule of Law – 2.78

Independent judiciary: 1.80
Primacy of rule of law in civil and criminal matters: 2.67
Accountability of security forces and military to civilian authorities: 2.75
Protection of property rights: 3.00
Equal treatment under the law: 3.67

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, the justice system is heavily influenced by the executive branch and by criminal groups. The procurator's office, situated firmly within the executive, commands powers that effectively emasculate the judiciary. Procurators have the right to supervise the implementation of laws, launch criminal proceedings, conduct investigations, issue an arrest warrant, arrange prosecution on behalf of the state at trials, and protest a court ruling if the procurator finds the verdict unsubstantiated or too lenient to enforce. The ability to protest rulings is particularly influential since a judge whose decisions have been frequently protested is likely to be removed.

Constitutional guarantees of the right to an attorney and of a fair and immediate trial are often not met. According to Tajikistan's criminal code, pretrial detention by police without an arrest warrant can last for 72 hours, and procurators can extend detention for 10 days. In rare cases, the Procurator General can extend detention up to 15 months without trial.49 Generally, however, people are released if no charges were filed. This process is generally followed in practice, though state-appointed attorneys are not always available and often provide a substandard defense. Presumption of the defendants guilt remains the norm. In addition, criminal groups and other informal networks permeate judicial and law enforcement organs (often through personal relationships established during the civil war) to such a degree that procurators are often intimately connected to Tajikistan's illegal economy.50

The judiciary primarily consists of the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, Supreme Economic Court, Military Court, Court of Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast, courts of provinces, the city of Dushanbe, towns, and districts. Judges of the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, and Economic Court are appointed by the president, and each lower court can issue appeals to the court above it (although appeals are rare due to an overriding mistrust of the judicial system). Judges at all levels are underpaid and thus susceptible to bribery. The volume of cases brought to court is relatively high: the Supreme Court considered a total of 885 criminal and 1,421 civil legal proceedings in 2005 and heard appeals in 536 criminal proceedings, resulting in 160 cases being remitted for further consideration and 151 sentences being changed.51 Despite this activity, however, judicial oversight of other state institutions is severely lacking. Judges are, nonetheless, appropriately trained to carry out justice, particularly those trained during the Soviet period.

Modernization of Tajikistan's rule of law has concentrated on legal professional reform. Yet rather than undertaking reforms to enhance the autonomy of the country's legal professionals, the government has taken steps to subordinate them further to executive authorities. The 2004 Law on Licensing required advocates to register with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), marking a clear departure from the 1995 Law on Advocacy, which defined the legal profession as "an independent professional affiliation." As a result, advocates routinely ignore the registration requirement and base their authority on the previous Law of Advocacy, presenting an order from their collegium rather than a license from the MOJ to appear in court. Although the new law was intended to unify advocates and systematize the profession, advocates' resistance to implementing it has left its effects uncertain.52 Moreover, the MOJ's decision to eliminate a qualification examination for licensing as an advocate removed a potential contribution that the law might have made.

Many advocates, despite their education, have inadequate access to legal resources and fair pay. With approximately 12,000 to 13,000 full-time students enrolled in law schools, the number of graduates far exceeds available positions – especially the more coveted posts in the procurator and security organs and in the court system. Most lower-level and less-connected graduates enter the remaining ranks as advocates, non-advocate jurists, or notaries public.53

President Rahmon retains firm control over the Ministry of Defense and the Presidential Guard. The former has remained under Major-General Sherali Khayrulloyev since 1994, and the latter has been placed under one of Rahmon's relatives. Both served as a source of troops to man the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border after Russian troops were withdrawn.54

Torture and abuse of prisoners and impunity within the security forces remain common. Not only are police not held accountable to civilian authorities, they were at times used by the president and his inner circle to make politically motivated arrests. However, there are occasional cases where security forces are held accountable. In one case, for instance, three police officers were detained and investigated by procurators after an Islamic Renaissance Party activist died while in custody.55

While formal statistics demonstrate a gradual expansion of private property ownership in Tajikistan, the process is often carried out unfairly due to collusion among local officials. Many ordinary people with claims to private land cannot depend on either Tajikistan's ineffective legal professionals or on a judicial system largely under the control of local and central executive bodies. As a result, many people have few, if any, avenues for the defense of their property rights, and contracts are rarely enforced. In rare cases in which independent farmers and private entrepreneurs have challenged local government attempts to seize their property, they have been required to appeal their case through several levels of local and regional courts, where the influence of local authorities is greatest.

It is possible, in theory, for Tajik citizens to find some recourse from upper courts, such as the Supreme Economic Court, but this may take more than a year – as in the case of 28 farmers in Rudaki district where a case, initiated in 2004, extended well into the next year. Generally, farmers and entrepreneurs lack a full knowledge of their legal rights and do not usually consider using the legal system to their advantage.56


  • To establish a truly independent judiciary, the executive should be able to select judges only with a genuine legislative approval. Moreover, the institutional powers of the procurator's office should be limited.
  • Prisoners should be able to receive guaranteed access to an attorney at the beginning of their detention, and if the state assigns counsel, the court should make the appointment rather than the procurator.
  • The government should limit the interference of local authorities – including the procurator's office and the courts – to ensure that land reforms are carried out and that property rights are protected.

Anticorruption and Transparency – 1.62

Environment to protect against corruption: 1.60
Laws and ethical standards between private and public sectors: 1.25
Enforcement of anticorruption laws: 1.50
Governmental transparency: 2.14

Deep-seated corruption, the criminalization of state structures, and close ties between the government and the informal economy have become entrenched in Tajikistan's politics. Ranked as one of the world's most corrupt countries in Transparency International's 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index, Tajikistan received a score of 2.2, tying with Nigeria, Pakistan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.57 This score is marginally improved from the previous year.

In general, a culture of impunity prevails among government officials within the state apparatus. Public office is routinely viewed as a vehicle for personal enrichment, and the state rarely acts to establish an environment that discourages corruption. At times, however, high-level officials have been dismissed and arraigned on charges of corruption and embezzlement. In 2003, Tajikistan's aluminum plant director, Abduqodir Ermatov, was dismissed and about to be charged when he fled abroad. Ghaffor Mirzoev, the former commander of the Presidential Guard and head of the Drug Control Agency, was sentenced in August 2006 to life in prison for abuse of office, murder and an attempted coup d'etat.58 However, these dismissals were politically motivated and do not indicate a new era of enforcement of anticorruption laws.

The blurred line between the private and public spheres permeates Tajikistan's economy, particularly in professions where salaries are paid by the state; this issue has been particularly salient in the health and education sectors. Bribery is pervasive in higher education, involving students, instructors, deans, institute directors, and even the Ministry of Higher Education. Bribes range from small gifts to pass an exam to large fees for university entrance. As a result, an anticorruption department was set up within the procurator general's office in June 2004, with a specific mandate to review the education and health sectors.59 These are minor efforts given the widespread nature of corruption in these areas.

Attempts to enforce anticorruption laws have led to new and expanded mandates within Tajikistan's law enforcement agencies. In 1999, Tajikistan passed several laws establishing anticorruption instruments: the Presidential Decree on Additional Measures to Step up the Struggle against Economic Crime and Corruption, the Law on the Fight against Corruption, the Law on Civil Service, as well as changes to the criminal code. Importantly, the Law on the Fight against Corruption addresses corruption by attempting to control conflicts of interest and mandating annual declarations of income and assets.60 Despite these legislative changes, law enforcement agencies are themselves rarely subjected to external inspection, relying instead on internal controls – a significant problem, given that predatory and unfair tax collection has been found to impede the development of small and medium enterprises.61

Tajikistan ranks poorly among countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia with respect to the ease of staring a business, obtaining credit, and negotiating tax and court regulations.62 The various bureaucratic regulations constrict small business development, but they are permitted to continue since they enhance opportunities for corruption. The procurator's office monitors corruption through its own department, which can challenge any decision by any administrative body (private or public). While the number of investigations completed by the Procurator General's anticorruption department increased from 19 in 2003 to 45 in 2005, the department remains heavily biased.63 As a result, victims of corruption have no adequate mechanisms to assert their rights – particularly since there is no independent complaint mechanism outside the offices of the procurator or the Ministry of Justice. Anticorruption advocates and whistleblowers, lacking a supportive legal environment, frequently find themselves targeted by state agencies that they have identified as corrupt.

Progress on budgetary reforms has been mixed. There have been some improvements: the government has taken steps to consolidate public funds, thus improving budget management, and has submitted the republican budget, local budgets, and the budget of the social protection fund for parliamentary review.64 However, Tajikistan's major industries, including cotton and aluminum production, are not included in these disclosed budgets, making legislative review largely ceremonial. Expenditures in these areas remain a state secret.65 Moreover, the system of government contract allocation in these critical areas is not transparent and is therefore susceptible to corruption.

Excessive state intervention continues to define Tajikistan's economy, particularly in cotton and aluminum production and water resource management. In addition, since 2004 Tajikistan has become highly dependent upon foreign aid, much of which is regulated through the Aid Coordination Unit (ACU) situated within the presidential administration (and established through presidential decree). ACU does provide some public reporting of international aid (e.g. grants and loans) through published annual reports.66 However, this agency is not integrated into other government institutions, suggesting that it serves primarily as a show-piece for potential international donors.

While citizens do have a legal right to obtain information about government operations, with particular rights to information granted to journalists, a recent survey found that attempts to acquire basic information from government offices on the use of the death penalty, on economic growth, on how state funds were spent on social activities, or even on the amount of drugs confiscated by government agencies were refused. This information was designated classified or a state secret, leaving citizens no means to petition government agencies for it.67 The state makes no effort to provide information about government services and decisions in formats and settings that are accessible to disabled people.


  • To reduce officials' susceptibility to bribery, salaries of government employees, especially in the health and education sectors, should be raised.
  • Government agencies responsible for enforcing anticorruption laws – the tax police and the procurator's office – should themselves be subject to external inspection and review by fact-finding committees that report to judicial and legislative branch offices.
  • Recently enacted laws requiring public officials to disclose their financial assets or conflicts of interest should be systematically enforced by an independent prosecutor selected by the legislature. Sanctions for failure to comply should include criminal prosecution.
  • Public disclosure of state revenues and expenditures in the national budget should also include information on key areas of agricultural and industrial production.


Lawrence P. Markowitz is Visiting Assistant Professor of Politics at Oberlin College.


1 Labor remittances now constitute 12 percent of Tajikistan's GDP. See Tajikistan – Policy note: Enhancing the development impact of remittances (Washington, D.C.: World Bank, Report No. 35771TJ, June 2006),

2 Tajikistan at a Glance (World Bank, 13 August 2006),

3 Bruce Pannier, "Tajikistan: Officials Entice Ethnic Tajiks to Western Border Region," Eurasia Insight (New York:, 18 November 2006,

4 OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission Final Report, Republic of Tajikistan, Parliamentary Elections 27 February and 13 March 2005 (Warsaw: Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe [OSCE], Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights [ODIHR], 2005), 6,; OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission Report, Republic of Tajikistan, Presidential Elections 6 November 2006 (OSCE, 2007),

5 OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission Final Report, Republic of Tajikistan, Parliamentary Elections 27 February and 13 March 2005 (OSCE, 2005).

6 Pannier, "After Ruling Party Victory in Tajikistan, What Next?" (Prague and Washington, D.C.: Radio Free Liberty/Radio Liberty [RFE/RL]), 2 March 2005,

7 Representatives of IRP claimed they were opting out of the presidential election not only because of the environment in which the election took place but also as a strategy that would limit a backlash against IRP due to fears of rising Islamism in Tajikistan. See Dadojan Azimov, "Islamists Shun Tajik Election with Eye to Future" (London: Institute for War and Peace Reporting [IWPR], RCA No. 467, 5 October 2006),

8 "Tajikistan: Opposition Disorganized as Presidential Election Nears" (RFE/RL, 24 August 2006),….

9 OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission Report, Republic of Tajikistan, Presidential Elections 6 November 2006 (OSCE, 2007).

10 Pannier, "Tajikistan: Presidential Candidates Take to Campaign Trail – Together," Eurasia Insight, 28 October 2006,

11 OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission Report, Republic of Tajikistan, Presidential Elections 6 November 2006 (OSCE, 2007).

12 "Rakhmoniston: kazhdy rodivshchisya v Tadzhikistane stanovitsya rabom ego prezidenta," Charoghiruz 1, 113 (2007): 11-14,

13 "The Curse of Cotton: Central Asia's Destructive Monoculture" (Brussels: International Crisis Group [ICG], Asia Report No. 93, 28 February 2005),

14 "Tajikistan Country Profile" (The Fund for Peace, 2007),…

15 One source estimated that over 1200 NGOs registered in 2002 alone. See Sabine Freizer, "Neo-liberal and communal civil society in Tajikistan: merging or dividing in the post war period?," Central Asian Survey 24, 3 (September 2005): 227.

16 Ibid.

17 See the chapter on Tajikistan in Media Sustainability Index 2005 (Washington, D.C.: International Research and Exchanges Board [IREX], 2005),

18 "Government controls on news compromise vote in Tajikistan" (New York: Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ], 2006),; "Tajikistan's Beleaguered Media" (IWPR, RCA No. 429, 9 January 2006),

19 "Tajikistan – 2006 Annual Report" (Paris: Reporters Without Borders [RSF], 2006),

20 "Human Rights in the OSCE region", IHF Report 2006 (OSCE, 2006), p. 425,

21 "Tajik Government 'Tightening the Screws' on Independent Media," Eurasia Insight, 25 August 2006,

22 "Attacks on the Press in 2006: Tajikistan" (CPJ, 2006),

23 "Government controls on news compromise vote in Tajikistan" (CPJ, 2006).

24 The three provincial stations were allowed to continue operating only after paying additional broadcast fees and agreeing to air a government program. "Attacks on the Press in 2006: Tajikistan" (CPJ, 2006).

25 See, for instance, "Djumaboi Tolibov freed after seven months in custody," (Paris: Reporters Without Borders [RSF], 2005), 21 December 2005,

26 "Tajikistan: Report 2005" (Washington, D.C.: Amnesty International [AI], 2005), "Tajikistan Report 2007," (Washington, D.C.: Amnesty International [AI], 2007),….

27 See "OSCE Centre in Dushanbe" (OSCE, 2007),

28 Human Rights in the OSCE region", IHF Report 2006 (OSCE, 2006), p. 427,

29 "World Prison Brief for Tajikistan" (London: Kings College London, International Centre for Prison Studies [ICPS], 20 April 2007),….

30 "Regional Delegation in Tashkent," ICRC Annual Report 2005 (Geneva: International Committee of the Red Cross, 1 June 2006),$FILE/icrc_ar_05_tashk….

31 "Tajik Prison Rioters Get Extended Jail Terms" (RFE/RL, 1 August 2006),…; "Tajikistan Report 2007," (Washington, D.C.: Amnesty International [AI], 2007),….

32 "Tajikistan: Country Summary," World Report 2006 (New York: Human Rights Watch [HRW], 2006),

33 "Tajikistan: Country Summary," World Report 2007 (HRW, 2007),

34 For example, women constituted approximately 25 percent of the judges on Tajikistan's Peoples Courts. See Sh.M. Ismoilov and M.H. Sa'diev, Mahomoti Adliya va Sudhoi Tojikiston 75 sol (Dushanbe: Qonuniyat, 1999).

35 "Women in National Parliaments" (Geneva: Inter-Parliamentary Union [IPU], 31 March 2007),

36 Analysis of the Law of the Republic of Tajikistan on State Guarantees of Equal Rights for Men and Women and Equal Opportunities in the Exercise of Such Rights (ABA/CEELI, September 2005),….

37 "The Curse of Cotton: Central Asia's Destructive Monoculture" (ICG), 16-17.

38 "Tajikistan" in Trafficking in Persons Report (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of State, 5 June 2006),

39 "Tajikistan" in International Religious Freedom Report 2006 (U.S. Department of State, 15 September 2006),

40 "Tajikistan: Country Summary," World Report 2007 (HRW, 2007),

41 Farangis Najibullah, "Tajikistan: Authorities Exclude Miniskirt, Hejab on Campuses" Eurasia Insight, 25 April 2007,

42 "Tajikistan" in International Religious Freedom Report 2005 (U.S. Department of State, 8 November 2005),

43 Emmanuel Karagiannis, "The Challenge of Radical Islam in Tajikistan: Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami," Nationalities Papers 34, 1 (March 2006): 2.

44 Hizb ut-Tahrir calls for the establishment of an Islamic state, and thus violates Tajikistan's Constitution and criminal code. However, without transparency in court proceedings, there is no way to determine whether the basis of convictions is established intent to overthrow the state or merely alleged membership in the organization.

45 Ibid.

46 Gulnoza Saidazimova, "Central Asia: Radical Islamists Challenge Government Efforts at Control (Part 3)" (RFE/RL, 8 August 2005),

47 "Country Profile on Disabilities: Tajikistan" (Tokyo: Japan International Cooperation Agency [JICA], March 2002), 7,….

48 K. Osipyan, "Trade unions of Tajikistan and Russia should deal with labor migration problems together," Avesta/Tajikistan News 15 February 2007,

49 International Service for Human Rights, "Committee Against Torture: 37th Session 6-24 November 2006, Republic of Tajikistan (Initial Report)," 20 November 2006,…

50 For numerous examples of this, see Erica Marat, "The State-Crime Nexus in Central Asia: State Weakness, Organized Crime, and Corruption in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan," Silk Road Paper (October 2006): 1-137,

51 A highly active court does not necessarily indicate greater institutional capacity. Increased activity may reflect either the autonomy of the judiciary or the ability of procurators and criminal groups to use the court to their advantage. "Recent Legal Developments in Tajikistan: February 2006" (Chicago: American Bar Association, Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative [ABA/CEELI]),

52 Legal Profession Reform Index [LPRI] for Tajikistan (ABA/CEELI, September 2005),

53 Ibid.

54 Johan Engvall, "The State Under Siege: The Drug Trade and Organised Crime in Tajikistan," Europe-Asia Studies 58, 6 (September 2006): 827-54.

55 "Tajikistan Report 2007," (Washington, D.C.: Amnesty International [AI], 2007),….

56 "The Curse of Cotton: Central Asia's Destructive Monoculture" (ICG), 14-15.

57 Corruption Perceptions Index 2006 (Berlin: Transparency International [TI], 2006),….

58 Daniel Kimmage, "Tajikistan: No Surprises Expected in Presidential Election," Eurasia Insight, 5 November 2006,

59 Akbar Sharifi, "Tajikistan's Lacklustre Anti-Corruption Effort" (IWPR, RCA No. 333, 10 December 2004),

60 "Regional Anti-Corruption Action Plan: Tajikistan" (Paris: OECD Directorate for Financial, Fiscal and Enterprise Affairs, Anti-corruption Network for Transition Economies, 21 January 2004), 2-3,….

61 BISNIS, "Tajikistan's Investment Climate Report (Dushanbe: U.S. Embassy, 18 October 2003),….

62 "Doing Business Report 2007 – Where Tajikistan Stands?" (World Bank, 2007),

63 "Tajikistan: Update on Action to Implement Recommendations" (OECD Directorate for Financial, Fiscal and Enterprise Affairs, Istanbul Anti-Corruption Plan, 13 December 2006), 6,

64 "Staff Assessment of Qualification for the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative – Republic of Tajikistan" (Washington, D.C.: International Monetary Fund, 8 December 2005), 3,

65 Personal interview with Ilkhom Hakimov, Head of Economic Division, Ministry of Agriculture, Dushanbe, 16 December 2002. This data is also omitted from Ministry of Statistics publications.

66 Sabina-Margarita Dzalaeva, "Foreign Aid Management and the State Budget Cycle in Tajikistan," News 2007 xiv, 1 (Winter 2007),….

67 "Legal Protections and Barriers on the Right to Information, State Secrets and the Protection of Sources in OSCE Participating States," (London: Privacy International, 2 May 2007),

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