Tuesday, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon took the podium in New York City to deliver a speech during the UN General Assembly debate. Meanwhile, back in Tajikistan a high court has ruled that the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT) should be branded a terrorist organization.
RFE/RL commented in reporting on the recent blacklisting that the ruling “clears the way for authorities to crack down further on the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan’s (IRPT) leadership and rank-and-file, seemingly cementing the fate of a party that was until recently a major player on the country’s political scene.”
In New York, Rahmon’s speech was wide-ranging, as most other UN General Assembly debate speeches tend to be, but gave ample time to combating international terrorism and extremism, which he called a “top priority.”:
There is an undeniable need in developing national, regional and international mechanisms aimed at elimination of military infrastructure, blocking channels of financial and logistics support, recruiting, preventing propaganda of violence, and counteracting the use of modern information and communication technologies for the purpose of terror.
In addition to the above, it is essential that we, throughout joint efforts, seek for ways in addressing the issues of poverty reduction, dealing with the negative impact of globalization, likewise preventing and resolving regional conflicts, strengthening cross-cultural and interfaith dialogue, mutual trust and tolerance will play a pivotal role.
The cognitive dissonance at work is spectacular. The reality of the IRPT’s politics doesn’t match the Tajik government’s narrative and Rahmon’s urging for “interfaith dialogue, mutual trust and tolerance” rings false when viewed beside the crackdown on expressions of Islam in Tajikistan, generally, and the IRPT, in particular.
The party’s leader, Muhiddin Kabiri, told Eurasianet in 2011 that that the party wants “a democratic, secular state with the rule of law,” and that it was “trying to operate within the framework of the law and not be involved in any provocative situations.” (For more about the 2011 circumstances check Eurasianet here, here, and here). The IRPT is no stranger to being called a terrorist organization, though its accusers have little verifiable evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the party. Although the state has pinned Abduhalim Nazarzoda’s mutiny on the IRPT, the party’s politics have been, since the end of the civil war, quite moderate. In 2013, the IRPT joined with the Socialist Democratic party to back a secular, female candidate for President (Oinikhol Bobonazarova spoke to IWPR in April about Tajikistan’s backsliding on human rights.)
The party’s estimated 40,000 members are left with few alternatives at the moment. Labeling the IRPT a terrorist group leaves those who have not denounced the party (note: many regional watchers say those who have to date denounced the party in a series of Youtube videos did so under government pressure) vulnerable to the state’s whims. According to RFE/RL, the court’s ruling bans the distribution of materials–video, audio, print–related to the party.
The lawyer who had agreed to represent several of the IRPT leaders arrested by Tajik authorities earlier this month was recently accused of fraud and forgery and detained by the authorities. Helen Thibault, speaking on Nate Schenkkan’s Central Asianist Podcast last week commented that IRPT members were having trouble finding lawyers, “because nobody wants to defend them because it is dangerous to do so.”
Tajikistan’s other opposition political parties, watching what is happening to the IRPT, will surely get the message: opposition is not welcome. So much for mutual trust and tolerance.