The closed-door trial of more than a dozen leaders of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) ended this week. The IRPT’s deputy leaders, Mahmadali Hayit and Saidumar Khusaini, were given life sentences and the remainder were given prison terms between two and 28 years.
Zarafo Rahmoni, the only woman on trial was given two years–the prosecutor had asked for five. Rahmatullo Rajab, Kiemiddin Avazov, Abdukahhor Davlat, and Sattor Karimov were all given 28 years; Zubaydulloh Roziq and Fayzmuhammad Muhammadalii were given 25 and 23 years, respectively; Rustam Sadiddin and Vohidkhon Qosiddinov were given 20 years; Hikmatullo Sayfullozoda was given 16 years; and Mahmadsharif Nabiev and Abdusamad Ghairatov were sentenced to 14 years.
In November 2015, Hasan Rahimov, a party district head, was sentenced to nine years. It’s believed that more than 200 other party members have been detained.
The party’s leader, Muhiddin Kabiri, remains in exile abroad.
The sentencing–which went very much as expected–is one of the final chapters in the Tajik government’s long persecution of its only significant opposition.
Tajikistan’s five-year civil war ended in 1997 with a peace accord that allotted the opposition 30 percent of government posts and allowed the IRPT to operate as a legal party again. While the opposition was comprised of a variety of groups, including minority Pamirs and nationalists, the Islamists inherited the opposition mantle in government. For brief a time Tajikistan was heralded as a model of potential political pluralism in Central Asia, with IRPT as the only legal Islamist party in the region.
But Dushanbe has made a concerted effort to smear and dismantle the party. In March 2015, the IRPT lost the two seats (out of 63) it had held in the country’s parliament in an election judged neither free nor fair by international observers. Over last summer, campaigns to pressure party members continued, resulting in a spate of YouTube denunciations by former members.
Then, in September, Tajikistan’s Deputy Defense Minister Abdulhalim Nazarzoda mounted what can be best described as short-lived mutiny. The Tajik government claimed he, in concert with the IRPT, was attempting to seize power. An alternate explanation, however, holds that Nazarzoda–who had been a member of the opposition during the civil war but not the IRPT after the war–found out he was about to be purged and decided to not go quietly. The Nazarzoda affair was swiftly linked to the IRPT. The party was shortly after labeled a terrorist organization, though no other country has followed Dushanbe in labeling the party as such.
In late May, a constitutional referendum not only excepted President Emomali Rahmon from term limits but also banned religious-based political parties.
Kabiri–who, as noted above, is in exile–has had his family in Tajikistan harassed. Last December, as Kabiri spoke via Skype at a conference in Washington, D.C. his 95-year old father and other relatives were briefly detained. Dushanbe has also targeted lawyers representing the political opposition.
Where the party will go from here is unclear. In an interview in January, Kabiri said the party’s political council had held its first meeting abroad. “We will keep our peaceful tactics, although it is becoming more difficult to control people’s emotions,” he said. “No wonder why more and more young protesting people join radical and terrorist organizations. But we are doing everything to prevent the radicalization of our supporters.”
Kabiri has appealed to the UN and the guarantors of the 1997 peace accord, but to no avail. During Tajikistan’s recent turn at the UN’s universal periodic review, several major countries criticized the Tajik government’s campaign against the IRPT and its lawyers. The U.S. State Department went as far as to designate Tajikistan a “country of particlar concerns” with regard to religious freedoms, but waived imposing sanctions on national security grounds. Dushanbe talks the talk on taking “all possible measures” to implement the country’s human rights commitments, but the claim is difficult to square with reality. Meanwhile, the international responses to Tajikistan’s political regression remains in the realm of talk as well.