Crossroads Asia

Tajikistan’s Human Rights Record up for Review

Since its last review at the UN Human Rights Committee, Tajikistan has pursued a significant crackdown on political rights.

Catherine Putz
Tajikistan’s Human Rights Record up for Review
Credit: Freestock.ca

On July 1, the Committee to Protect Journalists called on the government of Tajikistan to reinstate the press accreditation of RFE/RL video journalist Barotali Nazarov. Nazarov’s accreditation was reportedly seized by Tajik government officials in late June and he was “temporarily” banned from reporting for repeatedly “mentioning the extremist and terrorist” Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) an RFE/RL press release stated. Nazarov, RFE/RL says, is the fifth member of the service’s Dushanbe bureau to have their accreditation withheld at present. 

The CPJ protest lands as Tajikistan comes under review this week at the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The country’s last review in this particular format was in 2013. Since then, repression in the country has only increased — most notably through the crushing of the opposition IRPT, the jailing of its leaders, and extraordinary pressure placed on activists and journalists both inside Tajikistan and abroad. 

A few months ago, an investigation by Eurasianet concluded that RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, locally known as Radio Ozodi, had “adopted an unspoken policy of omitting references to the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, or IRPT, which is deemed an extremist group by Dushanbe, in deference to the government and in violation of the broadcaster’s core mandate.”

As Eurasianet put it last week: “In the wake of the self-censorship reports by Eurasianet and others, RFE/RL pledged to remedy shortcomings. By increasing the attention it reserves for voices critical of the Tajik government, however, Ozodi has attracted more pressure from the authorities.”

In essence, Radio Ozodi is damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t. No serious media outlet could discuss Tajik politics without mentioning the IRPT, but it is increasingly difficult for independent media to hang on under state pressure. 

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The Tajik government has gone to great lengths to label the IRPT a terrorist organization, an effort that has largely failed to gain traction outside the former Soviet Union. But Dushanbe sticks to the story. Key IRPT members, like Muhiddin Karbiri, have been granted asylum in Europe, where they are able to present and defend a counternarrative to that of the government. 

But being in Europe isn’t complete safety either, as the Tajik government often harasses the relatives of its foes who remain in the country. Illustrating this tactic, it’s worth reading this recent piece by Bruce Pannier about Humayra Bakhtiyar, a Tajik journalist residing in Europe who said police in Tajikistan recently summoned her father (on her birthday, in fact), pressuring him to get her to return. Pannier details other similar stories, concluding that “even if [the Tajik authorities] can’t get someone to return to Tajikistan, they can still make their lives miserable by pressuring their kin at home.”

At the same time that Europe provides a base for the Tajik opposition, as I noted in this month’s magazine, European leaders have pursued a careful and unsatisfying policy line in Tajikistan: Criticism, if it occurs, happens behind closed doors. In public, it’s all smiles and handshakes and no questions asked.

This week, exiled Tajik opposition politicians looked on as a Tajik government delegation delivered its report detailing how the state views its implementation of commitments made to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Later this month, the committee will produce its own report, after considering the state’s and various other stakeholders’ submissions. If the past is anything to judge by, the committee’s report will point out, in bland technocratic language, a great many human rights violations. Nothing will be done to remedy them or punish the state for failing to live up to its commitments.