Tajik President Emomali Rahmon will soon travel to the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO), the site of violent unrest earlier this year and ongoing pressure on Pamiri leaders, journalists, and activists.
RFE/RL’s Tajik Service reported that preparations were underway for a presidential visit. The specific dates are unknown, though the visit is likely to take place in early September. If the visit does occur, it would be Rahmon’s first to the region since protests and an ensuing crackdown in May.
Rahmon last traveled to GBAO in September 2021, delivering a speech in the region’s capital, Khorog and hailing the government’s investments in the region. Typically, Rahmon’s working visits to GBAO include the opening of various projects and little discussion of the frictions between the region and Dushanbe. During a 2020 trip to GBAO Rahmon poured foundation for a bridge across the Gund River and attended the commissioning of a new sports facility.
RFE/RL’s Tajik Service cited a resident of Rushan district as saying that if the trip does take place, people will be forced to greet the president. “…but in their hearts they have no gratitude to the authorities. There are almost no people left in Khorog and Rushan whose relatives have not been killed or arrested.” Rushan was the site of protests in May, with groups of civilians attempting to stop a military convoy on its way into Khorog. At least 21 civilians were killed.
Dushanbe claimed it had undertaken an “anti-terrorism operation” but for many observers, it was a clear crackdown on Pamiri leaders, journalists, and activists. At least three prominent local leaders — Mamadboqir Mamadboqirov, Zoir Rajabov, and Khursand Mazorov — were killed and hundreds detained. In the months since, several more Pamiri figures and activists have been detained in Russia and deported back to Tajikistan. Last week, Maqsud Ghayosov, a Tajik activists and blogger, was arrested in Moscow, and his relatives fear he will be returned to Tajikistan.
Meanwhile, many of those detained and charged over the protests and unrest in May have been convicted and sentenced in recent weeks. Salam Imomnazarov, the son of Imomnazar Imomnazarov, a former field commander in the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) and local leader killed during the 2012 unrest, was arrested in February. He was convicted in June and sentenced to 16 years in prison for drug trafficking, though the sentence only became known this week. Prosecutors are reportedly seeking a 25-year sentence for activists and journalist Ulfathonim Mamadshoeva. The authorities are seeking a life sentence for Mamadshoeva’s ex-husband, a former general, Kholbash Kholbashov. The pair appeared in a video in May “confessing” to organizing the unrest in GBAO.
Human Rights Watch’s Central Asia researcher Syinat Sultanaliev said in a recent statement, “Dozens of activists and other members of the Pamiri minority in the Gorno-Badakshan autonomous region are facing unfair trials behind closed doors without access to lawyers… Without lawyers, defendants can’t get a fair trial and are at greater risk of being tortured or otherwise mistreated.”
With the number of detained estimated to be around 200, it’s next to impossible to catalog every case — a task made more difficult by consistent pressure on media to not report bad news about GBAO.
As Eurasianet chronicled in July, Tajik authorities were talking up a construction drive for GBAO, “seeking to soothe anger with investments…” The works promoted included “two new sports stadiums, parks and a 10-story building for the Khorog State University” as well as chatter about a new tunnel to connect the towns of Kalai-Khumb and Vanj.
These, and more, are likely to be center-stage when Rahmon arrives in the region.