Since 1992, president Emomali Rahmon has effectively ruled Tajikistan through a pervasive campaign of fear, political repression, intimidation and violence. Human rights activists, journalists, and grassroots leaders have long been targeted by the GKNB (the government’s National Security wing), with the GKNB given near carte blanche to silence human rights defenders and any form of domestic political opposition.
Under the pretenses of rooting out “criminal elements,” or so-called terrorist or extremist threats, the police are often directed to suppress NGO work carried out in the defense of freedom of expression or freedom from torture.
December, 2022 marked a visit from UN independent expert Mary Lawlor, who in spite of being heartened by the fact that many human rights defenders continue to do essential work inside the country, also made clear that NGO representatives, activists, and independent journalists are under increased pressure and face dangerous conditions.
Many activists would not speak to or meet with Lawlor out of fear of government reprisal, and Lawlor was not permitted to travel to the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) region, where in 2022, amidst governmental clampdowns on protestors, over 50 civilians were killed and scores more injured.
Protests in the GBAO gained momentum in 2021 in part when police shot and killed resident GulbiddinZiyobekov for supposedly resisting arrest. So renewed a cycle of repression and violence that targeted the ethnically distinct Pamiri people and peaked last year, with protesters massing in the thousands, the government cutting off the internet, and routine attacks by a militarized police force.
At the time NGO affiliated human rights defenders were often arrested and interrogated, with laptops, phones, and other property seized without warrants.
Since the end of Tajikistan’s civil war, President Rahmon and his inner network of family and business partners have ruled the country with an autocratic stranglehold, using the executive branch to persecute political rivals, nearly eliminate independent journalism, and control information via state media.
The judicial branch has been made to serve the executive, and arrests of activists, reporters, and bloggers are commonplace, with little evidence to account for and closed trials to follow.
Lawlor’s report and its long list of grave concerns for human rights in Tajikistan reiterates what many international watch groups have also concluded: the last several years have marked a low point in the country for basic rights and freedoms.
From harsh police clampdowns in the GBAO that have left civilians dead, to heightened aggression along the Kyrgyzstan border, Rahmon seems intent on consolidating his power further, with no regard for the internationally binding commitments to human rights his administration has made.