Tajikistan: Pressure on Islamists

By Vladimir Davlatov in Dushanbe (RCA No. 143, 3-Sep-02)

Tajikistan: Pressure on Islamists

By Vladimir Davlatov in Dushanbe (RCA No. 143, 3-Sep-02)

Monday, 14 November, 2005

In a series of speeches, President Imomali Rakhmonov has publicly asserted that some supporters of the main opposition group, the Party of the Islamic Revival of Tajikistan, PIRT, spread extremist ideologies designed to divide the state.

Now, the authorities have banned ten imams from preaching in what is widely seen as a move to stop religious leaders garnering support for PIRT. And the heads of a further 250 mosques have been asked to swear loyalty to the current leadership.

Tajikistan is currently the only Central Asian state with an active Islamic party. Representatives of PIRT - which formed part of the United Tajik Opposition during the civil war - were given a share of power under the 1997 peace accords that brought five years of bloody conflict to an end.

However, amid heightened international fears of religious extremism, Rakhmonov has felt free to criticise the rapid growth in mosques in Tajikistan and express concern at the number of citizens seeking to study in Muslim countries, where they may be exposed to ideas such as fundamentalist Wahhabism.

Rakhmonov was quick to extend support for the US-led action in Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks on America, and many observers believe that the president is hoping these new alliances will bear fruit in the form of financial and political support to shore up his leadership.

Under the current constitution, Rakhmonov would have to relinquish his position as head of state in 2006, but reliable sources say that plans are already afoot for him to extend his term in office - possibly through a referendum or constitutional change.

More immediately, he must be looking to the parliamentary elections due in 2004, and many believe he feels threatened by the influence his religious rivals could hold in a country where 95 per cent of the population is Muslim.

PIRT spokesman Khikmatullo Saifullozoda told IWPR that most of the leadership's post-September 11 moves have been subtle. "We can't say that the government started a campaign against our party after September 11, but we do feel certain pressures from the local authorities in many regions."

Continuing bureaucratic obstacles in the president's home base - the Kuliab district in southern Tajikistan - have meant that the party has been unable to establish representation in the area. However, there has not been the all-out suppression that many observers anticipated.

"We feared the worst but it has not yet happened. The authorities did not begin to fight against dissidence," a high-ranking official in an international organisation, who requested anonymity, told IWPR.

There have even been a number of gains in the area of civic and press freedoms, which analysts attribute to growing international scrutiny of the region's leaders rather than any great desire by Rakhmonov to democratise.

"There are certain improvements with regard to the issue of human rights, although they have manifested very slowly," the same source said.

These have included reform of the prison system and a clampdown on law enforcement officers who abuse their powers. Judicial history was made when nine high-ranking interior ministry officials were recently convicted of torturing detainees.

Attempts have also been made to improve relations with the media, notably the amnesty for the well-known Tajik journalist Dodajon Atovulloev - who had been forced to run the opposition paper Charogi Ruz from abroad - and permission for the capital's first independent FM radio station to broadcast from the city.

While September 11 and its aftermath has provided the president with an opportunity to tackle his political rivals, it had dealt a blow to his efforts to rebuild the country in the wake of its ruinous five-year civil war.

The first deputy head of the National Bank of Tajikistan, Abdudjabbor Shirinov, told IWPR that the country has lost 237 million US dollars in investments from large companies who took fright after al-Qaeda atrocities in American and the military action that followed in neighbouring Afghanistan.

The government has also been disappointed by the lack of humanitarian assistance and investment provided by the US and its allies.

Vladimir Davlatov is the pseudonym of a journalist in Dushanbe

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