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Retreating Rights – Tajikistan: Executive Summary

Article by Adam Hug

May 17, 2021

Retreating Rights – Tajikistan: Executive Summary

After almost 30 years of independence, Tajikistan finds itself in a very difficult place, combining extreme poverty with a system that brooks no dissent. Tajikistan’s descent into authoritarianism has taken place gradually but inexorably since the end of the Civil War in 1997 as the President has consolidated power into his own hands and those of his family and close associates, repressing dissent, no matter how minor, with often overwhelming force.


Tajikistan now finds itself close to the bottom of the global freedom rankings for political competition, civic space, media and religious freedom as the regime has effectively deployed its multi-track ‘suppress, acquiesce and incorporate’ approach to neutralise alternative voices with a widespread culture of self-censorship. There are real challenges deciding whether, when and how to engage with the country, which come with difficult trade-offs for those involved, where development and human rights imperatives do not always align in the short-term.


Western international actors have limited opportunities to influence the situation in a positive direction but it is important that they seek to use what leverage they have to resist further backsliding and put pressure on the regime to curb its excesses. Though diplomatic pressure can sometimes make a difference at the margins, money remains the most important tool available to those seeking to make a difference on the ground. This is both looking at what more can be done to condition or review international aid, investment and lending, as well as taking action where corrupt financial flows from the Tajik elite penetrate the international financial and economic system. Beyond the country there is a lot more to do to protect activists in exile from harassment and extradition by a regime that does not see national borders as a barrier to repression.


Key Recommendations

The Government of Tajikistan should:

  • End the harassment of regime critics at home and abroad, and end the use of torture;
  • Remove laws that prohibit the ‘insult’ of the President and public officials;
  • Limit the application of anti-extremism legislation to prevent its use against political rivals;
  • Address widespread corruption at the heart of the state;
  • Create genuinely independent oversight mechanisms to investigate abuse;
  • End mandatory medical examinations for every citizen seeking to get married and HIV tests as a de facto requirement for many jobs and education institutions;
  • Cease the blocking of websites of independent news outlets;
  • End the propiska system of internal movement registration and restrictions;
  • Make the General Plans of cities more accessible and involve citizens in their development;
  • Reform and expand the listing process for properties of architectural and heritage value; and
  • Develop measures to promote women’s participation in employment and public office, tackle domestic violence, sexual harassment and abuse by law enforcement.


Western countries and international organisations should:

  • Review investments by International Financial Institutions and aid schemes that provide budget support to the Government of Tajikistan;
  • Implement Magnitsky sanctions and other anti-corruption measures against abusers;
  • Urge social media companies to improve complaint handling and Tajik content moderation;
  • Pause EU efforts to add Tajikistan to the GSP + scheme and create a new Enhanced PCA;
  • Add Tajikistan to the UK’s list of Human Rights Priority Countries; and
  • Improve access to asylum and temporary refuge for Tajiks at risk, including measures to assist family reunification where the relatives of activists have been targeted for abuse.


Image by Rjruiziii under (CC).

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