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Retreating Rights – Tajikistan: Introduction

Article by Adam Hug

May 17, 2021

Retreating Rights – Tajikistan: Introduction

A brief history of Tajikistan

Tajikistan is situated between Kyrgyzstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west, Afghanistan to the south and China to the east, comprising parts of the Ferganna Valley in the north and the Pamir mountain range. While many cultures had settled the area throughout history the modern Tajik people trace their ancestry back to the Samanid Empire (875-999 AD), who ruled the area from nearby Samarkand and Bukhara, with post-Independence Tajikistan naming its currency, the somoni, after Samanid leader Ismail Samani.[1] Unlike the rest of Central Asia, the Tajik language, given the link back to the Samanids, is closely related to Persian (Farsi) rather than being Turkic in origin.


The land that comprises Tajikistan today was gradually taken by the Russian Empire from the Emirate of Bukhara and Khanate of Kokand in the period between 1864 and 1885. During the First World War, opposition to forced conscription helped spark a revolt by the Basmachi movement that would wage both conventional and guerrilla war against both Imperial Russian and then Soviet forces into the early 1920s with the goal of Muslim independence from Russian control in Central Asia. As Soviet control strengthened, the Tajik Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) was created in 1924 (as part of the Uzbek SSR) and it would ultimately become a full constituent Republic (the Tajik SSR) in 1929 though the then predominantly ethnic Tajik cities of Samarkand and Bukhara would remain part of the Uzbek SSR.


In 1985, Communist First Secretary Rahmon Nabiyev was ousted in a corruption scandal and replaced by Qahhor Mahkamov. Mahkamov would become the first President of the Tajik SSR on November 30th 1990 (while it was still within the Soviet Union), but would be forced from office the following August after his support for the attempted coup against Soviet President Gorbachev. His ouster was part of a period of local instability that would set the ground for the coming civil war, amid a swirl of debates around Tajik national identity (leading to the departure of a number of ethnic Russians, Germans and Jews), the role of Islam and evolving local power dynamics.[2]


As Tajikistan declared independence on September 9th 1991 (becoming the Republic of Tajikistan) amid a power vacuum Rahmon Nabiyev would soon return to power as Tajikistan’s first elected President in November 1991 representing the Communist party. However, unrest would spiral as different factions looked to take control of the state and its resources leading to the outbreak of Civil War in May 1992 when the President distributed arms to his supporters to encourage them to supress opposition protests taking place in Dushanbe. The myriad factions and local forces would ultimately coalesce into two broad coalitions. The Government faction comprised the Communist party elite, with political strength in the north of the country (Leninabad – now known as Khujand), was able to combine its support with armed groups based in the south-western city (and surrounding area) of Kulob (part of Khatlon region) who dominated the Sitodi Milli (Popular Front of Tajikistan [PFT]). Their opponents, comprised a mix of ethnic Tajik nationalists, democrats (including the Democratic Party which contested the 1991 election against Nabiyev), Islamists (led by the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan – IRPT), and ethnic groups from the middle of the country (‘Gharmis’ based in the Rasht Valley) and the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (‘Pamiris’), the region to the east of the country dominated by the Pamir Mountain range.[3]


President Nabiyev was forced to resign following an ambush by opposition forces in September 1992.[4] By the end of the year a representative of the Kulob grouping, Imomali Rakhmonov (later known as Emomali Rahmon), became Chairman of the Supreme Soviet and de facto head of Government (with the post of President being temporarily abolished), which marked the passing of control from the Leninabadi Communist elites that had still dominated the earlier ‘Government of National Reconciliation’ to the Kulobi armed groups and the ‘Popular Front’.


The pro-Government forces were soon able to gain a decisive military advantage, retaking Dushanbe in November-December 1992 from notional opposition control that had been in place since Nabiyev’s ousting in September. The aggressive campaign of violence against opposition supporting regions saw 55,000 houses burned or otherwise destroyed with tens of thousands forced to flee amid bloody battles, including many opposition leaders who fled into exile.[5] The a number of opposition factions that remained would formally coalesce into the United Tajik Opposition (UTO – led by the IRPT’s Said Abdullo Nuri) and continued to fight on, notably from bases in Afghanistan under patronage of the pre-Taliban Government under ethnic Tajik leaders President Burhanuddin Rabbani and General Ahmad Shah Massoud. Uzbekistan, and eventually Russia, played a significant role in bolstering the Government and its forces.


The Presidency was revived in November 1994 and during a ceasefire in the Civil War Rakhmonov was elected, beating former Prime Minister Abdumalik Abdullajanov, albeit in a contest where members of the UTO were not able to stand and campaign, and where administrative resources were used to assist the de facto incumbent. The war was brought to a formal close in June 1997 with the ‘General Agreement of Peace and National Reconciliation in Tajikistan’, with the terms of the settlement having been negotiated for the best part of the previous two years.[6] The settlement included the continued and expanded deployment of the UN Mission of Observers in Tajikistan (UNMOT), which had originally been created in 1994 to monitor the earlier ceasefire; an end to the ban of the UTO’s member political parties; a requirement for 30 per cent UTO representation in the executive branch of government (ministries, departments, local government, judicial, and law enforcement bodies); the integration of the UTO’s military units into Tajikistan’s armed forces; provisions for the return of refugees and IDPs; and an act of ‘mutual forgiveness’ and an ‘amnesty act’ that was to release all prisoners of war and pardon all crimes related to the conflict.[7]


According to the International Crisis Group over the course of the Civil War between ‘60,000 and 100,000 people were killed, some 600,000 – a tenth of the population – were internally displaced and another 80,000 fled the country’.[8] For several years after the war the Government was not able to fully control certain areas of the country, such as Gharm and the Rasht Valley where local commanders did not accept the peace settlement, leaving banditry to flourish.



Although peace had brought the IRPT and other political rivals into the system, Rakhmonov would inexorably consolidate his power over the coming years. He won re-election in 1999 with 97.6 per cent of the vote in an election the main opposition had looked to boycott until shortly before polling began. The People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan, headed by Rakhmonov since 1998, had displaced the Communists as the political vehicle of the ruling elite, winning 15 seats in the 2000 Parliamentary elections to five for the Communists and only two for the IRPT.[9] Rakhmonov’s government ultimately failed to deliver on its pledges to award 30 per cent of Government posts at all levels to former members of the UTO, though at the top the UTO’s Mirzo Ziyoev was appointed to head the Ministry of Emergency Situations and Haji Akbar Turajanzade became the first Vice Prime Minister. The formal amnesty process was also more limited in practice than had been envisaged in the peace accords.[10] However, the authoritarian consolidation had successfully delivered, in the words of John Heathershaw and Parviz Mullojonov, an ‘illiberal peace’ based on an ‘elite bargain’ that shared out the (meagre) resources under state control with those willing to support the regime. Yet, this was a bargain that involved a significant level of risk as the state consolidated and the regime trimmed its size.[11] They note that over time both pro-Government and pro-Opposition warlords of the civil war-era have been frozen out of power and in many cases jailed (including former Democratic Party Leader turned TajikGaz CEO Mahmadruzi Iskandarov) or killed (including Ziyoev in 2009) as power flowed inexorably to the President’s family and those around them.[12]


The country remained impoverished, reliant on a mix of remittances, informal cross-border shuttle trading between regional bazaars, international aid and the drugs trade.[13] The latter was a by-product of being positioned to the north of Afghanistan, making it the transit route for about 30 per cent of Afghan opiates for much of this period. In 2001, the drugs trade was equivalent to between 30-50 per cent of Tajikistan’s national income and by 2011 it was generating $2.7 billion a year in illicit revenues, more than other legitimate sources based inside the country (.[14] This provide opportunities for corruption amongst both customs officers and other state officials willing to turn a blind-eye to or actively facilitate the trade, while sucking in international aid and training for the security services to tackle the narcotics trade and improve post-war security, which in turn strengthened the Government’s control over society.[15]


The President would win re-election in 2006 and 2013 in elections with no genuine opposition, with the IRPT boycotting the 2006 election and the opposition coalition being unable to obtain the 210,000 supporter signatures required to run in 2013 as the regime transitioned towards full authoritarianism.[16] In his attempts to build a new post-Soviet Tajik identity in 2007, the President amended his surname to Rahmon, removing the Russian framing of his name (including the ‘ov’) and encouraged his fellow countrymen to follow suit, as many officials dutifully did over the years that followed.[17] Over the subsequent years the newly styled President Emomali Rahmon would undertake multiple efforts at derussification of the country’s landmarks and street names and in April 2020, as the world struggled with COVID-19, Tajikistan passed a law banning the use of Russian naming conventions by ethnic Tajiks in new identification documents and for newborn children.[18] As part of efforts to promote the new Tajikistan, from 2011-2014 Dushanbe was recognised as home to the world’s tallest flag pole following its erection in the Presidential Palace (the Palace of Nations) gardens.


In 2014, the already restricted political and civic space contracted sharply as Rahmon took urgent action against potential political rivals and other sources of potential challenge in civil society. The political crackdown came at a time when, due to a Russian economic slowdown in 2014-15, remittances dropped dramatically (to $696 million in the first half of 2015, compared with $1.7 billion in the same period in 2014) and thousands of former migrants had returned home.[19]


In early October of that year, exiled business man Umarali Quvatov, who had spent time in Moscow, Istanbul and Dubai fending off Tajik extradition attempts, made a public call for a protest rally against the Rahmon Government to be held on October 10th 2014. In what, given the small size of Quvatov’s following, seemed like a panicked reaction on October 5th Facebook, YouTube and hundreds of websites were blocked.[20] Group 24, a political movement (and unregistered party) founded by Quvatov, was then banned by the Supreme Court on October 9th 2014, on grounds of extremism. Unsurprisingly no one attended the putative rally on October 10th, but the authorities decided to stop all SMS text messaging services that day for good measure.


2015 to now

Quvatov was assassinated in Istanbul on March 5th 2015. He, his wife and two sons had been invited to dinner at the home of another Tajik citizen and they became unwell during the dinner (subsequently shown to be poisoning). Quvatov was killed after being shot in the head while waiting in the street for an ambulance to arrive, though his family would recover in hospital.[21] Shortly after Quvatov’s murder, three Group 24 activists in Tajikistan were sentenced to between 16.5 and 17.5 years in prison, while two more were sentenced to between three and three and half years in prison.[22]


Emboldened by the success in squashing Group 24, Rahmon’s attention turned to finally banning the old enemy, the IRPT, in a move that abrogated the 1999 peace settlement and which has over the last six years unleashed a new wave of repression focused on IRPT members and alleged supporters both in Tajikistan and abroad. The IRPT had already lost its two seats in the March 2015 Parliamentary Elections and seen its leader, Muhiddin Kabiri, go into self-imposed exile in June 2015 amid rising tensions.[23] The IRPT was told in late August by the Ministry of Justice that it would be deregistered as a political party and that its local branches must close on the pretext that its removal from Parliament meant it was no longer a ‘republican-level’ party, and therefore it should not hold its planned party Congress.[24]


On September 4th 2015, violence broke out in Dushanbe with an attack on a military weapons depot, killing 26 people including nine police officers, in what was claimed by the Government to be an attempted coup by Deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda, who had been an opposition figure in the civil war.[25] Nazarzoda’s antics, which some observers saw as more likely to be an attempt to avoid an imminent arrest as part of the process of ‘regime trimming’ rather than a genuine coup attempt, ended in a violent death for him and his followers.[26] However, the violence acted as a pretext for the Government to ban the IPRT on grounds of extremism, with officials claiming that the IRPT leadership was behind the alleged uprising. 13 leading figures in the IRPT, including Deputy Party Chairmen Mahmadali Hayit and Saidumar Khusaini were detained on September 16th and ultimately sentenced to long prison terms.[27] The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention would subsequently find Hayit, who was sentenced for life, to be unlawfully imprisoned and called for his release, though he still remains imprisoned and subject to credible claims of torture.[28] By September 29th 2015, the Supreme Court approved the ban making all materials relating to the party (including its website and party newspaper) illegal (and illegal to be accessed) on the grounds of extremism.[29] After this eventful period, with all domestic rivals eliminated, at the end of 2015 Rahmon was bestowed with a new formal title ‘The Founder of Peace and National Unity — Leader of the Nation’.[30]


The lawyer defending Hayit and other IRPT defendants, Buzurgmehr Yorov, would subsequently be imprisoned for 23 years as part of a crackdown on anyone seeking to assist or show support for the parties.[31] By summer 2018, over 100 people had been arrested in connection with the IRPT with around 27 receiving prison sentences of between three to 25 years. They included a person – Alijon Sharipov – not previously known as a member who was sentenced to nine and half years for simply liking and sharing party materials on social media.[32] The Government of Tajikistan even attempted to pin the blame for the killing of four Western Cyclists, by a group of self-declared supporters of Islamic State (IS), on the IRPT to considerable international scepticism.[33] For its part in September 2018, the IRPT, along with three other groupings (the Forum of Tajik Freethinkers, the Association of Central Asian Migrants and the People’s Movement ‘Reforms and Development’ in Tajikistan) formed an umbrella opposition movement called the National Alliance of Tajikistan.[34]


Such repression has not been restricted to the borders of Tajikistan with opposition activists targeted for harassment, intimidation, and violence well beyond the country’s borders, whilst enormous pressure can be placed on relatives back home to further silence dissidents in exile and urge activists to return home. The Central Asian Exiles database, compiled by the University of Exeter has identified 68 cases where citizens of Tajikistan have been targeted whilst abroad.[35] This is the second highest figure for Central Asia, making it by far the most egregious offender by proportion of population. The topic has been an area of previous research for this author in the 2017 report ‘Closing the Door: the challenge facing activists from the former Soviet Union seeking asylum or refuge’, the 2016 publication ‘No shelter: the harassment of activists abroad by intelligence services from the former Soviet Union’, and 2014’s ‘Shelter from the Storm’.[36] The close security service cooperation and the narrative frame of combatting Islamic terrorism (conflating genuine issues with radicalisation in the diaspora, including support for groups much more radical that the IRPT, with the ongoing efforts to eliminate the political opposition) have enabled multiple cases of extradition from Russia, Turkey and elsewhere in Central Asia, breaching interim measures against extradition passed by the European Court of Human Rights in a number of cases.[37] Those targeted include supporters of both the IRPT and Group 24, with former Group 24 Deputy Leader Sharoffidin Gadoev abducted from a street in Moscow in 2019 by Russian police working with the Tajik security services before being bundled onto a plane back to Dushanbe and apparently being told to call for other activists to return home before he was released and taken back to the Netherlands where he had obtained asylum under intense international pressure.[38]



As with so many countries around the world COVID-19 exposed some of the central truths about how Tajikistan is governed. The response from the Government of Tajikistan was marked by denial from the top down and a further crackdown on voices who dared to challenge the official narrative.[39]


As Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan went into lockdown in mid-March, Rahmon and his officials closed the country’s external borders, but unlike those neighbours the regime took little to no further action in the initial phase of the crisis. Undaunted by the growing global panic Rahmon pressed ahead with mass public gatherings to celebrate Nowruz (March 20th-24th 2020), with rallies and parades taking place without social distancing. The message from the President was that Tajikistan could see off the risk of the virus through the domestic prowess of its citizens who were tasked to keep their homes clean.[40] It was not until April 16th that mass gatherings planned for Capital Day were cancelled and the suspension of Friday prayers in local mosques only started on April 18th.[41] It took until April 30th, shortly before the arrival of a WHO inspection team, for the country to officially record its first cases of COVID-19.


COVID denialism was central to the regime’s response, as noted in the essays by Sebastien Peyrouse, Anne Sunder-Plassmann and Rachel Gasowski, as accepting the reality might force a reckoning with the decrepit state of the healthcare system, undermined by mismanagement and corruption, and with the Government’s overall capacity to cope with the crisis. In July 2020, the President signed new legislation prohibiting ‘false’, ‘inaccurate’ and ‘untruthful’ information about the spread of COVID-19, with fines and administrative detention of up to 15 days introduced for violating said legislation.[42] These measures were widely seen as an attempt to chill public discussion about the Government’s handling of the crisis rather than simply to target those creating a potential risk to public health through intentional disinformation.


At the time of writing in May 2021, the total number of recorded cases in Tajikistan was 13,308 with only 90 total deaths and no cases recorded in 2021.[43] Rahmon declared the country COVID free at a speech packed with masked officials on January 26th 2021.[44] On paper this would place Tajikistan as one of the world’s top performing countries during the pandemic. However, the reality is understood to be dramatically different.


While COVID-19 was officially absent in March and April 2020, there was coincidentally a spike in cases of pneumonia, something the Deputy Minister of Health blamed on exceptionally rainy weather.[45] Officials admitted that in the first half of 2020 the death rate had increased by 11 per cent over the previous year’s period, but insisted that this was due to a coincidental increase in pneumonia, influenza and other respiratory diseases with symptoms not entirely dissimilar from COVID-19.[46] As Peyrouse points out in his essay, the analysis of the data shows that there were 8,650 ‘excess deaths’ in 2020 compared to the year before. He notes that hospitals refused to return the bodies of people who supposedly died of pneumonia to their families, potentially to prevent the families disputing the cause of death.


The priority for the Government during the pandemic seemed to be keeping the economy open, given the fragility of the nation’s finances and, as set out in Perouse’s essay, the need for tax revenues to support sectors with links to the ruling elite. Despite the low levels of official COVID cases, Tajikistan has taken emergency funding made available by the international community, with $190 million in new funding provided by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as well as $53 million in additional funding from the European Union (EU) amongst other support.[47]


The regional impact of the pandemic has had a further destabilising effect, crystallising a long held fear of the regime around what to do if former migrant workers returned to the country in large numbers and the level of remittances suddenly dropped. Immediately prior to the pandemic (in late 2019) remittance payments from Russia alone accounted for around 30 per cent of Tajikistan’s GDP (with the number of Tajik migrants in the country believed to be up to one million and who had made $15 billion in formal transfers through the banking system in the period 2013-2018).[48] Russia only reopened its borders to Tajik migrants in late March 2021, but getting plane tickets has been a huge challenge with supply controlled by the Government of Tajikistan. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported that people had to queue for up to a week to get a ticket and that actual prices can be vastly more than quoted through official sources.[49]


The World Bank reports that, due to reduced income and sharp rises in inflation for key items at local markets, hunger increased dramatically with a third of survey respondents reporting having to skip meals.[50] As a result of the pandemic the economy contracted by 4.57 per cent in 2020, leaving GDP per capita at $834 ($3,560 at purchasing power parity), the lowest in Central Asia.[51]


The situation today: Corruption and control

In today’s Tajikistan, the Rahmon family and close associates dominate the political life of the country having consolidated power steadily for almost 30 years, brutally pushing aside both opponents and former allies alike. This gives them almost total control of patronage networks and systems of institutionalised corruption, something Peyrouse describes as the ‘neo-patrimonial nature of its political regime’. The Rahmon regime deploys a threefold strategy of repression, self-censorship and co-option. This is an approach that Edward Lemon, Oleg Antonov and Parviz Mullojonov describe in the field of academia that is equally true across the rest of society, which they characterise as a strategy to suppress dissent, force people to acquiesce to keeping silent and to incorporate others into the regime’s system of power and control. Power has been consolidated to such an extent that any opposition, no matter how insignificant, is perceived as an existential threat to the regime. Threats that could not only put these well-developed rent seeking networks at risk but, given the brutal way the regime has managed to claw its way out of the chaos of civil war and maintain itself in power, would risk the freedom and safety of current regime members were someone else to come to power (whether today’s elite remained in Tajikistan or not).


Rahmon has been in control of Tajikistan for almost three decades and was re-elected only in October 2020 but speculation around his future has been rife for some time, with mutterings about his state of health.[52] Many of the President’s actions are now being viewed through the prism of what it means for a potential dynastic succession to the President’s 33 year old son Rustam Emomali. Emomail has served as Mayor of Dushanbe since 2017, having previously been served as the Head of Customs from 2014-17, as well as being Head of the Anti-Corruption Agency and the Head of the Tajik Football Federation. In 2020, he also became Chairman of Tajikistan’s Upper House of Parliament, the Majlisi milli (National Assembly), which comprises representatives of local authorities and other appointed figures. This role formally makes him next in the line of Presidential succession. However, he is not the only family member with factional influence within the regime.[53] For example, the President’s 43 year old daughter Ozoda Rahmon has been serving as Presidential Chief of Staff since 2016 and her husband Jamoliddin Nuraliev is the First Deputy Head of the National Bank of Tajikistan (the country’s central bank).


President Rahmon’s son-in-laws and brother-in-laws are believed to have done well out of the regime. Hasan Asadullozoda, the President’s brother-in-law, is Head of Orienbank, Tajikistan’s largest commercial bank (with his niece, the President’s daughter, Zarina Rahmon serving as his deputy) and was described in the 2008 US Cables disclosed by Wikileaks as the third most powerful man in Tajikistan, though other family members have gained in strength since then.[54] He is believed to have commercial interests in aviation, cotton and telecoms, as well as banking.[55]


Perhaps the most important asset widely believed to be under Asadullozoda’s control is the Tajikistan Aluminium Corporation (TALCO), the notionally state owned company and the largest legitimate source of income inside the country (equating to 48 per cent of official export revenues in 2008 and using about half the country’s electricity supply at the time).[56] Alexander Cooley and John Heathershaw’s seminal work examining Central Asian kleptocracy, Dictators Without Borders, documents the complicated history of the way in which the regime took control of the company in 2004, something that was the subject of a hugely expensive case in the London courts.[57] The takeover process also involved the Russian firm Rusal, run by Oleg Deripaska, (as well as the Norwegian Firm Hydro). However, the Rusal relationship would turn sour leading to a number of successful international arbitration cases against TALCO, which made information relating to the nature of the regime’s control, including companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, open to the public through court filings.[58] After years of dealing with international entanglements with Russian and Western partners, the Tajik Government is now seeking to use Chinese investment to help modernise and diversify TALCO’s operations.[59]


The President’s son-in-law Shamsullo Sohibov, husband of Rukhshona Rahmonova who is an official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ran the Faroz conglomerate for many years amongst other related businesses ventures before rumours of its closure in 2019.[60] As it so happens, Faroz was the company founded by assassinated Group 24 leader Umarali Quvatov before Sohibov took control, with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) reporting claims that Sohibov forced Quvatov to leave the company.[61] Extensive reporting by RFE/RL suggests that the conglomerate’s constituent businesses have continued to operate despite the notional liquidation of the holding company.[62]


The Regime’s modus operandi seem clear that businesses close to the family are given privileged access to key businesses sectors and government contracts with the police, judiciary and security services used to help clear the field, when independent companies become too big or compete with the wrong people.[63] Additionally, as Peyrouse notes in his essay ‘the pharmaceutical sector is largely under the control of presidential family members. Two of the companies which dominate Tajikistan’s pharmaceutical market, Sifat Pharm and Orion-Pharm, are owned respectively by the President’s daughter, Parvina, and his son, Rustam Emomali.’[64] Other interlocutors this author spoke with suggested that the family was rumoured locally to have interests in the licence plate, driving license, taxi hire, medical labs, construction, cement and payroll services sector. As noted above the sole ticket office open in spring 2021 selling flights to Russia for migrant workers just so happened to be owned by a daughter of the President.[65]


Some in the President’s wider orbit have been able to retain lucrative positions, though they are believed to be coming under ever increasing competition from the family. Former Tajikistan railways boss Amonullo Hukumatullo was forced into retirement when one of his sons killed three people with his car whilst involved in a street race (a pastime which children of the ruling elite seem fond of) that risked sparking public unrest. However, he has been able to retain his wealth with the OCCRP reporting that he was able to spend $10.6 million in 2018 on luxury properties in the Czech Republic, perhaps due to ties to the first family.[66] Xeniya Mironova’s essay notes the role of the family of Beg Sabur, the head of the Communication Service, one of whose sons is married to Rahmon’s daughter Zarina, in the construction sector.[67] Some, such as former Dushanbe Mayor and National Assembly Chair Mahmadsaid Ubaydulloyev, have been gradually put out to pasture as Rustam Emonmail has taken over his roles. Others, as noted above, have suffered more dramatic falls from grace.


At a grassroots level reports have surfaced of increasing police inspections being used to drive low-level corruption while the tax collection system is a longstanding source of contention. The US State Department notes ‘pressure on the Tax Committee to enforce or reinterpret tax regulations arbitrarily in order to meet ever-increasing revenue targets’ based on overly optimistic annual growth targets, leading to local tax officials having to find ways to boost returns to hit nationally set projections.[68] The OCCRP suggest that the size of the unregulated shadow economy is around 20 per cent of size of the economy as a whole, with a desire to avoid tax pressure being listed as a key reason not to declare earnings and around 30 per cent of businesses admitting to paying bribes to tax collectors to avoid paying the full amount to the treasury.[69]


Tajikistan ranks 149th in the world (out of 180) in the 2020 Transparency Corruptions Perceptions Index, the second worst performer in Central Asia after Turkmenistan, and 116th out of 137 in the Bertlsemann Transformation Index Governance Index.[70]


Political and human rights situation

As should be clear from the information provided above, the political environment has transitioned over the last 20 years from a semi-authoritarian system in which rival political movements were allowed to exist but not truly challenge the structures of power to a fully authoritarian one where everything is subordinate to the regime. Freedom House currently ranks the country 198th out of 210 in its Freedom in the World index, with a score of 0 for political rights.[71]


The October 2020 Election was ultimately contested between five pro-Government candidates, with Rahmon winning 92 per cent of the vote.[72] It is worth underscoring that while the four other candidates were able to meet the onerous registration requirements, ostensibly obtaining the requisite 245,000 signatures (five per cent of the eligible electorate – meaning that the equivalent figure for a country like the UK would be 2.38 million) between August 6th and September 10th, none of them got close to obtaining as many votes as signatures they had presumably received (with Rahmon’s closest rival getting only 128,182 votes).[73]


In an unusual move, 30 year old lawyer and member of the Gorno-Badakhshan provincial council, Faromuz Irgashev announced on social media that he was planning to run for President. The next day he was visited by the security services for a little chat.[74] While he says he was able to obtain 70,000 signatures (more than the number of votes the Communist Party and the Socialist Party would receive in the actual election) his candidacy was rejected by the election commission due to the signature requirements and legal restrictions barring independent candidates from standing.


The small Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan (SDTP), the only officially registered opposition party left in the country, had decided not to stand and instead called for a boycott of the elections. Nevertheless the party’s leader, Rakhmatillo Zoyirov, was attacked on September 22nd by unknown assailants receiving a broken arm.[75]


Pressure on those with links to the IRPT also took place ahead of the vote with the arrest of Jaloliddin Mahmudov and the three sons of IRPT founding member Said Kiemitdin Gozi.[76] Gozi had been killed in prison in 2019 as part of a riot by IS members which claimed the lives of 29 people and just so happened to include Gozi, another IRPT figure and a non-IS cleric critical of the regime.[77]


Pressure on regime critics and those who might have a base of support independent of the President have continued unabated since the election. In late March 2021 a popular Moscow-based NGO activist, Izzat Amon, who ran the Center for Tajiks of Moscow that provided support for the large diaspora community within Russia, was abducted and ultimately transferred back to Tajikistan in murky circumstances. His Russian citizenship was revoked, despite the Russian courts initially denying they were involved, with criminal charges for fraud awaiting him on his forced arrival in Dushanbe.[78] As to why Amon was rendered back to Tajikistan a number of potential reasons have been suggested including his periodic social media criticism of the regime and that back in 2019 he had flirted with founding a political party (which when allied to his popularity amongst the migrant communities could be seen as a political risk), though others have pointed to a possible (limited) past sympathy for the IRPT prior to its banning in 2015.[79] It has also been suggested that it was actually the Russians who had lost patience with Amon’s activism against their treatment of the Tajik diaspora.[80]


The Amon case again underscores the close working relationship between the Russian authorities and the Tajik State Committee for National Security (SCNS), based on both a shared approach to political dissent and genuine concerns about radicalisation in the diaspora community including links to violent groups such as IS (Tajiks made up the largest number of fighters for IS other than Syrians and Iraqis).[81] However, for many years the fight against extremism has provided both the Tajik and Russian security services a pretext to deport (both through legal and illegal means) avowedly non-violent activists to Tajikistan.


More broadly, and as documented in earlier publications by this author, Tajikistan uses the Interpol system as a means to try and force the return of political opponents, with Western governments sometimes willing to go along with the requests or oblivious to the potential consequences.[82] In the case of alleged IRPT member, Hizbullo Shovalizoda, the Austrian Government rejected his asylum claim and deported him back to Tajikistan. Though the Austrian Supreme Court would ultimately strike down the decision, citing the procedural violations and a lack of relevant information about the current human rights situation in Tajikistan when the initial decision was made, by this point Shovalizoda was already in Tajikistan serving a 20 year sentence for membership of a banned group and related charges.[83]


As discussed earlier, pressure on family members of exiled activist remains a common feature of the regime’s approach to dissent. Humayra Bakhtiyar, a former journalist with ASIA-Plus, has faced pressure on her family with her father and brothers’ jobs being threatened by police if she did not return home.[84] The day before activist Shabnam Khudoydodova spoke at a session at the OSCE ODHIR’s Human Dimension conference her nine year old daughter, living with her grandparents in Tajikistan, was faced with a mob of students, teachers, local officials and a TV crew who came to her classroom to denounce her as a ‘daughter of a terrorist’ and ‘enemy of the people’ before chasing her home. The following day Khudoydodova’s niece was physically attacked by another mob.


In late November 2020, the father and brother of Fatkhuddin Saidmukhidinov were interrogated by the SCNS and told to pressure Saidmukhidinov to shut down his social media accounts, YouTube channel and blog, as well as not to associate with other opposition activists. The SCNS also used his previous participation at the OSCE ODHIR’s Human Dimension conference as evidence of malfeasance.[85] The goal is very clear, to completely isolate activists and pressure them to quit wherever they are in the world. This include sending clear warnings against trying to help anyone who has been active against the state not only for their jobs, livelihoods and freedoms, with warnings that relatives would be prosecuted. Even the elderly are not immune from these pressures as in the case of Doniyor Nabiev, an 80 year old former IRPT member, was arrested in August 2020 and subsequently jailed for seven years for providing a small amount of financial assistance to the families of political prisoners.[86]


As Favziya Nazarova and Nigina Bakhrieva show in their essay, torture and abuse (including sexual abuse) by law enforcement officials, in police custody and in prisons is a significant problem. The topic remains one of the few areas where local human rights defenders are allowed to be active, with an anti-torture coalition that is to some extent able to conduct their own local investigations (sometimes in conjunction with the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman) in the absence of any independent access for the International Committee of the Red Cross or other bodies to prisons and other places of detentions.  Despite recommendations by the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT), the Human Rights Committee (HRC) and the Special Rapporteur on torture there are no truly independent mechanisms capable of investigating and prosecuting abuses, with the existing Ombudsman only resolving two per cent of cases (of any type) brought to it.[87] The UN CAT have also criticised the lack of independence and capacity in the Ombudsman’s office.[88]


Civil society

In the post-Civil War period, Tajikistan’s civil society became a focus of international attention with a range of both international NGOs and donor support to local initiatives working to try and rebuild the country and address its challenges in the aftermath of the civil war. This context, and that of a still consolidating regime, gave some space for civic freedoms both within NGOs and in wider society (including academia). A number of International NGOs continue to have a presence in the country to this day working on development projects (including water and sanitation and poverty reduction) and peacebuilding initiatives. For example, UK NGOs, such as Oxfam, Save the Children, Saferworld and International Alert, have presence in the country.[89] Even the Open Society Foundations has been able to retain an office in the country unlike many other places in Central Asia.[90]


However, as the regime consolidated its control the civic space has shrunk with the regime continuing to deploy its ‘suppress, acquiesce and incorporate’ strategy as outlined above. What it has left is a sector walking on egg shells having to be ever more careful about what they can and cannot say; trying to stay inside the ever tightening lines of what is permissible conduct; mindful of which lines the regime will not allow to be crossed, lines that may move at any point; and keenly aware of the grim fate that can await those who incur the regime’s displeasure. Direct criticism of the President, his family or of certain aspects of the nature of the regime remains off-limits for those seeking to avoid closure of their organisations or even worse.


The country’s extreme poverty still provides a range of opportunities, for both local and international civil society, to work to improve the lives of citizens of Tajikistan in ways that are not directly confrontational to the regime. However, for those working in more rights based fields, the focus has had to be narrowed towards topics that are seen as less controversial, such as supporting children with disabilities, or that fall within the few areas – such as the work of the Freedom from Torture coalition – where some space is still allowed for criticism of practical failings, legislation and issues with lower level systems while carefully avoiding more thorny political questions.


So rather than go down the route taken by Uzbekistan under Karimov that saw independent NGOs closed down or kicked out as the regime tightened its grip, Tajikistan has kept many of these groups in situ. This enables the Government to point to their presence as evidence of continuing good faith, retaining the leverage provided by the potential threat of future closure as a disincentive for increased international criticism, whilst ensuring international funding continues to reach the country. This creates a dilemma for a number of international organisations that have to exercise a degree of self-censorship, or at least deliberate stay clear of potentially controversial activities, in order to retain a formal presence on the ground.


At the moment estimates suggest around 2,800-3,000 NGOs are still officially registered, as legally required, with Tajikistan’s Ministry of Justice, although some of these seem to be fairly inactive to the point of no longer being operational. The current Law on Public Associations sets a number of reasonably heavy bureaucratic operational requirements on NGOs including requirements to make public detailed financial statements on their websites (which they are required to have by law despite many not being able to afford one), but perhaps the most important section pertains to registration and approval of foreign funding. [91] According to ‘Article 27 Sources of Formation of Property of a Public Association Section 2’, all foreign funding is subject to registration with the Register of Humanitarian Assistance to Public Associations of the Republic of Tajikistan, a requirement that the Tajik Government claims is part of their anti-terrorism efforts but which gives an effective state veto over projects it does not want to see proceed.


A 2019 report by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders documented in detail how inspections by the tax authorities, the Ministry of Justice (in the case of NGO’s registered as ‘Public Associations’) and other state bodies are used as a tool for harassing NGOs and their supporters.[92] Given the economic situation and nature of political control opportunities for growing their domestic revenue base is limited, with significant risks involved for potential local donors.


Beyond the formal NGO sector, Parviz Mullojonov’s essay highlights how the pandemic has helped to catalyse new forms of societal mobilisation with informal associations and groups organised online helping to raise money and provide volunteers to help in areas that augmented the capacity of both the state and traditional NGOs. It will be important to see how this develops over the coming year and the extent to which they are able retain their freedom of action that some in the state clearly fear. This community self-organising builds on the traditions of ‘hashar’, collective communal labour (albeit sometimes pressured at the behest of local officials) that had often been used in the past to fill in gaps in state provision.[93]


Media freedom

As with other freedoms in Tajikistan the media freedom situation has deteriorated substantially in recent years, with their ranking in the Reporters without Borders Wold Press Freedom Index deteriorating from 115th out of 180 countries in 2014 to 162nd in 2021.[94]


For now the ASIA-Plus New Agency remains the only broadly independent local outlet (comprising a website, news service, Radio station and newspaper), albeit observing a degree of self-censorship.[95] However, their website has been blocked by the Government for much of the last two years, with the OSCE noting that this also took place during the 2020 Presidential election campaign.[96] In December 2020, they were told they had to vacate their offices in a building ultimately owned by the Government.[97]


Other independent outlets have been pressured to disband such as Ozodagon, an independent newspaper, which was forced to close in 2019 after years of harassment.[98] In February 2020, the independent news website was formally banned by the Supreme Court of Tajikistan on the grounds of providing a “platform for terrorist and extremist organisations” by including coverage of exiled opposition groups, such as the IRPT, as part of a range of issues it reported on.[99] This followed two years previously where it was only available via VPN due to extensive attempts to block the website from the internet in Tajikistan.[100] The site made the decision to close down as of November 2020 due to a mix of further pressure on the organisation, including targeting the founder Mirzo Salimpur’s family, and the risks posed to those reading the site who would be at risk of prosecution.[101] In the aftermath of the closure of Akhbor a new Prague-based news website,, has been created with a similar mix of news coverage.


YouTube and other social media platforms contain newly emerging channels being run from the diaspora that can attract a local following as part of a wider cat and mouse game with the security services. However, the internet remains both slow and expensive, albeit with free data for certain social media apps included as part of mobile phone packages.[102] Television (both state and private) and local print journalism remains very much under the control of the regime.


For a number of years in the 2010s, RFE/RL’s Tajik service Radio Ozodi (whose YouTube channel has 1.39m subscribers, Instagram page 1.1m and 315,484 followers on Facebook) has faced real challenges finding the right balance on the tightrope walk between maintaining the ability to operate on the ground in Tajikistan and the ability to speak openly.[103] After several years when murmurings of disquiet could be heard, the service came under sustained criticism in 2019 around allegations that Tajik service director, Sojida Djakhfarova, and Abbas Djavadi, the director of programming for Central Asia, were squashing some critical stories about the ruling family and preventing reporting about the IRPT and other exiled groups. There were also allegations of links to the business empire of Hasan Asadullozoda, including a contract given to an Asadullozoda-linked Radio Station and the local Ozodi offices being based in a building allegedly owned by him.[104] Djakhfarova and Djavadi would resign shortly after the story broke in Eurasianet amid public pressure from international experts on the country (including Edward Lemon who writes in this collection).[105] While the detailed allegations made by Eurasianet and the academics strongly suggest a pattern of behaviour by these editors that went beyond self-censorship merely to retain a formal presence on the ground (unlike in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan where they have to operate covertly), in the wake of the reforms at Ozodi, the channel’s local staff have been subjected to increased efforts by the authorities to withhold or delay issuing press accreditation to its journalists in Tajikistan.[106]


On a separate issue around the Government of Tajikistan influencing the behaviour of international organisations to limit scrutiny, Tajikistan played a leading role in blocking the extension of the mandates for OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Desir, and the head of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir, after both organisations raised criticisms of the poor human rights record in the country.[107]


The essay contribution by Anne Sunder-Plassmann and Rachel Gasowski further highlights the challenges faced by journalists trying to navigate their way through the system. They note how journalists are subject to what they describe as ‘prophylactic conversations’ with the security services to push them to toe the Government line, with threats of revoking accreditation, media licences, extra tax checks, pressure on family members and potential criminal or civil prosecution if they do not comply. Sunder-Plassmann and Gasowski note that despite the partial removal of criminal defamation in 2012, the legislation still punishes ‘public insult or defamation of the President of Tajikistan’ and ‘insulting the Leader of the Nation through the media through print, online or other media’, with up to five years’ imprisonment and with a potential two year sentence for ‘insult of a public official’. They also note the broad provisions and often arbitrary application of restrictions on terrorism and extremism as well as Article 189 of the Criminal Code which punishes ‘inciting national, racial, local or religious discord’ with sentences of up to 12 years, the potential application of which is used to silence reporting and other forms of dissent.[108]


In recent years there have been a number high profile cases of journalists that have attracted international attention. Khairullo Mirsaidov, an investigative journalist and satirist, was initially arrested in December 2017 following an open letter he published criticising officials in his local Sughd region. The initial judgement came down with a sentence of 12 years in prison for embezzlement, however after an international campaign using the slogan #FreeKhayrullo, the authorities released him on appeal, though the courts left $8,500 in fines, a requirement to do community service and to give the state one fifth of his salary for two years as conditions of his release.[109] Mirsaidov would ultimately breach those conditions by fleeing to Georgia, then Poland and was sentenced to an eight month prison term in absentia.[110]


In 2020, a similar international outcry followed the arrest of former Ozodagon journalist Daler Sharipov, who was held on extremism charges for his writing about religious freedom issues, discussing banned opposition groups and for possessing material said to be related to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in Tajikistan.[111] Sharipov ultimately would serve out the one year term, despite pressure from the US Senate and other international bodies.[112]

Humayra Bakhtiyar, a former ASIA-Plus journalist mentioned above, has faced not only significant pressure on her family who remain in Tajikistan but a concerted online smear campaign over several years.[113] She has faced smear campaign first from fake accounts on Facebook (2013-15), then pro-Government young people (2015-17), including from students who are potentially paid to troll, and then ultimately pressure from diasporan voices (who may have been persuaded to do it to be removed from the blacklist or for money).


These online smear and harassment attempts, as Oleg Antonov, Edward Lemon and Parviz Mullojonov note in their essay, can often be linked to what is known as the fabrikai javob (‘the factory of answers’). As the authors point out the Government has ‘enlisted the support of ‘volunteers’ in its mission to police the web’ particularly teachers, professors and government employees who are pressured or paid to create fake accounts to criticise the opposition. The RFE/RL investigation that exposed the system suggested that, in 2019, there were likely to be at least 400 members are involved in the troll factory, known as the ‘Analytical Information Group’ within the Ministry of Education.[114] The factory of answers was known to be active in response to try to discredit journalists reporting within the country, such as Abdullo Gurbati, as well attempting to discredit erstwhile young presidential candidate Faromuz Irgashev.[115]


Rule of law

As will be clear from the above, the nature of state power and capacity means there are significant problems in relation to the rule of Law in Tajikistan. The International Commission of Jurists report, ‘Neither Check nor Balance: The Judiciary in Tajikistan’, sets out how past efforts to reform the judiciary have yielded limited results. They point out the almost total lack of acquittals in the criminal courts, and they show how the low pay amongst the judiciary leaves them open to corruption and that the mechanisms for promotion are open to abuse by those in power. The Commission, therefore, argues for reducing the power of court presidents and increasing the activity and independence of the Association of Judges.[116]


As with many legal systems in Central Asia the Prosecutor General’s Office plays a dominant role in the system with the courts generally following the approach set out by prosecutors. While policing suffers from, as the US Government puts it, a ‘lack of resources, low salaries, and inadequate training [which] contribute to high corruption and a lack of professionalism among law enforcement agencies’.[117] While the SCNS often takes the lead in dealing with critics of the regime, focused on preventing any challenge to the status quo.


As already noted, human rights lawyers and others defending regime opponents have been subject to relentless pressure, including in multiple cases arrest and imprisonment themselves because of who they defended.[118] These included 2011 Human Rights Defender of the year Shukhrat Kudratov, ultimately released after four years but now banned from practicing law.[119]



The legacy of the civil war, the secular-nationalist framing Tajik identity by the Rahmon regime, the repression of Islamically-minded political movements, genuine issues with radicalisation (the civil war, proximity with Afghanistan and the domestic situation all being factors) and an ingrained hostility to activities outside of state supervision or control creates an extremely restrictive atmosphere for religious freedom in the country. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom lists Tajikistan as one of its 14 Countries of Particular Concern noting that the ‘Tajikistani government’s already dismal record on religious freedom continues to deteriorate’.[120]


Official, state sanctioned religious activity is supervised by the State Committee on Religious Affairs who oversee the Islamic Council of Ulema, the grouping of religious leaders who coordinate religious activity for the majority Sunni Muslim population. The changes to the system in 2010 removed a tier of regional religious leadership which helped make local Imams more dependent on secular state structures.[121] The majority of Parmiris of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region are followers of the Ismaili religious tradition and so far some independence has been tolerated with the Aga Khan Foundation (founded and run by the Ismaili’s global religious leader) a major player in the development of the region. [122]


The practice of official Islam in Tajikistan comes with a number of restrictions. Under 18s are only allowed to attend Mosques at religious festivals and funerals, excluding them from regular Friday prayer.[123] Mosque building is significantly restricted with many forced to close, and state backed religious schools were also shut down over the last decade.[124] As with a number of its Central Asian neighbours a de facto ban on hijab wearing in public places is in effect through dress code restrictions in places of education and throughout the public sector, in addition to informal pressure from the police and other officials cracking down on signs of overt religiosity that can sometimes include forcing men to trim or cut off long beards.[125] The extent of this informal enforcement is lower in rural than urban areas.


As set out earlier, religious groupings that fall outside state control can be dealt with brutally. For Muslims this not only includes political supporters of the (relatively politically moderate) IRPT, supporters of banned non-violent extremist groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir (subject to major crackdowns particularly in the 2000s) and the Muslim Brotherhood (117 suspected members were given sentences of between five to 23 years in April 2021), through to supporters of violent extremism and armed groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Al-Qaeda and IS.[126]


Proselytising Protestant groups and Jehovah’s Witnesses also face similar pressure from the state, amid restrictions on registration of religious groups that prevent many independent religious groups being legally recognised.[127] Jehovah’s Witnesses are also subject to prosecution in cases of contentious objection from compulsory service in Tajikistan’s armed forces.[128]


So in Rahmon’s secular-nationalist vision for Tajikistan devout Islam is frowned upon and often restricted by the authorities. However, cultural or ‘popular’ Islam, where Islam is a social identifier, a component of Tajik national identity and root for support of traditionalism and cultural conservativism (without a commitment to regular prayer or strict observance to religious laws) remains much more widespread and accepted by the authorities.[129]


Women’s and minority rights

Traditional and secular-conservative attitudes to issues of gender and sexuality are widespread across society in Tajikistan and part of the President’s approach to building a post-Soviet Tajik identity. One example of this approach that is indicative of wider trends is the way International Women’s day on March 8th, celebrated in Tajikistan during the Soviet-era, was rebranded in 2009 by the Government as ‘Mother’s day’, reflecting how women presented are portrayed primarily as mothers and carers by state institutions as well as in the dynamics of many local communities.[130]


Women’s representation in official positions remains relatively low in Tajikistan, though better than in some of its neighbours. 14 Women deputies sit in the 63 member Assembly of Representatives, the Lower House of Parliament.[131] Eight of the 31 member National Assembly (the Upper House of Parliament) are women, while three members of the Cabinet are women – Deputy Prime Minister Sattoriyon Amonzoda, the Minister of Labour, Migration and Employment Amonzoda Shodi, and Minister of Culture Davlatzoda Davlat.[132]


Early marriage is a common feature of life in Tajikistan amid heavy social pressure. Though the legal marriage age was raised to 18 in 2011, girls being pushed into Islamic marriages unrecognised by the state is still a problem particularly in rural communities as well as some cases of bride kidnapping and forced marriage.[133] The median age of first marriage for women is 20.2 years.[134] At marriage women are usually expected to move into her husband’s household to help care for the wider family under the control of their parents-in-law, with the greatest pressures on the youngest wife (arus).


The precarious employment situation acts in multiple different ways on women. The dearth of local opportunities creates a degree of social pressure against women joining the local labour force. However, the clear majority of Tajikistan’s labour migrants are men which means that in rural communities this has seen women take a greater role in managing both ‘kitchen gardens’ and ‘dekhan’ farms.[135] Professional childcare for infants below school age is in short supply and often unaffordable for many families, acting as a further barrier to women’s participation in the work force.


In relation to the hijab, the state actively promotes and de facto enforces conservative but secular modes of dress for women (an informal Clothing Code), with the Ministry of Culture publically promoting campaigns against wearing black, the hijab or short skirts, whilst promoting traditional national dress.


In their essay, Favziya Nazarova and Nigina Bakhrieva outline the harrowing physical, sexual and psychological abuse some women face in the criminal justice system (as suspects, victims and witnesses) and how attitudes in wider society lead victims to be shamed and shunned. More broadly domestic violence is an issue that both the Tajik Government and a significant part of society seeks to downplay. A 2016 survey by the Government in collaboration with Oxfam found that 97 per cent of men and 72 per cent of women believed domestic violence should be tolerated in order to prevent a family from breaking apart.[136] The Government does not undertake fully comprehensive reporting of complaints of domestic violence, but NGOs have been monitoring increasing numbers of reported cases and the issue is beginning to be talked about more in public amongst younger people.[137] Similarly women are beginning to speak out more openly against endemic issues of sexual harassment, albeit with a very mixed response from the authorities.[138] Dilbar Turakhanova’s essay notes the development of a new anti-discrimination law but argues that implementation will be critical with a need for large scale public information campaigns, quotas for political participation, new opportunities for professional advancement as well as mentoring and support networks for younger women professionals.


While homosexuality was decriminalised in 1998, unlike in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan where it remains illegal, the LGBTQ community in Tajikistan still faces systemic discrimination and strong family and social pressures to keep identities hidden.[139] There are no local NGOs able to operate openly to advocate for rights and protections for LGBTQ people in a system with no legal framework for tackling discrimination against the community. Police and local officials have been known, in the words of the International Partnership for Human Rights, to have ‘beaten, raped and exploited’ members of the community.[140] Abuses include forcing LGBTQ citizens to have medical examinations (on the grounds of limiting the spread of sexually transmitted disease), sexual and physical abuse, blackmail and extortion (including use of honey traps to target richer members of the community). There have been repeated claims, denied by authorities, that the officials have created a register of LGBTQ citizens on the grounds of potential risk of spreading HIV.[141]



As discussed above and in the essays by Xeniya Mironova and Shoira Olimova, suspected corruption at a state and local level and the politically connected nature of businesses in the construction industry help to shape a sector that is struggling to meet the needs of ordinary people. In Dushanbe, and to a certain extent in other major cities, the rapid pace of physical change has sometimes ridden roughshod over both the city’s urban heritage, with the rights of residents coming behind those of powerful interests.


The rebuilding of the urban landscape is part of the Government’s approach to projecting a modern image of Tajikistan, using substantial amounts of Chinese and Saudi Arabian investment, by bulldozing particularly Soviet-era building to replace them with new construction, a process of nation building through building.[142] As well as replacing crumbling apartment blocks to build taller new blocks (of varying build quality) the authorities have torn down popular buildings such as the Mayakovsky Theatre and Jomi Cinema and have been slow to replace them. [143]


The Shahmansur market (known locally as the Green Bazaar) was demolished in 2017 possibly to reduce competition for the newly opened Achaun shopping mall nearby.[144] The country would benefit from developing an effective system for comprehensively listing and protecting properties of architectural and heritage value before the bulldozers have taken it all as, despite public pressure, the authorities in Dushanbe have only identified a list of 15 buildings in the whole city as being worthy of heritage protection.[145]


As our authors note, while issues around illegal demolition and forced evictions can still be a problem, the situation is less acute than several years ago. The regime has, to some extent, recognised the issue as a potential mobiliser for discontent so for the most part it has been ensuring that at least some compensation is paid even if the processes through which regeneration happens remain opaque.


As Mironova argues the ‘authorities should organise public hearings on the reconstruction and redevelopment of the Tajik capital and other towns and ensure that civil society has access to the General Plans (Masterplans) of Dushanbe and other towns’ respectively. More information should also be formally provided about which companies undertaking particular projects in-order to help trace lines of accountability. Mironova also notes the continuing problems around the ‘propiska’ system where people have to register their residency in their local area with the local police. Without such registration it can be difficult to access medical assistance, education, get a bank account or even buy a mobile phone sim card. The registration process currently discriminates against those unable to purchase their own homes in the places where they are living and working with the ability to register at temporary addresses a mixed picture. Currently the process provides further opportunities for police corruption.[146]


Border conflicts

The collapse of the Soviet Union into different nation states posed particular new challenges for the ethnically intermixed communities in and around the Fergana Valley. Prior to independence the administrative borders of the SSRs had limited real impact on the ground, with a shared currency, a shared language in common (Russian), economic and transport links, and other infrastructure that had no need to break down rigidly on national lines. At independence there were significant challenges identifying precisely where the borders actually lay (including in the middle of roads) and exacerbated issues around the complicated nature of local control. Tajikistan has two exclaves, Vorukh and Lolazor (formerly Kayragach), which are entirely surrounded by the territory of Kyrgyzstan as well as Sarvak that is inside Uzbekistan. As time has passed the provision of new national level infrastructure focused on connecting people within the same country, economic shifts away from shared market places and a common currency, and the decline of Russian as a shared language all have helped to reduce organic (friendly) people-to-people contact.


In recent years there has been particular volatility on the Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan border with low level violence amongst citizens over local issues, sometimes joined by respective border guards in small skirmishes. The guards have also periodically attempted occasionally to extort money from nationals of the other country. Only 519km of the 972km Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan border have been delimited and demarcated at the present time.[147]


Since the new Government in Kyrgyzstan came to power last autumn, it has been making noises about wanting to resolve its outstanding border disputes with its neighbours, responding in part to initiatives put forward by Uzbekistan’s President Mirziyoyev. In fact an agreement on resolving issues on the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border was proudly announced in late March by Kyrgyzstan’s Security Chief Kamchybek Tashiev, who said: “Issues around the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border have been resolved 100 percent. We have tackled this difficult task. There is not a single patch of disputed territory left.”[148] In practice this agreement swiftly unravelled due to pressure from local Kyrgyz who had not been consulted on the moves. Also in late March, Tashiev made a public offer to swap 12,000 hectares of land in the Kyrgyz province of Batken in return for Tajikistan transferring Vorukh to Bishkek’s control, remarks that were shortly followed by Kyrgyz military exercises near the areas in question.[149] Rahmon publically rejected this plan in a visit to Vorukh in early April designed to reassure residents of Dushanbe’s commitment to them.[150]


This public wrangling over the issue of status provides context for the most violent clashes ever between the two countries. The spark came on April 28th 2021 in a dispute between locals in the Isfahra (Tajikistan) and Batken (Kyrgyzstan) regions over a camera being placed by local Tajiks (on land within the territory of Tajikistan) to monitor a water intake station (in Kyrgyzstan) that is part of the irrigation system that serves both countries. There had been concerns raised about local Kyrgyz potentially making changes to the water supply in a way that might negatively impact what water made it to Tajik land. Water is a critical resource in a country where only 36 per cent of the population has access to safe drinking water and irrigation systems are essential to enable marginal agricultural land to be suitable for farming, making it a regular flash point in local disputes.[151]


What was unusual in this instance in April 2021 was the scale of the response, in particular from the Government of Tajikistan, perhaps stung by public debate over its control in the region. The following morning (April 29th) gunfire was exchanged across the border which then rapidly escalated to clashes at 17 sites across the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border as Tajikistan mobilised its regular military to make incursions into Kyrgyzstan with the firing of mortars, rockets from helicopter gunships and the use of heavy armour. While properties were destroyed on both sides of the border the majority of the damage has been on the Kyrgyz side.[152]


While the press in Kyrgyzstan, who despite recent pressures are still considerably freer than their Tajik counterparts, were able to actively report on the destruction on their side of the border and publically pressure their Government to react, Tajikistan was far slower to publically acknowledge what had taken place and reticent to give official casualty figures, leaving the space open for rumours and accusations online about precisely what happened and who had lost their lives. By May 6th official statements by both sides put the death toll at 36 killed on the Kyrgyz side and 19 on the Tajik side many of whom were civilians (including children), with 58,000 Kyrgyz initially evacuated from the region.[153] Despite the loss of life the international community’s official response was muted, though Rahmon’s public presence at Russia’s Victory day parade on May 9th (celebrating victory in World War II) was seen as a public endorsement of the Tajik leader by Putin.[154]


In the wake of the violence both sides undertook a series of deportations and expulsions of the opposing ethnicity, both students studying in universities and dual citizens. While a number of people in border regions hold citizenship of both countries, it is in breach of legislation of both countries (with Kyrgyzstan rejecting dual citizenship with neighbouring countries and Tajikistan recognising only Tajik-Russian dual citizenship) and this had been an ongoing issue prior to the recent flare-up.[155]


International relations

Tajikistan’s international relations are primarily centred around its relations with Russia and China. As set out above remittances from Russia provide a substantial portion of Tajikistan’s GDP while China is the biggest single international investor and the holder of around half the country’s external debt.[156] Tajikistan is a member of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation both help underscore substantial security service collaboration, based on a shared understanding on defining extremism to include a range of political opponents and more recently with the growing use Chinese surveillance technology.[157] Both Russia and China have military bases in the country. As yet it has, however, not joined the Russia centred Eurasian Economic Union (to which Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are members but not key transit partner Uzbekistan), something that would substantially cut Tajikistan’s revenues from customs fees but would make things easier for migrant labourers, a source of current friction following the pandemic.[158]


Unlike its counterparts in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, the Rahmon regime is relatively disinterested in courting Western and other international public opinion. Also compared to their neighbours, less of the ruling elite’s money is channelled to the US or UK property markets with Dubai and Moscow destinations of choice.[159] Tajikistan does not have much in the way of natural resources or other economic opportunities that would attract Western Investors. It is the low income country’s huge development challenges and post-conflict stabilisation needs, as well as efforts to tackle radicalisation and drug smuggling that risk exporting problems beyond its borders that have meant Western partners have remained to some degree engaged despite the country’s problems. It is these funding flows that provide some of the few (limited) levers of influence over regime performance and behaviour. Total Official Overseas Development Aid (ODA) spending on development projects totalled $372.350 million in 2019, though much of the investment by China and the Gulf States falls outside this formal framework.[160]


The EU and its member states provide around 40 per cent of all Tajikistan’s Official ODA, including 63 per cent of all funding for primary healthcare facilities as well as projects for children with disabilities and teacher training.[161] It is worth noting that the EU did reduce its planned investments in the 2014-2020 budget cycle by around 100 million euros due to the failure of the Tajik Government to meet its commitments.[162] Progress on creating a new ‘Enhanced’ Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Tajikistan, requested by Tajikistan in 2019, is currently going very slowly, with the timeline for a decision on formally opening the negotiations still delayed from the second half of 2020.[163]


The US describes its relationship with Tajikistan as being based on ‘such areas as counter-narcotics, counterterrorism, non-proliferation, and regional economic connectivity and security’.[164] Its engagement has been particularly shaped in the context of longstanding US commitments in Afghanistan and Tajikistan’s name has even recently appeared on a long-list of potential sites for a new US military base after its withdrawal from Afghanistan though its CSTO and SCO memberships make it a far from unproblematic choice even before local governance problems are considered.[165] The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO- which has taken over the UK’s aid functions from DFID) has had a longstanding presence in the country working on development projects, though it is unclear at time of writing what impact the current substantial cuts to UK ODA spending will have on its involvement in the country, including its partnerships with UK-based international NGOs.


The international financial institutions themselves are the biggest donors to Tajikistan with the World Bank ($152,561 million), Asian Development Bank ($50.934m) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development ($28.814m) as three of the top five aid spenders in 2020.[166] As noted above, the COVID response included a boost in available funding from both the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and also from the IMF, which provided around $190m in emergency funding, and the Kazakhstan-based Eurasian Development Bank.[167]


Tajikistan sharply illustrates not only some of the challenges of working in a country with significant levels of poverty, poor governance and endemic corruption, but also some of the difficult trade-offs between development and human rights objectives. International organisations that wish to retain their ability to work on the ground have to exercise a degree of self-censorship, or at least deliberate stay clear of potentially controversial activities, which has the unfortunate by-product of helping to legitimate the political system that currently operates in Tajikistan. The publication’s conclusions address this difficult balancing act and try to suggest some potential ways forward.


Image by Rjruiziii under (CC).


[1] Kamoludin Abdullaev and Catherine Barnes, Politics of compromise: The Tajikistani peace process, Conciliation Resources, April 2001,; Francisco Olmos, State-building myths in Central Asia, FPC, October 2019,

[2] Kamoludin Abdullaev and Catherine Barnes, Politics of compromise: The Tajikistani peace process, Conciliation Resources, April 2001,

[3] Ibid.

[4] Steven Erlanger, After Week of Turmoil, Tajik President Is Forced Out, The New York Times, September 1992,

[5] John Heathershaw and Parviz Mullojonov, Elite Bargains and Political Deals Project: Tajikistan Case Study, Stabilisation Unit, UK Government, February 2018,

[6] United Nations Peacemaker, General Agreement on the Establishment of Peace and National Accord in Tajikistan, June 1997,,General%20Agreement%20on%20the%20Establishment%20of%20Peace%20and%20National%20Accord,Summary%3A&text=Agreement%20between%20the%20President%20of,National%20Reconciliation%20(23%20December%201996)

[7] Kamoludin Abdullaev and Catherine Barnes, Politics of compromise: The Tajikistani peace process, Conciliation Resources, April 2001,

[8] International Crisis Group, Tajikistan: An Uncertain Peace, December 2001,

[9] OSCE ODIHR, Republic of Tajikistan-Elections to the Parliament 27 February 2000, May 2000,

[10] John Heathershaw and Parviz Mullojonov, Elite Bargains and Political Deals Project: Tajikistan Case Study, Stabilisation Unit, UK Government, February 2018,

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid; RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, Tajik Politician Sent To Remote Jail After Interview, RFE/RL, August 2015,; Saodat Mahbatsho, Tajikistan: Mysterious Death Raises Concerns About Militant Returns, Eurasianet, July 2009,

[13] Bartlomiej Kaminski and Saumya Mitra, Borderless Bazaars and Regional Integration in Central Asia, The World Bank, May 2012,

[14] Bardia Rahmani, How the War on Drugs Is Making Tajikistan More Authoritarian, The Diplomat, July 2018,; Though by this stage remittances had replaced them as the most significant contributor to overall GDP – 52 per cent by 2013 according to the World Bank; David Trilling, Tajikistan: Migrant Remittances Now Exceed Half of GDP, Eurasianet, April 2014,

[15] Foreign Assistance, Tajikistan: Foreign Assistance, April 2021,

[16] OSCE, Elections in Tajikistan,

[17], The President of Tajikistan cut off the Russian ending from his last name, March 2007,

[18] RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, Tajik Lawmakers Approve Bill Banning Russified Surnames, RFE/RL, April 2020,

[19] Khiradmand Sheraliev, A Critical Lesson for Tajikistan: The State of Migrant Workers in 2020, The Diplomat, January 2021,; Eurasianet, What’s Behind Tajikistan’s Web Woes, September 2015,

[20] RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, SMS Services Down In Tajikistan After Protest Calls, RFE/RL, October 2014,

[21] RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, Three Arrested As Tajik Opposition Tycoon Buried In Istanbul, RFE/RL, March 2015,

[22] RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, Tajik Activists Jailed For Ties To Banned Opposition Group, RFE/RL, April 2015,

[23] Farangis Najibullah, Tajikistan’s Islamic Renaissance Party On Life Support, RFE/RL, March 2015,; David Trilling, Tajikistan Drives Top Opposition Leader Into Exile, Eurasianet, June 2015,

[24] The electricity supply to the Sheraton hotel mysteriously was cut just before the Congress was due to take place leading it to be abandoned; Columbia University, Global Freedom of Expression, The Case of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan,; Akbar Borisov, Tajikistan’s Islamic opposition party faces ban amid crackdown, Yahoo News, August 2015,

[25] RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, More Detained in Tajikistan As Manhunt Continues For Ousted Defense Official, RFE/RL, September 2015,

[26] RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, Tajikistan Confirms Death of Mutinous Former Deputy Defense Minister, RFE/RL, September 2015,; Eurasianet at the time noted a number of inconsistencies in the official accounts of what was going on – Eurasianet, Tajikistan: Digging for Answers About Armed Clashes, September 2015,

[27] HRW, Tajikistan: Opposition Activists Detained, September 2015,

[28] Freedom now, Mahmadali Hayit,; Eurasianet, Tajikistan: Rights groups demand release of tortured political prisoner, March 2019,

[29] Columbia University, Global Freedom of Expression, The Case of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan,

[30] Eurasianet, Tajikistan: State Media Forced to Always Call President By Unwieldy Title, April 2017,

[31] See also the EU’s call for his release following the determination of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

[32] Farangis Najibullah, Tajikistan’s Banned Islamic Party Claims Former Members Hit By ‘Wave Of Arrests’, RFE/RL, June 2018,–members-hit-by-wave-arrests/29283941.html

[33] Singeli Agnew (Producer/Director), The Weekly: When ISIS Killed Cyclists on Their Journey Around the World, The New York Times, June 2019,

[34] Eurasianet, Tajikistan’s exiled opposition adrift as strongman rule hardens at home, January 2020,; Malgosia Krakowska, Tajik opposition movement, moderndiplomacy, August 2020,

[35] Exeter University Central Asian Studies Network, Central Asian Political Exiles (CAPE) database,

[36] Adam Hug (ed.), Closing the Door: the challenge facing activists from the former Soviet Union seeking asylum or refuge, FPC, December 2017,; Adam Hug (ed.), No shelter: the harassment of activists abroad by intelligence services from the former Soviet Union, FPC, November 2016,; Adam Hug (ed.), Shelter from the storm? The asylum, refuge and extradition situation facing activists from the former Soviet Union, FPC April 2014,

[37] EDAL, Communicated cases against Russia and Poland, January 2019,

[38] RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, Tajik Activist Gadoev Says He Was Abducted, Tortured, Given Ultimatum, RFE/RL, March 2019,

[39] IPHR, Tajikistan and the COVID pandemic: denial, cover-up and downplay, September 2020,

[40] Eurasianet, Tajikistan: Feast in the time of coronavirus, March 2020,

[41] IPHR, Tajikistan and the COVID pandemic: denial, cover-up and downplay, September 2020,

[42] IPHR, Tajikistan: Cover-up and downplay of Covid-19; massive restrictions on expression, October 2020,

[43] Johns Hopkins University, Covid-19 Dashboard,

[44] Catherine Putz, If Only It Were That Easy: Tajikistan Declares Itself COVID-19 Free, The Diplomat, January 2021,

[45] IPHR, Tajikistan and the COVID pandemic: denial, cover-up and downplay, September 2020,

[46] Iskandar Firuz and Barot Yusufi, Agency of Statistics: in Tajikistan, mortality increased by 11%, but this is not related to COVID-19, Radio Ozodi, July 2020,

[47] RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, In Tajikistan, COVID-19 Patients, Families Scoff At Pledge Of ‘Free Treatment’, RFE/RL, February 2021,

[48] Khiradmand Sheraliev, A Critical Lesson for Tajikistan: The State of Migrant Workers in 2020, The Diplomat, January 2021,

[49] Farangis Najibullah, Russia Finally Opens Its Borders To Tajik Migrants, But Exorbitant Airfares Keeping Laborers Out, RFE/RL, April 2021,

[50] Farangis Najibullah, Many Tajiks Forced To Skip Meals As Poverty Deepens, Survey Shows, RFE/RL, January 2021,

[51] World Data Atlas, Tajikistan – Gross domestic product per capita in current prices,

[52] In March 2021 Rahmon disappeared from view for several weeks BNE – Intellinews, Mystery as Tajik president Rahmon disappears from public view, March 2021,; Radio Ozodi, The delay in Rahmon’s visit to Bactria sparked reports of “his health condition”, March 2021,

[53] Tamiris Esfandiar, Tajikistan: President’s Family Expands Grip with Key Positions, Eurasianet, May 2014,

[54] Catherine Putz, Hired: Tajik President’s Daughter Lands Deputy Post at a Major Bank, July 2017,

[55] Eurasianet, Tajikistan’s ruling family extends control over telecoms, April 2018,

[56] Alexander Cooley and John Heathershaw, Dictators Without Borders Power and Money in Central Asia, Yale University Press, 2017. A summary of the book can be found here:

[57] Ibid

[58] David Trilling, Russian Aluminum Giant Pries Open Books at Tajikistan’s Largest Factory, June 2014,

[59] Eurasianet, Report: Tajikistan to yield share in aluminium plant to China, December 2019,; Niva Yau, China business briefing: Whose Belt and Road is it anyway?, Eurasianet, September 2020,

[60] RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, A Tajik Business Empire Tied To The President Keeps on Running, Despite Being Shut Down, RFE/RL, December 2019,; RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, Firm Linked To Tajik President’s Son-In-Law Awarded $13 Million Government Contract, RFE/RL, October 2020,

[61] Vlad Lavrov, Ilya Lozovsky and Bermet Talant, A Murder in Istanbul, OCCRP, June 2018,

[62] Radio Ozodi, Investigation by Radio Ozodi: Most Faroz Companies Continue To Work, December 2019,

[63] Paolo Sorbello, Tajikistan’s Presidential Family Ousts Competitor in the Fuel Market, The Diplomat, November 2017,

[64] Elena Korotkova, Emomali Rahmona obvinjajut v nazhive na epidemii koronavirusa v Tadzhikistane, News Asia, June 2020,; Eurasianet, Tajikistan: Coronavirus panic puts sufferers of other illnesses in grave danger, May 2020,

[65] Eurasianet, Tajikistan: As Russia cracks open gate, rush for air tickets ensues, April 2021,

[66] RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, Tajik Official’s Son Questioned Over Deadly Accident, RFE/RL, October 2013,; RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, Tajik President Sacks Railways Chief Amid Crash Controversy, RFE/RL, February 2014,; Pavla Holcova, Vlad Lavrov and OCCRP Tajikistan, Ex-Tajik Railways Chief’s Czech Bonanza, OCCRP, January 2018,; Different reports have suggested that another of his sons may be married to one of Rahmon’s daughters but there is a lack of clarity on the veracity of these claims.

[67] Eurasianet, Tajikistan: More presidential family members sell off assets, September 2019,

[68] U.S. Department of State, 2020 Investment Climate Statements: Tajikistan,; The Bertlsemann Transformation Index 2020 report notes ‘rampant corruption and extortion by tax and regulatory agencies’ –

[69] OCCRP, Officials Examine Sprawling Shadow Economy Tajikistan, August 2019,

[70] Transparency International, Corruption Perceptions Index 2020,; BTI Transformation Index, Tajikistan,

[71] Freedom House, Countries and Territories,

[72] CCER of the Republic of Tajikistan, Decision of the Central Commission for Elections and Referenda, October 2020,

[73] OSCE ODIHR, Republic of Tajikistan, Presidential Election 11 October 2020, ODIHR Election Assessment Mission Final Report, January 2021,; ONS, Electoral statistics, UK: March 2020, January 2021,,increased%20by%20484%2C000%20(1.0%25)

[74] RFE/RL, Tajik Lawyer Questioned By Security Agents After Announcing Bid For President, September 2020,; His announcement video can be seen here:

[75], Rakhmatillo Zoyirov Reported That It Was Attacked, September 2020,

[76] Eurasianet, Tajikistan: With elections come repressions, August 2020,

[77] Reuters in Dushanbe, Dozens killed in riots at Tajikistan prison holding Isis militants, The Guardian, May 2019,

[78] Edward Lemon, Twitter Post, Twitter, March 2021,

[79] Bruce Pannier, Respected Tajik Activist Who Helped Migrants In Russia Is Missing After Being Forcibly Deported, RFE/RL, March 2021,; Eurasianet, Tajikistan: Migrants advocate deported from Russia, March 2021,

[80] Nigora Fazliddin, Twitter Post, Twitter, March 2021,

[81] RFE/RL, Six Tajiks Get Lengthy Prison Terms On Terror Charges In Russia, February 2018,; Frud Bezhan, Tajikistan’s Deadly Export, RFE/RL, March 2017,

[82] Adam Hug (ed.), Closing the Door: the challenge facing activists from the former Soviet Union seeking asylum or refuge, FPC, December 2017,; Adam Hug (ed.) No shelter: the harassment of activists abroad by intelligence services from the former Soviet Union, FPC, November 2016,; Adam Hug (ed.) Shelter from the storm? The asylum, refuge and extradition situation facing activists from the former Soviet Union, FPC, April 2014,

[83] RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, Tajik Prosecutor – General Rejects Austria’s Move To Invalidate Extradition Of Tajik Activist, RFE/RL, July 2020,

[84] Bruce Pannier, Tajik Officials Use Family Members To Pressure Critics To Return, RFE/RL, June 2019,

[85] Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Tajikistan: Dissident’s family interrogated, threateded, December 2020,

[86] Steve Swerdlow, Twitter Post, Twitter, January 2021,

[87] U.S. Department of State, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Tajikistan,

[88] United Nations Human Rights Treaty Bodies, UN Tready Body Database,

[89] NGO Explorer, Found 51 UK NGOs working in Tajikistan,

[90] Open Society Foundations, The Open Society Foundations in Tajikistan, March 2021,

[91] Civil Society Development Association, Tajik NGOs would like to propose amendments to the law of the Republic of Tajikistan “On Public Associations”, January 2019,; Unofficial Translation (2020), Law of the Republic of Tajikistan About Public Associations,

[92] FIDH, Their Last Stand? How Human Rights Defenders Are Being Squeezed Out in, Tajikistan, Mission Report, July 2019,

[93] Taj Nature, The Committee for Environmental protection under the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan, April 2021,; Cabar Asia, Tajikistan: Rural Residents Complain About Poor Conditions of the Healthcare Centers (Photoreport), October 2020,

[94] RSF, Praising the “Leader of the Nation”,

[95] ASIA-Plus, About Us,

[96] OSCE ODIHR, Republic of Tajikistan, Presidential Election, 11 October 2020, ODIHR Election Assessment Mission, Final Report, January 2021,

[97] RSF in English, Twitter Post, Twitter, December 2020,

[98] Catherine Putz, Tajik Journalist Facing Extremism Charges, The Diplomat, February 2020,

[99], Statement: “Akhbor” website stops its activity, November 2020,; OSCE ODIHR, Republic of Tajikistan, Presidential Election, 11 October 2020, ODIHR Election Assessment Mission, Final Report, January 2021,

[100] Eurasiant, Tajikistan: Court says news website serves as platform for terrorists, April 2020,

[101] CPJ, Tajikistan authorities question family members of exiled journalist, July 2020,

[102] Ardasher Khashimov and Colleen Wood, In conservative Tajikistan, Gen Z activists are using Instagram to right for feminism, The Calvert Journal, September 2020,; Katherine Long, Dushanbe’s millennials are reconnecting a broken city – with the Internet, Ozy, September 2018,

[103] Ozodivideo, YouTube,; Radio Ozodi, Instagram,; Radio Ozodi, Facebook,

[104] Peter Leonard, US-funded broadcaster under scrutiny for enabling Tajikistan’s strongman rule, Eurasianet, March 2019,

[105] openDemocracy, Open letter: What is going on at RFE/RL’s Tajik service?, March 2019,

[106] United States Mission to the OSCE, Concern about Accreditation for RFE/RL Radio Ozodi, November 2019,; RFE/RL Press Release, Tajikistan Again Fails To Fully Accredit RFE/RL Journalists, January 2020,; US Agency for Global Media, Journalists in Tajikistan denied accreditation. Again, August 2020,

[107] Bruce Pannier, How Tajikistan Blocked Term Extensions For Key OSCE Officials, RFE/RL, July 2020,

[108] ARTICLE 19, Submission to the Universal Periodic Review of Tajikistan by ARTICLR 19, 39th Session of the Working Group, March 2021,

[109] Eurasianet, Tajikistan sentences journalist to 12 years in jail, July 2018,

[110] RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, Tajik Authorities Issue Arrest Warrant In Absentia For Prominent Journalist, RFE/RL, February 2019,

[111] Catherine Putz, Tajik Journalist Facing Extremism Charges, The Diplomat, February 2020,

[112] Freedom Now, Tajik Journalist Daler Sharipov

Released from Detention,

[113] International Bar Association Human Rights Institute, Independent High Level Panel of Legal Experts on

Media Freedom, 2020,; See also CPJ, Tajik authorities harass journalist Humayra Bakhtiyar and family, July 2019,

[114] Radio Ozodi, “Troll Factory” of Tajikistan: key figures and performers. Radio Ozodi investigation, May 2019,

[115] Eurasianet, Tajikistan: COVID-19 outbreak offers cover for fresh assault on free press, June 2020,; Eurasianet, September 2020, Interview with Tajikistan’s would-be youthful change candidate

[116] ICJ, Neither Check nor Balance: the Judiciary in Tajikistan, December 2020,

[117] OSAC, Tajikistan 2020 Crime & Safety Report, March 2020,

[118] Human Rights Watch, Tajikistan: Free Human Rights Lawyers, May 2016,

[119] IFEX, Human rights lawyer Shukhrat Kudratov, June 2019,

[120] Unites States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Tajikistan,

[121] RFE/RL, Tajikistan Announces Reforms To Islamic Council, September 2010,; Saodat Olimova, Political Islam And Conflict In Tajikistan, CA&C Press AB

[122] Joshua Kucera, The Aga Khan’s tightrope walk in Tajikistan, Al Jazeera, August 2013,

[123] RFE/RL, Tajik President Signs Law Banning Children From Mosques, August 2011,

[124] Paul Goble, Tajikistan, Most Muslim Country in Central Asia, Struggles to Rein In Islam, Jamestown Foundation, February 2018,; Forum 18, Tajikistan: Last madrassahs finally closed, 6 September 2016,

[125] Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18, Tajikistan: Hijab-wearing and beards ban continues, Forum 18, October 2018,

[126] Mirzonabi Holikzod, From 5 to 23 years old: Trial against alleged followers of the Muslim Brotherhood ends in Tajikistan, Radio Ozodi, April 2021,

[127] Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18, and John Kinahan, Forum 8, Tajikistan: Religious freedom survey, December 2020,

[128] Ibid.

[129] Saodat Olimova, Political Islam And Conflict In Tajikistan, CA&C Press AB,

[130] RFE/RL, Women’s Day Becomes Mother’s Day In Tajikistan, March 2009,;  Government Of The Republic Of Tajikistan, President Of The Republic Of Tajikistan,

[131] Parliament of Tajikistan, Deputies of the Majlisi Namoyandagon of the Majlisi Oli of the Republic of Tajikistan,

[132] Government Of The Republic Of Tajikistan, President Of The Republic Of Tajikistan,

[133] Nilufar Karimova, Teenage Marriage Persists in Tajikistan, IWPR, May 2014,; Sarvinoz Ruhullo, “He threatened to kill me!” In Tajikistan, a 46-year-old man married a 12-year-old girl, Radio Ozodi, August 2020, ; Ardasher Khashimov and Colleen Wood,  In conservative Tajikistan, Gen Z activists are using Instagram to fight for feminism, Calvert Journal, September 2020,

[134] Tajikistan: 2017 Demographic and Health Survey,

[135] Nozilakhon Mukhamedova and Kai Wegerich,  The feminization of agriculture in post-Soviet Tajikistan, Journal of Rural Studies, January 2018,

[136] HRW, “Violence with Every Step”, Weak State Response to Domestic Violence in Tajikistan, September 2019,

[137] Cabar Asia, Tajikistan: When Justice Assaults a Woman,

[138] Fergana News, Dushanbe resident fined for indecent proposal to married woman, July 2020,; Sher Khasimov and Steve Swerdlow, Is This Tajikistan’s #MeToo Moment?, The Diplomat, November 2020,

[139] Zebo Nazarova, Tajikistan’s LGBT Community: Struggling For Recognition ‘As People’, Current Time, June 2020,

[140] IPHR, LGBT people in Tajikistan: beaten, raped and exploited by police, July 2017,

[141] RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, Tajikistan Creates Registry Of ‘Proven’ LGBT People, Official Journal Says, RFE/RL, October 2017,

[142] Ardasher Khashimov and Tahmina Inoyatova, Young People, Social Media, and Urban Transformation of Dushanbe, The Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs, May 2021,

[143] Xeniya Mironova, Destructing Soviet Architecture in Central Asia, Voices on Central Asia, December 2019,,arches%20(Leningradskie%20doma%20or%20Doma

[144] Esfandiar Adineh, Demolishing Dushanbe: how the former city of Stalinabad is erasing its Soviet past, The Guardian, October 2017,

[145] Radio Ozodi, List of 15 historic buildings in Dushanbe not subject to demolition, April 2016,

[146] Valentina Kasymbekova, How does a residence permit violate the rights of citizens, and why is it still not removed?, ASIA-Plus, November 2019,

[147] Vestnik Kavkaza, Aggravation of situation on Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border reported, April 2021,


[149] Christian Hale, Twitter Post, Twitter, May 2021

[150] RFE/RL, No Plans To Swap Volatile Vorukh Exclave For Kyrgyz Land, Tajik President Tells Residents, April 2021,

[151] The World Bank, The World Bank in Tajikistan,; Asel Murzakulova, Research Fellow, Mountain Societies Research Institute, UCA  and Irene Mestre, Natural Resource Management Dynamics in Border Communities of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, University of Central Asia, April 2016,

[152] RFE/RL, In First Official Count, Tajikistan Says 19 Killed In Kyrgyz Border Clashes, May 2021,

[153] Ibid.

[154]OSCE, Calls between OSCR Chairperson-in-Office Linde and Foreign Ministers of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, May 2021,; Isabelle Khurshudyan, At Russia’s Victory Day parade, a show of military might amid tensions with the West, The Washington post, May 2021,

[155] Dual Citizenship Report, Kyrgyzstan,,-Restricted&text=Pursuant%20to%20the%20Constitution%2C%20the,Kyrgyz%20Republic%20is%20a%20party

[156] Bradley Jardine and Edward Lemon, Pespectives: Tajikistan’s security ties with China a Faustian bargain, Eurasianet, March 2020,

[157] Adam Hug (ed.) Sharing worst practice: How countries and institutions in the former Soviet Union help create legal tools of repression, FPC, May 2016,; Bradley Jardine, China’s Surveillance State Has Eyes on Central Asia, Foreign Policy, November 2019,

[158] Umida Hasimova, Will Tajikistan Ever Join the Eurasian Economic Union? The Dioplomat, August 2020,; Eurasianet, Russia using crisis in Tajikistan to advance EAEU agenda?, February 2021,

[159] Though the UK’s overseas territories have been known to provide a helpful umbrella for some locally owned firms.

[160] World Bank, Net official development assistance and official aid received (constant 2018 US$) – Tajikistan,

[161] European Commission, Tajikistan,

[162] Eurasianet, Tajikistan: Coronavirus brinfs bonanza of aid, but zero accountability, July 2020,

[163] European Commission, New EU-Tajikistan partnership & cooperation agreement – authorisation to open negotiations,; EU Delegation to Tajikistan, Tajikistan and the EU, October 2020,

[164] US Department of State, U.S. Relations With Tajikistan, January 2021,,consultation%20process%20to%20enhance%20cooperation

[165] Bermet Talant, Twitter Post, Twitter, May 2021,

[166] Development, Tajikistan,

[167] Eurasianet, Tajikistan: Coronavirus brings bonanza of aid, but zero accountability, July 2020,

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