Human rights and freedom of expression continue to decline in central Asia’s Tajikistan under the authoritarian government led by Emomali Rahmon. The government’s relentless attempt to suppress any and all political opposition at home and abroad, online, and in the streets has brought broad and resounding condemnation from the international human rights watch community. Not only have those critical of government corruption faced harrassment, torture, and imprisonment, but so too have women, those in the LGBT community, religious practitioners, prisoners, and other vulnerable groups.
Thel plight of women in Tajikistan continues to this day, as women still face limited rights and little to no legal recourse from domestic and sexual violence. A 2013 law passed ostensibly to protect women and families from violence has turned out to be all but toothless, as even in 2023 there is no law in Tajikistan that criminalizes domestic violence or marital rape. Authorities are apathetic to the issue and often don’t prosecute violent crimes against women. Shelters and specialized support services for victims are also lacking, particularly in rural communities. And due to hostility from police, social stigma, and very little other recourse, many crimes aren’t even reported at all.
Certain religious groups have also come into the crosshairs of the Tajik government, with citizens being prevented from their right to worship. Jehovah’s Witnesses who refuse compulsory military service in accordance with their beliefs continue to be imprisoned, and Islamic pilgrimages are prohibited, as is the right for Islamic women to be able to wear a hijab. One sect of Islam, Salafism, had been outright banned since 2011. In July, 2021 eighteen residents of Bobojon Ghafurov were tried and convicted of practicing the religion. All defendents claimed innocence, but eventually confessed while under the duress of physical torture.
Since as far back as Rahmon’s election in 1994, the modern Tajik government’s violent campaign against free expression, and its persecution of journalists, lawyers, and activists critical of the government is well documented. Captured dissidents have been tortured, imprisoned, or killed. The state regularly blocks various websites and monitors speech across the internet. Legislation allows the state to prosecute any speech deemed a threat to national security, as it did when it sentenced Abdulmajid Rizoev to five years in prison in 2021 for expressing suspicion over the veracity of recent election results on social media.
That same year, Sadi Rakhmatov, a deputy leader of Group 24, a government opposition group, was successfully extradited from Greece and handed a fifteen-year prison sentence. The rise of Covid in 2021 saw a renewed campaign of misinformation, as the government attempted to obfuscate the true, known dangers of the pandemic while pushing an altogether unrealistic counter narrative, silencing skeptics, and firing doctors who tested positive for the virus.
Meanwhile, authorities did little to control the outbreak until hastily issuing a decree for compulsory vaccination. While some activists in the public health community assisting with pandemic recovery were not prevented from their work, social activists in essentially every other sphere have been increasingly the subject of arrest and prosecution on politically motivated charges.
With the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and new border conflicts with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan is facing issues that may find it more reliant on EU cooperation and intervention. This may turn out to be an opportunity for neighboring leaders in the international community to leverage their position to press for some kind of meaningful reform from the Tajik government. But otherwise, from within its borders the government itself shows no signs of moving toward a free society.