The Euromaidan protests that took place during winter 2013–2014, in Ukraine, have cast their shadow over Tajikistan. The short-term effect of the protests (particularly the Russian response), along with the increasingly violent and intractable nature of the civil war in Syria, makes comparable protests unlikely in Tajikistan in the near to medium term. However, this has not kept some from trying.
Earlier this month, the opposition figure Umarali Quvatov called for protests to take place in Dushanbe on October 10. Quvatov, the exiled leader of the now banned opposition organization “Group 24,” enjoys limited popularity, and the protests failed to materialize. Despite Quvatov’s lack of broad appeal, the government responded to his call by beefing up security in the capital and blocking websites and text message services. Some media outlets reported that President Emomali Rahmon even invited 800 Chinese troops into the capital to help suppress potential protests, although it remains unclear if these allegations are true or simply misinformation emanating from Quvatov and his camp (BBC Tajiki, October 13).
Incidents this past year in the semi-autonomous region of Gorno-Badakhshan (see EDM, April 29) have demonstrated that the regime is willing to use lethal force to suppress public displays of dissent, which may further dampen the appetite for protest. One of the most widely cited reasons for the unlikelihood of protests is the fact that a significant percentage of Tajikistan’s military-age men live in Russia as migrant laborers. If this diversion of manpower does prove to be a crucial factor in forestalling protest movements in Tajikistan, it might prove a pyrrhic victory for the regime for three reasons:
First, over the long run, the domestic economic hardships that drive Tajikistani laborers to Russia in search of work may exacerbate their underlying grievances against the regime. This would particularly be the case if a sudden change in Russian migration policy led to quotas or deportations that drastically reduced the number of Tajikistani migrants. Despite its reliance on cheap labor, Russia has a long history of threatening such actions as a way of extracting concessions from Dushanbe. A sudden and large repatriation of Tajikistani migrant labors with no means of supporting their families would have negative consequences for regime stability.
Second, long-term mass labor migration has considerable effects on Tajikistani social—and by extension—political dynamics. While regionalism, entrenched patronage networks, and loyalty to local strong men have hampered Rahmon’s ability to fully consolidate power in a centralized government, the existence of local power brokers do at least provide him with a finite (and familiar) number of interlocutors to deal with in times of crisis. Recent history is replete with examples of Rahmon using a combination of threats and inducements to compel local strong men to bring themselves (and their constituents) into line. Mass labor migration, however, may erode traditional patronage networks and regional identities, thereby degrading the ability of local strong men to “deliver” their constituents. The aforementioned Mirzohuja Ahmadov, who rejected calls for domestic street protests in Tajikistan, is a prime example of the trajectory of a regional war lord–turned Rahmon ally. A reader response to an interview with Ahmadov on Radio Free Europe’s Tajik-language website, however, is indicative of the potentially evolving sentiment of migrant laborers: “Mr. Ahmadov, do not speak for all of the Gharmis, I am a migrant in Moscow and I support Umarali Quvatov one hundred percent” (Ozodi, October 11). “Gharmis” refers to people who live in, or trace their lineage back to, the region of Gharm in Tajikistan.
And third, the process of de-regionalization and the leveling of local political hierarchies could be a force for good as it opens the door for competing political and religious ideas. However, recent reports of Tajikistani citizens being radicalized in Russia and recruited to fight with the Islamic State (formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria—ISIS) show how dangerous ideas can also metastasize in these communities (RFE/RL, October 2; see EDM August 7, 2013).
Since the start of the anti-government protests in Ukraine, and the ensuing Russian invasion of the country, the Ukraine crisis has raised a great deal of apprehension inside Tajikistan. And in large part due the population’s distrust of mass protests as a spark for anarchy, combined possibly with the large number of young Tajikistani men working in Russia, so far mass protest movements have not materialized. Yet, the country’s economic reliance on labor migration to Russia, the political effect of mass labor migration on traditional patronage networks, as well as concerns of greater ease of extremist ideology spreading through inter-mixed uprooted communities could help reverse this situation over the long term. All these factors call for more careful scrutiny, as it is possible that the reasons that have made Euromaidan-style protests in Tajikistan unlikely in the short term could lead to more radical and violent opposition in the medium to long term.
KHATLON, Tajikistan — Tajik authorities say a Tajik national has been killed while fighting alongside pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture) came into force in Tajikistan on 10 February 1995. By acceding to the treaty, the authorities of Tajikistan pledged to protect everybody under their jurisdiction from torture and other forms of ill-treatment, to reflect in law and practice the principles enshrined in the Convention, to cooperate with the Committee against Torture and to implement its recommendations.
But twenty years later, torture and impunity for it remain widespread in the country. From 2011 to 2014, members of the NGO Coalition against Torture in Tajikistan documented more than 100 cases of men, women and children who were allegedly subjected to torture or other ill-treatment. Perpetrators were brought to justice only in exceptional cases. The human rights groups jointly issuing this statement believe that many victims of torture did not file complaints for fear of reprisals.
Heightened international attention to torture in Tajikistan in recent years and thorough study of the situation by international human rights bodies and mechanisms including the Committee against Torture and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Special Rapporteur on torture) resulted in the issuing of a set of recommendations to the authorities.
On the twentieth anniversary of the treaty entering into force in Tajikistan, the human rights groups jointly issuing this public statement published a briefing, entitled “Tajikistan needs to do more to end torture,” which provides an up-to-date overview of the current situation of torture or other forms of ill-treatment, including in the army.
Noteworthy positive steps taken by Tajikistan in recent years include introducing an article on torture in the Criminal Code (Article 143) with a definition of torture that is in line with that contained in the Convention against Torture. As a result, by 2014, four criminal cases under this article were opened; and the courts ordered compensation to the families of two men who had died as a result of torture.
In 2014 the BMC International Committee awarded a total of £14,250 to 16 expeditions, and an additional three awards from the Julie Tullis Memorial fund. Supported trips visited South America, Greenland and various regions in Asia, with mixed success.
Notably, there were a number of ambitious projects, with some of our most talented climbers attempting objectives that could rightly be called “cutting edge” in current alpinisim.
In general the usual factors of weather and conditions prevented them achieving their goals.
But they were certainly not alone: compared to recent years, 2014 saw very few outstanding climbs accomplished in the world’s mountains.
Although forced to retreat from possibly the last remaining virgin 6,000er in the Muzkol Range, a four-member British expedition was able to make the first ascent of Peak 5,553m via a 1,200m route of Alpine D.
Supported with grants from the BMC, MEF, Alpine Club, Lowe Alpine, The Chris Walker Memorial Trust and the Austrian Alpine Club, Becky Coles, Rhys Huws, Simon Verspeak and John Vincent first flew to Kyrgyzstan, before travelling south along the Pamir Highway to Northeast Tajikistan and the Muzkol Range.
This collection of high arid mountains in the southeastern Pamir saw exploration in the Soviet era, and again in the mid to late 1990s and 2000, when it became the venue for a succession of Andrew Wielochowski’s commercial EWP expeditions.
These teams picked off the major summits but Peak 6,123m, to the west of Dvuglavy (6,148m) and rather more difficult of access, remained unclimbed.
Supported by grants from the BMC, Mount Everest Foundation, and the Alpine Club Climbing Fund, a four-member British expedition has made first ascents and ski descents in the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan.
Thomas Coney, Richard Jones, Mark Thomas and Susanna Walker, four climbers and skiers based primarily in the Chamonix valley, originally planned first ski descents in the Rushan Range, north of Khorog in the province of Gorno-Badakhshan.
However, nearer their departure time in late April they learnt that the safe snow level was going to be much higher than originally estimated and decided to change venue to the Academy of Science Range (Akademii Nauk) somewhat further north.
The Academy of Science Range is more well-known massif that culminates in the summit of the highest peak in the CIS, now formally referred to as Ismail Somoni (7,495m), but still far better known as Pik Communism.
An exiled Tajik opposition leader who heads a group Dushanbe classifies as “extremist” has reportedly been detained in Turkey.
Umarali Quvvatov’s wife told RFE/RL’s Tajik service December 20 of a raid on the family’s Istanbul home the day before. She said his passport and computers were confiscated and a group of guests was also detained. Turkish officials have not commented.
Quvvatov is a former oil trader and business partner of Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon’s son-in-law. He now heads the anti-government and social media-savvy Gruppa 24. Though it appears to have little popular following at home in Tajikistan, the group of exiles has made authorities edgy in recent months.
This is the second time Quvvatov has been nabbed by a foreign government, likely at Dushanbe’s request. In December 2012 he was arrested in Dubai on accusations of mass fraud raised by the Rakhmon regime before being released without explanation in September 2013. Quvvatov calls the charges politically motivated.
Quvvatov has applied for asylum in Turkey. Nadejda Atayeva, France-based leader of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, has called on Ankara to respect the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (CRSR). Steve Swerdlow of Human Rights Watch told EurasiaNet.org that HRW “is closely following the situation.”
Quvvatov “faces a serious risk of politically motivated persecution, including torture or other forms of ill-treatment” if returned to Tajikistan, Swerdlow said.
YouTube and a popular Russian social network, Odnoklassniki, were inaccessible through many Internet service providers in Tajikistan on December 30.
Internet users across the country said they had been unable to open the websites since the early morning. Some people say they could access them through proxies.
An official from a major ISP, who did not want to be named, said the state Communication Services agency had verbally instructed ISPs to “temporarily” block the two websites for “preventative reasons.”