Tajikistan has been downgraded from ‘repressed’ to ‘closed’ in a new report by the CIVICUS Monitor, a global research collaboration that rates and tracks fundamental freedoms in 197 countries and territories. According to the report, People Power Under Attack 2022, repressive measures taken by the authorities in response to mass protests in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) led to the downgrade.
‘Closed’ is the worst rating a country can receive by the CIVICUS Monitor. In reality, it means that an atmosphere of fear prevails in Tajikistan, where people are routinely imprisoned and attacked for exercising their fundamental rights of freedom of association, free assembly and expression. Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria are also rated closed.
Mass protests took place in GBAO in May 2022 when people took to the streets in the city of Khorog to demand the resignation of the regional leader as well as justice for a young man killed during a police operation. These protests followed earlier mass protests held in the region on similar issues in November 2021. In both cases, authorities cracked down on protests and carried out special security operations in the region marred by allegations of excessive use of force, arbitrary detentions, torture and extrajudicial killings of detainees. In addition, they imposed weeks-long internet shutdowns throughout the region. To date, authorities have failed to carry out impartial investigations into human rights violations reported in the region.
The CIVICUS Monitor and its research partner International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) are particularly concerned about a widening crackdown on dissenting voices seen in Tajikistan in connection with the GBAO events. At least 20 human rights activists and journalists critical of the government’s policies in the GBAO have been detained and prosecuted. In a recent case, on 9 December 2022, Tajikistan’s Supreme Court handed down lengthy prison sentences to several human rights activists who were targeted for their efforts to monitor, document and assist victims of the government’s crackdown in GBAO. Among those convicted were human rights lawyer Manuchehr Kholiknazarov, Director of the Pamiri Lawyers Association, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison, and human rights defender and journalist Ulfatkhonim Mamadshoeva who was convicted to 21 years behind bars.
“We are dismayed that several Tajikistani human rights defenders and journalists were sentenced to long periods behind bars following politically motivated, sham trials which fell short of international standards. They were convicted in apparent retaliation for their human rights activities and journalistic work around the Tajikistani government’s repressive policies in the GBAO and should be immediately released,’’ Brigitte Dufour, Director of IPHR.
There is less and less space for dissenting voices in Tajikistan as journalists, civil society activists, independent lawyers and human rights activists continue to face growing intimidation and harassment. The operating environment for CSOs deteriorated further with many organisationsexperiencing difficulties with registration, threats of closure and pressure to refrain from working on issues that are perceived as sensitive by those in power. The security services are often behind intimidation and harassment targeting CSOs.
Recent arbitrary closures of NGOs are of particular concern. In January 2023 the NGO Independent Centre for Human Rights Protection (ICHRP) was liquidated by court order on spurious and unsubstantiated grounds. In recent years, the ICHRP has mainly worked on issues which the authorities perceive as sensitive, such as housing rights, and the provision of legal assistance to victims of forced evictions. The NGO has also provided legal assistance to journalists and victims of torture. Human rights activists believe that ICHRP has been a thorn in the side of the authorities because of its independent and critical human rights work and that the decision to liquidate it is a retaliatory measure.
“The forced closure of ICHRP is contrary to Tajikistan’s international human rights obligations and at odds with its bid to join the EU’s GSP+ trade preference regime, which requires compliance with core international human rights treaty obligations, including those protecting the right to freedom of association”, says Brigitte Dufour, Director of IPHR.
Another human rights NGO, the Pamiri Lawyers Association was informed by the Ministry of Justice at the end of 2022 that it had been liquidated, without any court review.
The CIVICUS Monitor and IPHR are also concerned that media freedoms are severely constrained in Tajikistan. There is hardly any space in which independent media can operate and the arbitrary blocking of independent news sites and social media networks remains an ongoing concern.
At the end of her visit to Tajikistan in December 2022, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor expressed serious concerns about the current climate for civic engagement in the country. She stressed that “the government must recognise that human rights defenders are not the enemy, they are also working towards peaceful, just and fair societies and should not be conflated with actual extremists and terrorists.”
The worrying picture in Tajikistan is mirrored across the world; CIVICUS Monitor data shows that year after year, there is significantly less space for people to exercise fundamental freedoms: only 3% of the world’s population lives in countries rated as ‘open’.
Over twenty organisations collaborate on the CIVICUS Monitor, providing evidence and research that help us target countries where civic freedoms are at risk. The Monitor has posted more than 490 civic space updates in the last year, which are analysed in People Power Under Attack 2022.
Civic freedoms in 197 countries and territories are categorised as either closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed or open, based on a methodology that combines several sources of data on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.
In addition to Tajikistan, there are 26 other countries that now are rated as ‘’closed’’ on the Monitor (see all). Visit Tajikistan’s homepage on the CIVICUS Monitor for more information and check back regularly for the latest updates.