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Abolish Residence Controls, Say Tajik Rights Groups

Critics believe Soviet-style system should be scrapped.
Human rights defenders in Tajikistan are campaigning for an end to mandatory resident permits, which they say goes against people’s fundamental right to freedom of movement.

The Tajikistan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law called for the abolition of residence registration during a regional meeting at the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in Warsaw last autumn.

Sergey Romanov, a lawyer with the human rights group, says that since the OSCE meeting, there has been little progress on reforming the system, which he argues is unconstitutional.

People in Tajikistan are required to obtain “propiska” – a record of their official place of residence – at their local police station. The propiska is stamped in passports and is essential to accessing legal employment, getting children into education, and other forms of interaction with the state.

The propiska system was created in the Soviet Union to control population movement, in particular to prevent mass migration from the countryside to large urban centres.

That remains the trend in post-independence Tajikistan, where the capital Dushanbe is a magnet for rural workers in search of employment.

The lucky ones can re-register if they have relatives in town prepared to offer them a permanent home, or if they can afford to buy a property. But many others live and work in town while their propiska shows them as residents of some faraway village.

Failure to have the right propiska counts as an offence, and police are authorised to conduct ID checks to identify people with the wrong residence papers, or none at all.

Tajikistan nationals and foreigners alike can be fined up to 37 US dollars for failure to obtain registration, while employers who hire unregistered staff may have to pay up to 160 dollars. These are substantial sums for a nation whose monthly wage averages 60 dollars.

In practice, propiska offences have become a lucrative source of income for police, who can stop people at will and then let them off in exchange for a bribe.

Abduhalim, 37, told IWPR how he arrived in the capital last year from a village in the northern Soghd region, where there was no work. In Dushanbe, he found a job as an electrician and rented a flat.

One day a policeman showed up at the apartment and discovered that Abduhalim and his family had no propiska. He took Abduhalim down to the police station, but let him go for a bribe worth 11 dollars.

However, the apartment owner had to pay an official fine for letting the family stay there illegally, so he has now evicted them.

Another man, who gave his first name as Artur, told IWPR of his difficulties in obtaining a propiska. Now 20, Artur was unable to apply for a passport in previous years, as he was in an offenders’ institution for two-and-half years for a theft committed when he was 15.

Now, he says, he is told he cannot apply for a passport as he does not have a propiska, but he cannot get that without a passport.

“It is a vicious circle and I don’t know what to do about it,” said Artur.

Living temporarily with friends, Artur plans to try bribery.

“I’ve been told it’s best to pay a registration agency official to get a fictitious propiska at a [workers’] hostel,” he said. “It’s my final hope.”

Critics of the system say it goes against the Tajik constitution, which guarantees freedom of movement and the rights of live wherever one wants, as well as the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights to which Tajikistan is a signatory.

Saidakram Yorov, who worked for the police’s residence registration service for ten years, agrees things have to change.

“Propiska doesn’t exist as a concept in international practice,” he said. “In many countries, registration entails merely notifying the authorities.”

Lawyer Abdukayum Yusufov agrees that compulsory registration is obsolete, and says that in any case it does not give the authorities an accurate picture of who is living where.

“Many of our citizens are registered at one address but in reality live somewhere else,” he said.

However, the propiska system also has its supporters, who argue that the regulations are a necessary part of maintaining law and order.

“Hundreds of people arrive in Dushanbe every week. They may include people with criminal records,” said Tajik parliamentarian Galliya Rabieva. “It is easier to monitor such people if [police] know where they live and what they are doing.”

Rabieva denied that propiska restricted anyone’s freedom, saying, “Our citizens can freely move from one place to another, and get a job anywhere.”

A police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IWPR he believed that fear of crime mixed with innate conservativism was likely to block reforms to the system.

“Abolition of propiska is hindered by the mentality of officials who cling to the old Soviet ways in the belief that they’re the best.”

Nargiz Hamrabaeva is a journalist with the Tajik news agency Asia Plus amd Nafisa Pisaredjeva is an IWPR-trained journalist in Tajikistan.

This article was produced under IWPR’s Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media programme, funded by the European Commission. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.

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