Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Odd Goings-on at Tajik Party

The authorities appear determined to hound a fledgling political group out of existence.
By Aziza Sharipova

A political party in Tajikistan, which has fought a losing battle to win official recognition, suffered another setback this week when its leader was charged with insulting the country’s president.


Observers say they are sure the government is trying to push the Tarraqiyot or Progress party out of the running before next year’s parliament election. What is less clear is why it wants to do so, given that Taraqqiyot is not a force to be reckoned with, compared with other opposition parties that the authorities tolerate.


At the end of August, officers from Tajikistan’s security ministry opened a criminal lawsuit against party leader Sulton Quvvatov after raiding Taraqqiyot’s offices in the capital Dushanbe.


Quvvatov is charged with “insulting the honour and dignity of the president”, plus other offences such as inciting “extremist action” and ethnic hostility.


“I do not consider myself guilty,” Quvvatov told IWPR. “The current leadership is afraid that I have many supporters who condemn the ruling regime.”


The charges appear to relate to plans by Taraqqiyot to appeal to the International Court of Justice, ICJ, in The Hague over the government’s repeated refusal to grant it the official registration needed to operate legally and take part in elections. Security officers seized a copy of the letter during the raid. The same day, August 30, they arrested deputy party chief Rustam Faiziev, who drafted the document, in a separate swoop in the northern city of Khojand. A security ministry spokesman confirmed that Faiziev had been arrested but was unable to say why.


Quvvatov says that the letter to the Hague court had not been sent or even finalised, so the authorities had no reason to look at it. “The letter hadn’t been translated into English or signed by me, and I wasn’t going to allow it to be sent until we had first gone through all possible channels in our own country,” he told IWPR.


Lawyer Junaid Ibodov, a well-known specialist in civil rights, said that even if the letter had been, writing to international courts is not against the law in Tajikistan.


The fact that the case has been handled by the security ministry, the successor to the KGB rather than the interior ministry which controls normal police matter, suggests that the case is seen as a sensitive one with political repercussions.


In April 2004, Taraqqiyot’s application for registration was turned down again by the justice ministry. After appeals to national institutions and bodies such as United Nations produced no result, Quvvatov announced he would take the case to the ICJ in The Hague.


The latest public remarks by Quvvatov – a statement published in the media on August 20 – contained a particularly strongly-worded attack on the government, describing its human rights record as “fiction”. Analysts in Dushanbe say this may have been what prompted the authorities to act.


Nevertheless, it is not immediately obvious why the authorities should reserve such hostility for an as yet untested political group, when opposition parties already exist that have far more support, such as the Islamic Rebirth Party and the Communists.


Some analysts say the difference is that Quvvatov hails from Kulyab in southern Tajikistan, the same area as President Imomali Rahmonov and many government members. In a country where regional allegiances form an important part of politics, that means Taraqqiyot could potentially go after the same electorate as Rahmonov and the People’s Democratic Party, PDPT, that backs him.


Rahmonov’s regional powerbase is made vulnerable by the fact that – apart from politicians who have joined the ruling elite in Dushanbe – most people in southern Tajikistan have not benefited by their association with him, and the region remains poor even by Tajik standards. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Taraqqiyot’s political programme focuses on the economy.


Another reason why Quvvatov is so unpopular with the authorities is that he used to be an ally, serving as head of the national tax agency until 1998. The following year he tried to run against Rahmonov in a presidential election but was barred from doing so.


“After serving in the interior ministry and working in the tax committee, Quvvatov has a great deal of compromising material on people who are now in power,” said one police officer who has known him for years. “The president does not forgive disobedience, especially when it is displayed in public.”


After the police raid and the arrest of the party’s deputy head, Quvvatov began to be attacked in the pro-government press. The latest issue of the Jumhuriat newspaper published on September 2 carried a long article that clearly sought to discredit the politician on matters ranging from his family life to his commercial activity.


Taraqqiyot has already made provision for the likelihood that it will not be registered before the next year’s election. In late June it formed a coalition with the Social Democratic Party led by Rahmatillo Zoirov.


According to political scientist Rahmon Ulmasov, the election result is in any case a foregone conclusion, with the president’s PDPT expected to win the vast majority of seats.


But Quvvatov told IWPR he would continue fighting to get his party recognised, “I will keep going until the end, whatever the cost.”


Aziza Sharipova is the pseudonym of a journalist in Tajikistan.