Friday, April 20, 2007

More Tajik Authoritarianism

There are signs that Tajik President Emomali Rahmon is becoming increasingly authoritarian in his new term. One is the attempt to ban the opposition Social Democratic Party:
"Tajik authorities are seeking a six-month ban on the opposition Social Democratic Party over accusations that it has 'undermined laws and regulations.'

"The prohibition could become permanent unless the party's leadership supplies more information about its activities.

"Social Democrats are accusing officials of the kind of authoritarianism that has long dominated politics in neighboring Uzbekistan -- where opposition groups are harassed and pro-government parties fill the landscape.

"Social Democrats have long been critical of President Emomali Rahmon's administration. Most recently, the Social Democrats were among several parties that dismissed as illegitimate the presidential election in November that handed Rahmon a new seven-year term.

"Now the Justice Ministry accuses the party of failing to provide an obligatory annual report and has asked the Supreme Court to ban its activities for half a year."

Tajikistan's dictatorship has generally been more veiled than that in Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan, perhaps as a legacy of the 1990's civil war which left the government weaker than in any of its neighbors. However, an outright ban on a major opposition party seems to take things to a new level.

The other issue is the government crackdown on illegal preaching in mosques:
"Kabiri’s views were reinforced by another senior IRP figure, Hikmatullo Saifullozoda, who said, 'There are people in the higher echelons of power who regard Islam - and religion in general – as their enemy.'

"The authorities argue that they are simply upholding the law, but they may not have helped to win this argument when they decided to send police into a number of Dushanbe mosques in mid-March to catch children who should have been at school.

"One such police raid, at Dushanbe’s main mosque on March 16, ended in scuffles as angry members of the congregation tried to stop police taking away children who had come to attend the midday Friday prayers. Eyewitnesses said the confrontation began to turn nasty as police brought in reinforcements and the crowd swelled to 1,000 to defy them. In the chaos, the children managed to break free and the crowd turned into an impromptu demonstration."

The excuse for this is a failure to comply with registration laws buffeted by fears of Salafi jihadism found throughout Central Asia, but I suspect the government also wants to bring religious institutions in general under its control so as to remove a possible source of popular mobilization against it.



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