HRW 1999 World Report: Tajikistan chapter FREE    Join the HRW Mailing List 
Tajikistan's Presidential Elections
Press Backgrounder
(New York, October 28, 1999) —The November 6 presidential election is, in effect, limited to one candidate--the incumbent President Emomali Rakhmonov. Two of three opposition presidential candidates, Saifiddin Turaev from the Party of Justice and Sulton Kuvvatov from the Democratic Party (Tehran Platform), have been denied registration by the Supreme Court, despite their claims that authorities obstructed them from collecting sufficient signatures for registration. A third candidate, Davlat Usmon from the Islamic Renaissance Party, has been granted last-minute registration by the Supreme Court, despite his own claim that the decision is illegal as he too was prevented from collecting sufficient signatures. Mr. Usmon has asked the Central Electoral Commission to annul his registration, effectively creating a one-candidate race. The United Tajik Opposition (UTO) has withdrawn from the Commission on National Reconciliation (CNR) and the Central Electoral Commission, claiming that in these conditions, a free and fair poll is impossible.

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That the one officially-permitted candidate chose to boycott the poll is not surprising, since the government had, throughout 1999, sought to impede and obstruct the work of opposition political parties. The 1999 Law on Presidential Elections required that candidates gather the signatures of 5 percent of the electorate to secure nomination. By charging party members with violations of the Law on Political Parties, the government has banned much of the opposition--the Agrarian Party and the National Unity Party are banned, the registration of the Party of Justice and Progress has been annulled, the activities of the Party of Economic and Political Revival of Tajikistan are suspended, and the National Movement Party of Tajikistan has been denied registration. Human Rights Watch has collected testimony from members of all of these parties attesting to harassment and intimidation by authorities.

According to party leadership, in April 1999, after the National Movement Party of Tajikistan submitted its party registration documents to the Ministry of Justice, law enforcement officials and other local officials began to interrogate party members. In some kishlaks (villages) village administration chairmen and village council elders led special meetings at which they issued threats to party members, after which, many out of fear denied their membership. The party has been denied registration by the Ministry of Justice, reportedly on the grounds of "insufficient time to study all necessary documentation." Party leaders nonetheless assert that the real reason behind the refusal to register is the publication in the party newspaper Junbish (The Movement) of the dissenting views of the Consultative Council of Political Parties on the constitutional amendments, and statements by the Agrarian Party of Tajikistan protesting its suspension by the Supreme Court. Party leader Hokim Mukhabbatov described to Human Rights Watch threats and intimidation from authorities following publication of these materials. Notably, at present Junbish is no longer publishing, as its editorship was informed recently by government printing house management that it had received an order not to print the paper.

In mid-March 1999, the Ministry of Justice opened a criminal investigation against the chairman of the Agrarian Party, Hikmatullo Nasriddinov, alleging that party membership lists were fabricated. According to Nasriddinov, however, many people when questioned by members of law enforcement forces, concealed their membership out of fear. The party's activities were subsequently suspended for six months, and in September 1999, the Supreme Court suspended the party's activities altogether, on the grounds that it had acted illegally in participating in the Consultative Council of Political Parties while under a six-month suspension order.

In September 1999, the Supreme Court annulled the registration of the Party of Justice and Progress, charging that the party had technically violated membership rules. As with the National Movement Party of Tajikistan and the Agrarian Party, however, Party of Justice and Progress leader Rakhmatullo Zoirov claimed that law enforcement officials had visited party members' residences, posed threatening questions, and that subsequently, many members had out of fear denied their association with the party. The Party of Economic and Political Revival of Tajikistan, suspended by the Supreme Court for six months in April 1999 on grounds of fabricated membership lists, delivered similar testimony to Human Rights Watch.

The National Unity Party, banned by the Supreme Court in the wake of the November 1998 attempted military rebellion in Leninabad province, suffered a consistent pattern of government harassment and persecution from 1996 onwards.

Two of the parties who fielded presidential candidates denied registration have suffered government harassment in recent weeks. In the case of the Party of Justice, party members recounted to Human Rights Watch how the chairman of the party, Abdurakhmon Karimov, was seized and detained by law enforcement officials after the party held a congress to nominate a presidential candidate, Saifiddin Turaev. Mr. Karimov has alleged that he was beaten, threatened and otherwise ill-treated in order to extract the confession that he had acted illegally in organizing the congress. In the case of the Democratic Party (Tehran Platform), one party member recounted to Human Rights Watch how, on the eve of the closing date for submission of signatures for candidate registration, he was arbitrarily detained by Ministry of the Interior officials for two days in Kuliab. The officials kept him without explanation, confiscated the signature lists, and released him only when the registration period had officially expired. As recently as October 21, during a press conference held by the three would-be opposition presidential candidates, Democratic Party members told Human Rights Watch how Ministry of Security representatives kept watch over the proceedings with video cameras and miniature microphones.

Finally, Human Rights Watch has gathered evidence concerning the firing or demotion of members of local government administrations upon their refusal to join the People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan, the presidential party.

Freedom of expression
In the lead-up to the elections, tight government control of the media, which has created a near vacuum of outlets for the expression of independent or opposition views, has increased. The UTO has suspended its participation in the Commission on National Reconciliation (CNR) in protest at, among other things, lack of access to state media for presidential candidates. The one Dushanbe-based newspaper which had published the views of the UTO and other opposition parties, Junbish, ceased publication in mid-October 1999, following threats and harassment from authorities, and arbitrary denial to print at its regular state printing press. In May 1999, when local journalists attempted to form an association of independent broadcasters, they met with obstruction and threats from government representatives. According to many sources, authorities not only warned those involved that they risked losing their jobs should they join the association, but also that the new association is perceived as a forum to promote candidates for presidential elections. At present, an uninterrupted laudatory publicity campaign for President Rakhmonov continues to dominate state television and radio broadcasts. Despite the fact that Davlat Usmon has repeatedly stated that he has refused the offer of registration, state media continues to present him as the second presidential candidate, without making mention of his wish to decline registration. The political opposition not belonging to the UTO enjoys no access whatsoever to the state media.

At the present time, only one independent newspaper containing substantial political information is in print in the capital, no independent radio stations have been licensed to operate, and the newspapers of several political parties have been arbitrarily denied permission to print at government printing presses. At least one Dushanbe-based independent news agency that since January 1999 has attempted to found an independent radio station has consistently been denied a registration license, while suspicious visits to its office by tax officials have increased. Independent television and television production stations continue to experience administrative and legal harassment by authorities.

The September 26, 1999 Constitutional Referendum
The peace accord mandated that before elections could be held, Tajik citizens should address fundamental questions on the nature of the emerging state system in a constitutional referendum. The referendum, held on September 26, 1999, gave a sad foretaste of the forthcoming elections themselves. The fact that an important number of opposition parties chose to boycott it entirely, and the extent and nature of the violations and flaws which occurred, call into grave question the good faith of the government in its commitment to create conditions for a fair and open vote. Although officially passed by an overwhelming 92% majority, the ballot was marked by widespread proxy and open voting, and falsification of voter registration lists.

Security Concerns
As is well known, the personal security of most citizens remains precarious due to overall lawlessness, high levels of criminal and political violence, hostage-taking, and unprofessionalism and corruption in law enforcement agencies and the judiciary. Two years after the peace accord, citizens in Dushanbe still observe a self-imposed curfew. Fear of unpredictable violence, often at the hands of government troops or police has undoubtedly compromised the possibility of a free and fair election.

In recent weeks, security has significantly worsened in the capital. In past months several citizens have been killed and others wounded during daytime shootouts between supporters of a Ministry of the Interior commander and former UTO fighters, at or near to one of the main downtown Dushanbe bazaars. As recently as October 18, a powerful explosion occurred in the late afternoon in the city's central department store, causing serious damage to the building, and wounding at least three people. The past several weeks and months have also seen an increase in the number of assassinations of and attacks on Ministry of Interior officials in the capital, and assassinations of business individuals and private citizens have also seen an increase in recent months. Checkpoints manned both by Ministry of the Interior troops and independent armed units continue to extort money from drivers and passengers and otherwise harass citizens, considerably limiting their right to freedom of movement. Even last week, Human Rights Watch received credible reports that an elderly citizen was shot to death by armed elements staffing an unofficial checkpoint in the Anzob region.

The security situation in the northeast of the country has also become more acute in recent days and weeks, and risks destabilizing the entire region. In July, Tajikistan threatened to expel the approximately 1,600 Uzbek nationals who had fled political and religious persecution in Uzbekistan. When armed members of the group subsequently fled from Tajikistan into southern Kyrgyzstan in late July, they took local and international hostages, and in August the Kyrgyz army, backed by Uzbek warplanes, began an attack on the armed militants. There have been ongoing reports from international and local sources that Tajik nationals, including former members of the UTO, took up arms to join the militants in Kyrgyzstan, subsequent to the August 3, 1999 announcement of the disbandment of the UTO's armed forces, and subsequent to the official completion of the demobilization process. Both the Tajik government and international organizations have repeatedly expressed disappointment at the unrealistically low numbers of weapons turned in by former UTO fighters.

The majority of armed militants have now retreated to Tajikistan, and have released the hostages. But the conflict is far from resolved by the group's retreat: Uzbek president Islam Karimov, in a recent interview with a Moscow newspaper, reportedly asserted that Uzbekistan has the right to bomb fundamentalist camps in Tajikistan, just as Russia is doing in Chechnya.

The state media has been virtually silent on all of the above issues, resulting in fear and insecurity among the population. Further to an August government statement asserting that the approximately 1,600 Uzbek nationals had voluntarily left the country, to date there has been no further official comment.

For Further Information:
In Dushanbe, Marie Struthers: +7 3772-21-89-30, 23-43-54
In New York, Cassandra Cavanaugh: +1-212-216-1271
In Moscow, Sasha Petrov: +7 095-250-6852