In 1997, the government of Tajikistan and the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) signed the General Agreement for the Establishment of Peace and National Accord (hereinafter the General Agreement), formally ending the civil war that had begun in May 1992 and taken as many as 50,000 lives. One year after the war broke out, the Supreme Court of Tajikistan banned the country's four major opposition political parties and their publications: the Islamic Revival Party, the Democratic Party of Tajikistan, and the Rastokhez and Lali Badakhshan movements, all of which are part of the UTO.1 The General Agreement contains the conditions for the lifting of this ban; however, persistent delays in its implementation have meant continued restrictions on freedom of expression, and particularly as it relates to political parties.2 These restrictions have come into sharp focus as the November 6, 1999 presidential elections approach.
The lifting of bans on political parties (including those belonging to the UTO) and mass media was contingent on the completion of the second stage of the military protocol, contained in the General Agreement, under which UTO fighters were to be integrated into government forces. The UTO fighters were grouped together in units of the regular armed forces, took a military oath, and were issued national military uniforms. In addition, the UTO announced that it had disbanded all its independent armed units.3 The second stage of the Military Protocol was announced completed on August 3, 1999, and the ban was lifted on opposition parties and their media on August 12, 1999.4
Even with the ban lifted, the current political climate and that which has prevailed since the General Agreement was signed provide little hope that a wide range of political views will be easily incorporated into the Tajik media. The two years since the signing of the peace accord have seen serious political and military clashes between the government and the UTO, as well as political violence perpetrated by groups opposed to the accord. Today ongoing suspicion and unwillingness to compromise continue to characterize relations between the government and the UTO. As the peace accord envisaged, opposition members have been integrated into high-level government cabinet positions. 5 However, unlike their non-UTO colleagues in government and due to tight government control, their views are not heard in the media, a source of bitter discontent.
Major political crises have resulted in the UTO's repeated withdrawal from the Commission on National Reconciliation (CNR),6 most recently on October 18, 1999. At that time, less than three weeks before the presidential elections scheduled for November 6, the UTO withdrew from both the Central Electoral Commission and the CNR, in protest of the government's alleged obstruction of the presidential candidates' registration.
Moreover, attempts to have balanced coverage in the state media of the peace process have enjoyed limited success. For example, the weekly television program Vahdat, in principle devoted exclusively to the work of the CNR, was led by only government members of the CNR, and reported on developments in the peace process in general terms only; it did not, for example, hold discussions between government and UTO members on ideological or other specific issues.7 Neglect of a UTO viewpoint and the one-sidedness of Vahdat, according to UTO member Sulton Hamad, were among the reasons behind the establishment of the UTO's own press center in April 1998 to put across UTO views of the peace process, although their output and impact has been limited due to financial and technical constraints.8
On September 26, 1999 the Constitution was amended through a public referendum. The adoption of the amendments heightened the stakes for the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections. As a result of the amendments, the presidential term of office was extended from five to seven years, and a two-chamber parliament was established in which 75 percent of the upper chamber will now be elected by indirect vote through local parliaments (already led by presidential appointees), with the remaining 25 percent to be appointed by the president.
According to official reports, the referendum was approved by an overwhelming 92 percent majority. Unofficially, however, it was marked by widespread proxy and open voting, overt falsification of voter registration lists, and other numerous technical and procedural flaws, all of which were witnessed by a Human Rights Watch researcher and OSCE and UNMOT staff present in an unofficial capacity at approximately 200 polling stations on referendum day.
Non-UTO Political Parties
Non-UTO opposition parties have also been subjected to strict media restrictions, if not prevented from functioning altogether. The government has actively blocked the publications of the Communist Party of Tajikistan and of the Congress of National Unity (see "Unofficial bans") and, during the past several months, the Supreme Court denied registration to the National Movement Party of Tajikistan, banned the Agrarian Party, suspended the activities of the Party of Economic and Political Revival of Tajikistan, and annulled the registration of the Party of Justice and Progress. In almost all of these cases, the court claimed that party membership lists were fabricated. Party leaders claim, however, that prior to the court decisions, law enforcement agents consistently intimidated party members, who consequently did not want to reveal their party affiliation.
The Party of the National Movement of Tajikistan has claimed that after it submitted its party registration documents to the Ministry of Justice in April 1999, law enforcement agents, judges, and procurators, began tointerrogate party members. In some kishlaks (villages) representatives of the judiciary, together with village administration chairmen and village council elders, led special meetings at which they allegedly issued threats to party members. According to the party president, Hokim Muhabbatov, some members out of fear denied their membership, and the Ministry of Justice subsequently refused the party leadership's request to conduct on-the-ground verification of the party's members together with ministry representatives. In addition, as of August 1999 the party has been denied registration by the Ministry of Justice, allegedly for having published in its newspaper, Junbish (The Movement), statements by the Agrarian Party of Tajikistan protesting its suspension, and by the Consultative Council of Political Parties, that raised concerns about the September 26 referendum (see "Intimidation and Threats Against Journalists").9
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 and consequently illegal. According to Nasriddinov, however, many people may well have concealed their membership out of fear, when questioned by members of law enforcement forces -both on their own initiative and as part of the membership verification process-and he claims the case is politically motivated.10 The party's activities were subsequently suspended for six months, and in September 1999, the Supreme Court banned 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. Also in September 1999, the Supreme Court invalidated the registration of the Party of Justice and Progress. In this case, too, the party was held to have violated membership rules.11 As with the Party of the National Movement of Tajikistan and the Agrarian Party, Party of Justice and Progress leader Rahmatullo 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.12
The activities of the Party of Economic and Political Revival of Tajikistan, northern-based and lead by Vali Boboev, were suspended by the Supreme Court for six months in early April 1999, also for allegedly possessing fabricated membership lists. Significantly, the party has experienced difficulty with authorities from the outset. It overcame registration difficulties and joined the ranks of the UTO in April 1998, however, in June 1998 it issued an appeal claiming that its members were suffering from persecution and harassment, including threats from members of security forces and break-ins at the homes of several members of its executive committee by unidentified persons who accused them, among other things, of "collaborating with the opposition."131 In 1998 and 1999, after the peace agreement was signed, the Supreme Court deregistered, refused to register, or suspended the activities of non-UTO parties. See "Non-UTO Parties." 2 On June 17, 1993, the Supreme Court banned the Islamic Renaissance Party, the Democratic Party of Tajikistan, and the Lali Badakhshan and Rastokhez movements, as well as their publications. 3 Protocol on Military Issues, "General Agreement on the Establishment of Peace and National Accord in Tajikistan: What Does it Say?," United Nations Mission of Observers in Tajikistan, Dushanbe, September 1997. 4 RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 3, no. 150, part I, August 4, 1999; RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 3, no. 156, part I, August 12, 1999. Given enormous difficulties encountered in registering both UTO fighters and their weapons, and given the limited control the UTO exerts over certain of its commanders, however, there is sufficient evidence to doubt the accuracy of the announcement. In late July 1999, for instance, immediately following the announcement, Uzbek nationals formerly allied with the UTO entered Kyrgyzstan from Tajikistan armed with grenade-launchers and submachine guns, taking several people hostage and demanding safe passage to Uzbekistan or elsewhere. International organizations working in Tajikistan and locals reported that former UTO field commanders and fighters took up arms to join them in Kyrgyzstan, once again underscoring the failures in the demobilization of UTO fighters. 5 At the time of writing, thirty-three UTO members had been appointed to national government posts, and eleven to regional and district posts, of which they are to occupy twenty-two. "Interim Report of the Secretary-General on the Situation in Tajikistan," August 12, 1999, U.N. Document S/1999/872. 6 The Commission on National Reconciliation (CNR) is the body responsible for implementing the General Agreement. It is made up of twenty-six members, thirteen government and thirteen UTO, and has four sub-commissions: military, refugees, political, and legal. 7 In mid-January 1998, following months of laborious negotiations, the UTO withdrew temporarily for the first time from the peace process, claiming that the government was reneging on many of its pledges. Vahdat started up when the UTO rejoined the CNR, but ceased about six months later, in the summer of 1998. Under the terms of the General Agreement, the CNR is to keep the population regularly informed about its work through bulletins, press releases, and press conferences, but all of these have been very scarce to date. 8 Round table on freedom of expression, Dushanbe, July 15, 1998; Human Rights Watch interview with Sulton Hamad, June 26, 1998. 9 Human Rights Watch interview with Hokim Muhabbatov, Dushanbe, August 13, 1999; Junbish (Dushanbe), no. 15, August 1999. 10 Hikmatullo Nasriddinov, speech at a meeting of the Association of Political Scientists of Tajikistan, Dushanbe, March 1999. 11 Asia-Plus Blits, no. 167 (331), September 3, 1999. 12 Human Rights Watch interview with Rahmatullo Zoirov, Dushanbe, September 6, 1999. 13 Human Rights Watch interview with member of executive committee, Dushanbe, May 26, 1999; Radio Free Liberty, Tajik service, April 4, 1999; "Zaiavlenie rukovodstva partii politicheskogo i ekonomicheskogo obnovleniya" (Statement of the Leadership of the Political and Economic Revival Party), June 6, 1998, in Muzhda (Dushanbe), no. 1.