The parliamentary elections in Tajikistan on March 1 were sadly a predictable affair. Eurasianet and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported that parties close to authoritarian president Emomali Rakhmon won all the seats in an election marred by irregularities and no space for genuine political pluralism.
According to monitors from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the human rights agency of the Organization for Security & Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the “level of respect of fundamental freedoms has further deteriorated since the last elections and the choice between political alternatives is limited in the absence of independent media and a functioning opposition.”
The elections were the first since the government forced the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), the former major opposition party, to close in 2015 and had the Supreme Court label it a terrorist organization.
Since 2014, Tajikistan’s human rights record has been deteriorating. Now the country is in a deep human rights crisis. The government continues a severe crackdown on free expression and association, peaceful political opposition activity, the legal profession, and exercise of religious faith.
Yet the people of Tajikistan, including brave Tajik human rights activists inside and outside the country, deserve a government that respects fundamental human rights. The government should use the international attention around the parliamentary elections to set a new human rights agenda, which should include:
- Allowing journalists, civil society groups, and other perceived government critics to conduct their activities without harassment or risk of reprisal.
- Stopping routine blocks of internet news and social media sites, including YouTube, Facebook, and Radio Ozodi, the Tajik service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
- Abolishing the practice of politically motivated imprisonment and releasing those in jail on such charges, including lawyers, perceived critics, and members of IRPT.
- Ending efforts to extradite or forcibly return activists in exile and retaliation against their relatives inside the country.
- Working to protect women’s rights, including taking steps to end domestic violence and criminalize it.
Adopting such an agenda is not only the right thing to do for Tajikistan’s citizens, but it serves Tajikistan’s interest to take such steps, to unleash the potential of its population, and to improve relations with its international partners.