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Area: 143,100 sq km
Population: 7.37million (Economist Intelligence Unit, 2010)
Capital City: Dushanbe (population: 0.7 million)
People: Tajiks 80%, Uzbeks 15%, Russians 1% and Others 4%.
Religion(s): Sunni Muslim 85%, Ismaili Shiites 5%, some Russian Orthodox Christians and Jews.
Languages: Tajik and Russian
Registered political parties: People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan (PDP), Islamic Revival Party (IRPT), Communist Party, Democratic Party, Socialist Party, Social Democratic Party, Agrarian Party, Party of Economic Reform.
Head of State: President Emomali Rahmon (PDP)
Prime Minister/Premier: Akil Akilov
Foreign Minister: Khamrohon Zarifi
Membership of international organisations: OSCE, UN, OIC, NATO Partnership for Peace, IMF, World Bank, ADB, IBRD, IDB and EBRD.
Membership of regional organisations: CIS Customs Union, CSTO, Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, EAEC.
Basic Economic Facts
GDP: US$3.7bn (2007)
Annual GDP Growth: 6.5% 2010
Inflation: 6.5% (Economist Intelligence Unit, 2010)
Major Industries: Nonferrous metallurgy, mining, hydro-power, textiles, cotton, fruit.
Major trading partners: Russia, China, Turkey, EU, Iran
Foreign direct investment: US$ 100.3 mn (2009)
Debt: US$ 1.997 mn (2010)
Tajikistan has a Gross National Income (per capita) of 700 US Dollars (World Bank 2009), making it the poorest of the former Soviet states. The poor state of the roads, limited external transportation links and other infrastructure weaknesses hinder development. The rationing of electricity in winter - when most of the country outside the capital receives no more than four hours (or less) of electricity a day - has serious implications for the ability of industry or IT to operate. Most of the manufacturing plants from Soviet times have been abandoned, but have not been replaced by new production. Around 75% of exports derive from a single large aluminium plant, TALCO. Cotton is the most important crop, accounting for about 9% of exports. Other exports include fruits, vegetables and nuts. The Government are moving to boost the non-cotton agriculture sector after successful harvests in 2009 and 2010. Economic growth slowed in 2009 to 3.4%, reflecting the low prices for Tajikistan’s key exports (aluminium and cotton), the weak global economy and decreased remittances. .From the beginning of 2010 the economy gradually recovered in parallel with the Russian one, with which it is heavily linked..
47.2% of the population is estimated to live below the official poverty line (World Bank, 2009). The level of extreme poverty is 17.5%. The lack of job opportunities drives over a million Tajiks to seek work abroad as migrant labourers (mainly to Russia and Kazakhstan) and their remittances form a major part of the Tajik economy. These remittances contributed some 47% of GDP in 2008. The value of remittances fell by 31% in 2009 as a result of the global economic crisis, causing domestic economic problems, but bounced back substantially in 2010 with the recovery of the Russian economy. Access to remittances is the key factor that determines whether people fall into acute poverty.
Tajikistan is still dependent on international humanitarian assistance for some of its basic subsistence needs, and needed additional assistance to cope with the humanitarian crisis caused by the severe winter in 2008. International donors continue to work with the Tajik Government to address the serious development issues with the aim of reaching the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. The Development Forums which took place in Dushanbe in 2007 and 2010 concluded that priority should be given to: the development of the health and education sectors; removal of constraints on the development of the SME sector and foreign investment; to develop the energy sector; implementation of reforms in the cotton sector, particularly with regard to the cotton debt issue (significant progress on which was made in 2010); and put in place a public external debt strategy.
In 2007 it transpired that the National Bank of Tajikistan had deliberately misled the IMF on seven separate occasions on the nature of its external debt. Senior National Bank figures were involved in a conflict of interest and the President removed the Chairman and all his deputies in a reshuffle in January 2008. In April 2009 the Government reached agreement with the IMF for a US$116m loan under a three year poverty reduction and growth facility, the IMF having been satisfied that the National Bank had taken adequate remedial action on the transparency of its debts and other accounting systems, with further work on this in train. In 2010 and 2011, after making progress in resolving the cotton debt issue, the Tajik Government moved on to wide-ranging rural programme, producing a detailed programme in full consultation with international donors, the implementation of which began in 2011.
Tajikistan has considerable economic potential and the Government has prioritised infrastructure development, particularly hydro-power and road-building, as key to the country's development. Russia, China and Iran are becoming increasingly involved in construction projects. There is some limited, potential for oil and gas exploitation, while the mountains contain valuable mineral resources including gold, silver, uranium, antimony and tungsten. Western investors, however, find Tajikistan a difficult country in which to work given the high levels of corruption, complex and not entirely transparent bureaucracy, and limited infrastructure. There are no major Western companies currently working in Tajikistan.
Tajikistan gained independence from the Soviet Union on 9 September 1991. Conflict was avoided in the immediate struggle for power, but tensions quickly escalated, and by the end of 1992, civil war had broken out.
The civil war in 1992-1997 between the government of President Rahmon and the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) left around 50,000 dead, over 10% of the population (of then approximately 5.7m) displaced and caused some $7 billion in damages. UN-mediated talks led to a cease-fire in October 1994, and on 27 June 1997 both sides signed the General Agreement on Peace and National Accord in Moscow. The accord created a National Commission for Reconciliation (CNR) to bring together government and UTO figures. As a result, the opposition Islamic Revival Party (IRPT) received a number of ministerial positions. A Russian-led and dominated peacekeeping force was stationed inside Tajikistan.
A United Nations Mission of Observers in Tajikistan (UNMOT - established by UNSCR 968 of 16 December 1994) assisted with implementing the cease-fire agreement. Its mandate expired in May 2000. The United Nations Peace-building Support Office (UNTOP) that succeeded it, finally closed in July 2007, a decade after the signing of the peace agreement.
The implementation of the peace accord was, for a time, threatened by warlords fighting to keep control of parts of the country. In November 1998 troops loyal to the renegade commander, Mahmud Khudoberdiyev (an ethnic Uzbek), mounted an armed incursion into northern Tajikistan. They were repelled after some fighting, but this was a worrying sign of the disenfranchisement felt by the northerners (principally Uzbeks). In 1999 and 2000, armed Islamic rebels opposed to the Government of Uzbekistan used Tajikistan to mount armed incursions into Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. There were several political murders in 2001, but since 2002 levels of violence have decreased substantially. Despite the fact that the IRPT and other UTO forces hold far fewer positions in government than immediately after the General Agreement on Peace and National Accord, the political situation remains relatively stable immediately after the General Agreement on Peace and National Accord, the political situation is now stable.
Longer Historical Perspective
Much, if not all, of what is today Tajikistan was part of ancient Persia's Achaemenid Empire (sixth to fourth centuries BC), which was subdued by Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC. The northern part of what is now Tajikistan was part of Soghdiana, a distinct region that intermittently existed as a combination of separate oasis states and sometimes was subject to other states. As intermediaries on the Silk Route between China and markets to the west and south, the Soghdians imported religions such as Buddhism, Nestorian Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Manichaeism.
Islamic Arabs began the conquest of the region in earnest in the early eighth century. Conversion to Islam occurred by means of incentives, gradual acceptance, and force of arms. Islam spread most rapidly in cities and along the main river valleys. By the ninth century, it was the prevalent religion in the entire region.
In the development of a modern Tajik national identity, the most important state in Central Asia after the Islamic conquest was the Persian-speaking Samanid principality (875-999), which came to rule most of what is now Tajikistan, as well as territory to the south and west. During their reign, the Samanids supported the revival of the written Persian language.
Beginning in the ninth century, Turkish penetration of the Persian cultural sphere increased in Central Asia. The influx of even greater numbers of Turkic peoples began in the eleventh century. The Turkic peoples who moved into southern Central Asia, including what later became Tajikistan, were influenced to varying degrees by Persian culture. During subsequent centuries, the lands that eventually became Tajikistan were part of Turkic or Mongol states. The Persian language remained in use in government, scholarship, and literature. Among the dynasties that ruled all or part of the future Tajikistan between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries were the Seljuk Turks and the Mongols. In the early sixteenth century, Uzbeks conquered Tajikistan but the Uzbek state began to break apart soon after the conquest. By the early nineteenth century, the lands of the future Tajikistan were divided among three states: the Uzbek-ruled Bukhara Khanate, the Kokand Khanate, centred on the Fergana Valley, and the kingdom of Afghanistan. These three principalities subsequently fought each other for control of key areas of the new territory.
Tajikistan was created in 1924 as an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) within the Uzbekistan SSR. The new Autonomous Republic included what had been eastern Bukhara and had a population of about 740,000, out of a total population of nearly 5 million in Uzbekistan as a whole. Its capital was established in Dushanbe, a near village of 3,000 inhabitants, in 1920. In 1929 Tajikistan was detached from Uzbekistan and given full status as a Soviet Socialist Republic. The territory that is now northern Tajikistan (Soghd region) was added to the new republic. As one of the least developed of the Soviet Republics, Tajikistan has suffered severely from the collapse of the previously unified Soviet economy, particularly with regard to its social safety net, notably budgetary support to its education and health sectors.
Tajikistan's relations with its neighbours
Russia remains Tajikistan’s key partner on both the economic and security fronts. Under the terms of agreements signed in October 2004. Russia wrote off around $250 million of bilateral debt in return for promises of substantial investment in the Tajik hydro-electric and aluminium industries. The latter, however, did not fully materialise with Tajiks charges that Russia is not living up to its economic support promises becoming more prevalent in recent times. Russia also maintains its largest permanent military base outside the Federation in Tajikistan. However, this base came under scrutiny in 2009 with the Tajik Government pressing the Russians to pay rental for these facilities. President Medvedev has made two bilateral visits to Dushanbe (the first in August 2008, after the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit also held in Dushanbe; and the second at the end of July 2009). The Russian project on the Sangtuda I power station was finally completed (and officially opened by Presidents Medvedev and Rahmon) in July 2009. It is estimated that more than a million Tajik men work in Russia as migrant workers (although some but not the large numbers predicted, returned to Tajikistan as a result of the global economic crisis). President Rahmon made a state visit to Moscow in October 2009, having already visited twice that year. He did not secure Russian agreement to payment for their base; only agreement to look at this again when the base lease is up for renewal in 2012. Dushanbe will host a CIS Summit in September 2011, which President Medvedev is due to attend.
China also remains an important regional partner for the Tajiks. President Hu Jin-tao made a bilateral visit to Dushanbe just before the SCO Summit in August 2008. The Chinese continue their significant investment and support to the Tajiks in projects involving hydro-electric power and infrastructure in Tajikistan. Projects are usually made under preferential loan arrangements. Many of these infrastructure projects help the export of Chinese goods which are already a major element in the domestic Tajik market. Chinese economic support and investment is beginning to challenge that of Russia.
Tajik-Uzbek relations remain poor as both sides (and particularly both Presidents) remain suspicious inter alia of each other's policies on energy and the management of water resources. This consequently inhibits both movement and economic co-operation between the two countries. Uzbekistan turned off the crucial supplies of natural gas and Turkmen electricity to Tajikistan during recent winters. Late February 2009 saw what appeared to be a thawing in relations, where these supplies were restored with rumours of direct flights from Dushanbe to Tashkent, (frequent during Soviet times). But the relationship again deteriorated the main bone of contention currently being Tajikistan’s project to build the Roghun dam, to which the Uzbek Government objects on environmental and water control grounds.
Relations with Kyrgyzstan remain generally good, both countries being small mountain states, although with large tracts of their common border still undefined some localised border disagreements occasionally arise. Tajikistan commented little on the unrest and change of government in Kyrgyzstan in April 2010 and the ethnic disturbances in June 2010, stating these were internal affairs.
Kazakhstan has increasingly taken on a role of regional investor with interests in the banking, mineral and energy sectors. Almost all of Tajikistan's imported wheat and much of its fuel comes from Kazakhstan. The Kazakhs have tended to side with the Tajiks in regional meetings as a counter-weight to Uzbekistan except occasionally on water management issues.
The relationship with Iran is close but ambivalent. There is a lot of Iranian investment in Tajikistan (in roads, tunnels, hydropower) and significant aid e.g. to the Tajik health service. The Tajik language (very similar to Farsi and not to the other Central Asian ones) and culture are closely linked. But Tajik Muslims are Sunni while Iranian Muslims are Shia and the Tajik Government is secular, not theocratic.
The Tajiks also recognise the importance of a stable Afghanistan to the region. Bilateral cooperation has increased, with a good relationship between the two states’ Presidents, particularly in the areas of counter narcotics and counter terrorism and also the signing of agreements in trade and energy projects during President Karzai's several recent visits to Dushanbe. There was also increased cooperation and consultation with the Coalition; the Tajik Foreign Minister attended the London Conference on Afghanistan in January 2010.
Tajik/Pakistani relations are improving, highlighted by economic, energy and trade agreements signed during President Zardari's July 2009 visit to Dushanbe and the large trade delegation President Rahmon took with him to Pakistan (Islamabad and Karachi) in 2011. Amongst important agreements is the electricity project CASA 1000 sponsored by the World Bank -which should eventually result in an electricity line/network to Pakistan, through Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The Pakistanis are also conducting a feasibility study into the construction of a road from Dushanbe, through Afghanistan, to Pakistan - this would provide land-locked Tajikistan with a closer sea port. There has also been increased counter-terrorism cooperation.
September 2009 saw the first visit of the President of India to Tajikistan on Tajik Independence Day. Whilst there were no trade or economic agreements signed during this visit, the event reflects the cultural influence of India in Tajikistan and their traditionally close relations.
Tajiks successfully hosted the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Dushanbe in August 2008 which they used this to project their image as a serious regional partner/player in Central Asia. The Tajiks see the SCO as a major tool for regional cooperation. The Russian and Chinese are the big powers in the SCO, though the Central Asians can profit when playing these two off against each other.
The Tajiks have continued to reinforce their regional (and global) image by hosting many bilateral visits, including the simultaneous visits of the Afghan (Karzai), Pakistani (Zardari) and Russian (Medvedev) Presidents to Dushanbe in July 2009. This quadrilateral forum has continued as an annual event.
Tajikistan's relations with the wider international community
Post 9/11, Tajikistan played an important role in supporting the US-led coalition that overthrew the Taliban regime in Afghanistan (in particular in terms of providing over-flight rights for coalition forces and then offering Dushanbe Airport as a small staging facility to the French military). The relationship with the US is generally good, the most visible example of which is the $37 million US-financed bridge to Afghanistan opened in 2007.
Relations with the European Union are also good, with the EC increasingly involved in all aspects of Tajikistan’s economic development. The EU-Central Asia Strategy, agreed in 2007, has yet to show many concrete results, although it is a strong indication of Europe’s enhanced interest in the region. President Rahmon visited Brussels in February 2009 and Strasbourg in June 2011. The EU Special Representative for Central Asia, Pierre Morel, is in regular contact with the Tajik Government, last visiting in March 2011. An EU/Tajikistan cooperation agreement came into force at the end of 2010.
President Rahmon is quite well practiced in balancing all the international interests in his so-called "multi-vector diplomacy". He has also been soliciting investment further afield, travelling to SE Asia, India, the Gulf States and even Muslim Africa. Saudi Arabia opened an embassy in Dushanbe in 2010. Some isolated examples of cooperation with the likes of Qatar, Kuwait and Korea have emerged but their investors face similar bureaucratic problems to those experienced by investors from the West. Neither does Tajikistan's geographical isolation help.
Tajikistan's Relations with the UK
The UK opened an Embassy in Dushanbe in December 2001. Trevor Moore has been HM Ambassador since January 2009. The Embassy of the Republic of Tajikistan opened in London in May 2008 and provides a full consular and visa service.
Cultural Relations with the UK
There is no British Council presence; Tajikistan is covered by the British Council office in Tashkent which has a modest programme focussing on teacher training and assistance to the Tajik Pedagogical University.
High level contact is developing.
-- November 2010: A Tajik Parliamentary delegation visited the UK.
-- January 2010: Foreign Minister Hamrokhon Zarifi visited the UK to attend the London Conference on Afghanistan. He met Chris Bryant MP, then Minister for Europe.
-- July 2006: General Zuhurov, then Head of the Tajik Border Guards, visited the UK.
-- 2004: General Rustam Nazarov, Head of Tajikistan's Drugs Control Agency, visited the UK.
-- 2003: Former Economics and Trade Minister Soliyev visited the UK.
-- December 2010: Baroness Stern visit Dushanbe . She met members of the Upper and Lower house human rights committees. She also met Deputy Minister for Justice Sharipov, and the Human Rights Ombudsman .
-- November 2010: The Permanent Under Secretary of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Simon Fraser, visited Tajikistan. He met President Rahmon, the Foreign Minister and the Chief of Defence Staff.
-- November 2009: A UK Parliamentarians Group visit (led by Lord Waverley).
-- September 2009: A Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS) study tour of Tajikistan took place during.
-- October 2008: HRH The Duke of York visited Tajikistan as part of a regional tour with Princess Eugenie.
-- July 2006: HRH The Duke of York visited Tajikistan, during which time he opened the new Embassy building and visted development projects in the area of Kurgan-Tube.
Tajikistan is bordered by Uzbekistan to the West, Afghanistan to the South, China to the East and Kyrgyzstan to the North. The country is largely (93%) mountainous, with around half its territory lying above 3,000 metres. The highest peak in the former Soviet Union, Peak Somoni (formerly Peak Communism – 7,500 metres) is found in the Tajik Pamir mountains. The climate is extreme continental with hot dry summers in the plains, where temperatures can exceed 40 degrees, while winter temperatures on the Pamir plateau can drop to –40. Tajikistan has an abundant supply of water with the main rivers being the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya (also known as the Pyanj). The bulk of the population lives in the flatter, agricultural areas – the Ferghana Valley to the North, the Gissar and Vakhsh Valleys closer to the capital, and the Khatlon region to the South.
UK Development Assistance
DFID has been present in Tajikistan since 2003 and are co-located with the British Embassy. Their programme focuses on the following Government of Tajikistan priorities articulated in their National Development Strategy and the Poverty Reduction Strategy: Governance (especially public sector financial management);
b) Supporting economic growth, especially in rural areas, and helping create a conducive business environment;
c) Improving aid effectiveness;
d) Climate change.
Since 2003, assistance has included:
-- Micro and small enterprise development through the EBRD
-- Third party arbitration courts for the resolution of land/property disputes
Support to the National Social Investment Fund
-- Technical assistance - support to the Government's Poverty Reduction Strategy process and development of a medium term budget framework
-- Zarafshan Valley Initiative - a package of development assistance to contribute to raising living standards and integrating the region into the national economy
-- Regional support to HIV/AIDS programmes in Tajikistan (Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan)
An important new initiative has been the Rural Growth Programme, begun in 2010, devoting significant DFID aid resources to the encouragement of rural development in the Sughd Region, in partnership with the UNDP and the Germany’s GIZ.
In pursuing these priorities DFID looks to promote regional approaches and to strengthen regional cooperation to help drive economic growth. DFID has provided over £20 million during the period 2003 to 2009 and expects to disburse a further £6 million in 2010-2011.
The Embassy operated a bilateral programme budget, worth £40, 000 in FY 2010-2011, which funded small-scale projects focusing on human rights, good governance, climate change and the development of an independent media.
Trade and Investment with the UK
UK-Tajikistan trade is slim, but UK companies have some investments in the extraction industries. Exports to Tajikistan in 2004 were £3.89m and imports £513,000. ECGD cover is not available.
Since 1 April 2005, there have been no official UKTI trade services in this market to help British companies who wish to export or invest there. But the Head of Mission is happy to brief visiting British business people on possible opportunities and the investment climate.
Recent Political Developments
Parliamentary elections were held on 28th February 2010: the ruling People’s Democratic Party won the majority of seats, with the main opposition party, the IRPT, winning only two seats. The ODIHR monitoring mission for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) stated in their final report that the election failed to meet democratic (and international) standards. The IRPT complained strongly that the elections were not transparent and fair.
Presidential elections in November 2006 resulted in a landslide victory of 79% for the incumbent, President Rahmon, who has effectively been in power since 1992 and will now remain in power until at least November 2013. . The Islamic Revival Party (IRPT) is the only officially recognised Islamic party in Central Asia. Its legality is enshrined in the civil war peace accord and, under the direction of its current leader, Muhiddin Kabiri, pursues a moderate, liberal policy, envisaging a secular state guided by Muslim principles. The IRPT’s failure, as a large scale opposition party to gain more than two seats in the February 2010 Parliamentary elections, which ODIHR judged deficient, has caused some longer term concerns that more radical Islamic groups may become more attractive to some of its members.
As a result of the civil war peace accord, the ruling PDP agreed to share 30% of all Governmental positions with United Opposition candidates. This was never fully implemented and the Government has steadily reduced the number of positions awarded to non PDP members. This has not, however, resulted in open political discontent. At the same time, President Rahmon has continued to consolidate his hold on power by neutralising former warlords and potential rivals from both sides of the civil war divide. Iskandarov, the Head of the Democratic Party, was seized in dubious circumstances in Moscow in 2005, tried and convicted to 25 years in prison in Tajikistan for corruption and other offences. The former Head of the Presidential Guard, General Mirzoyev, was sentenced to life imprisonment in August 2006 for organising a coup d’état. One of the legacies of the civil war is the fear among Tajiks that "opposition" politics are likely to be divisive and dangerous to national stability and peace. For the time being, this, together with the absence of any strong opposition figures or parties, tends to suggest that significant political unrest is unlikely.
While a façade of democracy is in place, in practice power is concentrated in the hands of the President. Recent election victories and government re-shuffles have not resulted in any change of policies or invigorated the political landscape. Parliament is weak with no tradition of initiating or debating policy. Deputies are largely ineffective in representing their constituents’ concerns. In practical terms, the Tajik government is firmly in the hands of the Presidential executive, even sometimes at the expense of some of the ministries. Nevertheless, President Rahmon looks genuinely popular as the man seen as being responsible for bringing peace to the country and managing to maintain its stability.
Challenges to stability
Tajikistan remains beset, however, by social and economic problems that, if left unsolved, could lead in the longer term to discontent being openly expressed. Much of the country's infrastructure (transport, roads, and utilities) is now worse than in Soviet times while access to services such as health and education is less equitable and worse financed than in the past, and the quality has declined with the exodus of many of the country's educated and technical professionals from Tajikistan during the civil war. The dire state of government planning and provision was most graphically illustrated during the energy crisis caused by the particularly severe winter of 2007-08. Almost all industry shut down, rural areas were bereft of electricity for up to three months and even the capital faced severe rationing. The Tajik Government were slow to face up to the reality of the situation and it was the UN who issued a humanitarian appeal which raised almost $10 million for emergency works and supplies. Despite such problems people are still reluctant to openly criticise the government for mis-management.
Despite the creation of an anti-corruption committee, the government has so far failed seriously to address the issue (not least as corrupt practices pervade so far and high within Tajik society). Corruption at all levels is a major impediment to progress and inequalities of wealth are now becoming obvious in the capital. One of the most worrying aspects of the visible new wealth is that only a small proportion is likely to be the result of legitimate business; significant amounts are likely to derive from corrupt practices or as a result of Tajikistan's role as a transit country for Afghan heroin. However, despite the growing presence of drug traffickers, other criminal activity does not appear to have increased and the country remains relatively safe.
In the summer of 2009 concerns were raised about the security situation in Tajikistan when small numbers of armed bands, many originally opposition fighters from the Civil War, returned to Tajikistan, principally the region of Tavildara, having been displaced by security operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A heavy Tajik Government security operation looked to remove this threat.
Since August 2010 there have been several unrelated security incidents, including the escape of 23 prisoners from a high security prison in Dushanbe, most of whom have since been accounted for; a suicide bomb attack against a Ministry of Interior building in Khujand, and prolonged fighting in the Rasht Valley between Government forces and armed insurgents.
Fighting in the Rasht Valley followed the ambush of a vehicle carrying military personnel on 19 September in the Kamarob Gorge. Despite some early setbacks, the Government forces ultimately regained the situation after some six months of fighting in and around the valley.
Tajikistan is a signatory to most of the UN Conventions on human rights. In June 2004, the Tajik parliament adopted a moratorium on the death penalty and in March 2005 President Rahmon signed into law alternatives to the death penalty, ranging from 25 years to life imprisonment. Prison conditions are grim. Despite high-level lobbying, the ICRC has not been allowed ad-hoc prison access. The court system is largely unmodified from the Soviet era. There is no genuine independent judiciary and bribery of judges and prosecutors is thought to be widespread. An Ombudsman was appointed by the President in April 2009 but his office and staffing resources have taken time to become established.
Independent media outlets are legal in Tajikistan but penalties for libel and 'irresponsible' journalism encourage self-censorship. This has been highlighted by recent media libel cases prior to the Parliamentary elections in February 2010, where five media outlets became involved in protracted court cases that are only now reaching resolution. This combined with rather low professional journalistic skills and a limited market for written media (newspapers are only published once a week) results in an underdeveloped media environment, although the analytical quality of articles is improving. Most recently concerns have arose following the arrest of an ethnic Uzbek journalist employed by the BBC, who has been accused of membership of Hizb ut Tahrir. This case has highlighted concerns specifically in light of allegations of mis-treatment in custody, and an apparent failure to adhere to due legal process.
Civil society is still very much in its infancy with NGOs playing a smaller role than in most other CIS nations, mainly implementing projects rather than lobbying on issues. There are approximately 1,000 NGOs registered in Tajikistan. The Government’s suspicion of the role of NGOs in upheavals in Georgia and Kyrgyzstan led them to implement a new law requiring the re-registration of all national and international NGOs. Some NGOs have reported that re-registration has been a bureaucratic, difficult and opaque process. Registered organisations, including trade unions and political parties, must apply for a permit in order to organise any public assembly or demonstration.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government is generally tolerant of moderate Islam, notably Hanafi. However, in Spring 2009, a new law was introduced, amidst expressions of international concern. This appears to be an attempt by the Tajik Government to control what is taught in religious establishments and where those establishments are (so that they can be monitored). Although it affects all religions, considered in conjunction with the ban on the Salafi (Wahhabi) School of Islamic Thought (that came into effect on 9 February 2009) it is basically an attempt to control fundamentalist Islam, argued as necessary in the fight against “terrorism”. Various international bodies, including the UN, have registered concern that the law is unconstitutional in that it is against freedom of religion. Measures to control aspects of Islam in Tajikistan continued in 2010 and 2011. Large numbers of young people studying in Islamic institutions abroad were required to return to Tajikistan, with the Government stating they were not properly authorised to study in such institutions. In 2011 a draft law “On Parental Responsibility” was introduced (not yet in force) proposing that children should not be allowed to attend mosque services until the age of 18.
According to the law, men and women have equal rights but in practice opportunities for women, particularly in rural areas, have declined since the end of the Soviet Union. There is some attempt to keep female representatives in local and central government, but most rural girls have few options other than a poor and curtailed education and early marriage. Domestic violence is widespread but rarely acknowledged. People trafficking, especially of girls to the Middle East is becoming an issue of concern. A further area of concern is persistent reports of the use of forced labour during the cotton harvest. Although officially in violation of Tajik law, many schools and universities are essentially closed for one to two months in the autumn and there still appear to be pupils and students who are more or less forced to pick cotton for minimal wages.
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