Deep in Central Asia, Tajikistan has become a hotspot for human rights issues. Over the past few years, this small landlocked nation has been accused of suppressing freedom of speech, silencing journalists and bloggers, and violating other basic human rights.
Overview of Human Rights Record and Freedom of Press in Tajikistan
Tajikistan ranks poorly on human rights and freedom of the press. In 2021, the country ranked 169 out of 180 countries in the Global Press Freedom Index, which indicates severe restrictions on press freedom.
The government has been accused of numerous human rights violations in 2021. Journalists and activists are harassed, arrested, and even killed. Torture is allegedly used to extract information from dissidents.
Tajikistan is one of the worst countries in the world on the issue of freedom of the press. The government controls both traditional and online media, while outlets run by opposition parties or critical voices are often shut down without explanation. Furthermore, those who speak out against the government risk arrest and imprisonment.
Civil Society Restrictions: A Threat to Democratic Values
Civil society and press freedom are two fundamental aspects of any democratic government. Unfortunately, both of these have been heavily restricted in Tajikistan in recent years.
The government is cracking down on NGOs and initiatives that they believe threaten their power. This includes targeting members of these groups with criminal investigations, freezing their accounts, and restricting the right to assembly. Journalists are not allowed to publish content deemed “critical” of the government. Any media outlets that report on such topics face a range of punishments from suspension to closure. These restrictions severely impact access to information and freedom of expression.
Torture, Forced Disappearances and Political Imprisonment
Torture is especially prevalent in Tajikistan. Amnesty International noted, “It is used in pre-trial detention and against persons detained by security forces”. Torture is also used as an intimidation tool to punish those perceived as a threat to the government.
Since the end of the civil war in 1997, forced disappearances have become common in Tajikistan. Many people have simply vanished without a trace or explanation from either their families or the government. The relatives of those who have disappeared often do not even know if their loved ones are alive or dead — leaving them living in fear and distress.
Political imprisonment is another issue that has gained attention in recent years. Opposition members are being targeted by the government for their dissent. Some people have even been imprisoned for simply expressing their views online or on social media such as Facebook or Twitter.
Media Repression and Restrictions on Freedom of Expression
The Tajik government has a long and expensive history of silencing independent media, restricting freedom of expression, and manipulating public opinion. This practice has been reported to the United Nations several times, but the government remains largely unchanged in its suppression of free speech.
Tajikistan has a number of laws that allow prosecution of any form of dissent against the government. Defamation and “insulting state symbols” are criminalized and can lead to prison time. Journalists have been arrested for criticizing the president, as well as for reporting on issues deemed sensitive by the state.
Consequences of Ending International Monitoring of Human Rights Violations
Tajikistan’s record on human rights and media freedom has been a cause of urgent concern for years. Unfortunately, ending international monitoring of the country might have grave consequences. This is especially true with the human rights situation deteriorating in recent years.
Here are some of the potential consequences:
- Increased censorship and self-censorship by media outlets
- Increased suppression of civil society organizations and activists. Less international oversight leads to fewer measures to protect them from government reprisals.
- A weakening of labor rights, including wages and collective bargaining rights, on account of decreased oversight
- Fewer resources to track apparent violations by Tajik authorities against citizens
- A decrease in ability and resources to monitor the human rights situation in Tajikistan for external observers
Prospects for Human Rights Improvements in Tajikistan
Do you know what’s happening with human rights in Tajikistan? Despite the peace agreement reached more than two decades ago, the situation remains alarming. It’s estimated that more than 30% of the population lives below the poverty line.
The good news is that despite this, there are prospects for human rights improvements in Tajikistan, but it’s a slow process. For example, in recent years, Tajikistan adopted a new constitution that provides greater protection for human rights and freedoms than previous constitutions. It also abolished the death penalty and established an independent Constitutional Court.
More recently, in January 2020, the government took steps to reform internet regulation. It gives citizens more access to information and gives them more freedom regarding sources of news and entertainment.
Overall, while there are some prospects for human rights improvements in Tajikistan. But it will require sustained effort and pressure from both domestic and international actors to bring about lasting change.