Tajik government increases pressure on NGOs, Islamist groups

Tajikistan’s government is seeing human rights activists and others leave the country after it passed a law on NGOs similar to those of Russia and Azerbaijan. The amendments to an existing law on non-governmental organizations stipulate that NGOs must report the sources and amounts of their funding to the central government, and expanded the powers of the government to examine foreign donations and expenditures. Eurasianet.org reports that a number of NGO leaders left the country when the law was tweaked in July, and that more left for abroad in the following months.

While the legislation does not characterize NGOs that receive donations from abroad as foreign agents like its Russian counterpart, rights activists note that it does not accomplish the goals of fighting terrorism and bolstering national security that Justice Minister Rustam Shohmurod cited in presenting the bill last summer. Analysts note that the bill has come as the government also cracks down on perceived foreign religious activity in the country, likely spurring radicalization of Islamists. President Emomali Rakhimov has decried religious dress and visual forms of expression such as beards as foreign imports with no place in the country. Tajikistan sentenced the first of 23 officials from its banned Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT) to nine years in prison after finding him guilty on charges of religious extremism and terrorism. Other charges against provincial IRPT head Hasan Rahimov purportedly included inciting racial and religious hatred and illegally possessing weapons. His relatives reported that he was sentenced in a closed-door trial on November 27. The IRPT was banned in August.

Rahimov and the other 22 individuals affiliated with IRPT were arrested on October 6 for purportedly aiding Islamist politician and former Deputy Defense Minster Abdulhalim Nazarzoda in his battle with Tajik police outside Dushanbe in September. The pressure on NGOs and Islamist groups alike comes against a backdrop of increased border security concerns, and Russian considerations of reestablishing border control with Afghanistan that it left to the Tajik government in 2006.

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