Thursday, 26 June 2014

Repression in Tajikistan: Ask no questions

Nguồn tin:

IT WAS always dangerous to be a journalist or government critic in Tajikistan. Until recently, however, the predatory and paranoid regime of Emomali Rakhmon, the president, left graduate students alone. That changed on June 16th, when Alexander Sodiqov, a Tajik political-science student in Canada who is employed by Britain’s University of Exeter, was detained by the secret police. He is being held incommunicado, but has reportedly been charged with treason for interviewing an opposition leader shortly after meeting the British ambassador, Robin Ord-Smith, at a party. He now faces up to 20 years in jail.

Mr Sodiqov was detained while conducting research in Gorno-Badakhshan, a restive, mountainous and sparsely populated region that is home to marginalised ethnic groups. It is also awash with Afghan narcotics from across the long, porous border. In 2012 government troops tried to unseat local warlords. Dozens died in what looked more like a turf battle than the anti-narcotics operation authorities claimed it to be. Last month violence flared again after a shoot-out between police and alleged drug dealers. In response rampaging locals torched government buildings, demanding a stop to the violence.

The security service, the GKNB, has tried to thwart inquiries, preventing, for example, Mr Ord-Smith from meeting local activists this month. The GKNB is suspected of controlling much of the narcotics trade. Yet it has also been financed by America, which has spent over $200m on Tajikistan’s security forces since 2001, according to the Centre for International Policy, an American NGO. That is meant to buy an ally in a tricky region, not instability.

Government critics see the treason charge, which will be difficult for it to drop without losing face, as a way of deflecting attention from the region’s troubles, by pinning the blame on concocted foreign conspiracies. The aim may also be to encourage self-censorship. A local journalist compared the atmosphere to Stalin’s terror. “It’s horrifying. Any of us could find ourselves in this situation.”

The Rakhmon regime looks to Russia for inspiration and appears emboldened by the Kremlin’s persecution of free thinkers. Immediately after Mr Sodiqov’s arrest, the security chief said foreign governments are collaborating with NGOs and “organised crime” to destabilise Tajikistan. Parliament has proposed tightening already strict laws on public protest.

For bosses in the security service, Mr Sodiqov’s brief meeting at a reception with the affable Mr Ord-Smith was enough to posit a British conspiracy. Yet Western governments are terrified of another failed state in Central Asia and worry about poorly governed Tajikistan more than most. The government’s refusal to allow questions in Gorno-Badakhshan is breeding resentment. Tajikistan’s problems are its own, not a phantom external plot.

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