Tajikistan has declined to despatch an official delegation to attend this year’s annual rights conference in Poland held by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, thereby spurning an event heavily attended instead by the exiled opposition.
State media back home, meanwhile, prefaced the conference by warning that the authorities might be compelled to close the OSCE’s office in Tajikistan should the opposition turn up. While the fate of the OSCE office is still uncertain, officials have decided to vent their frustration on relatives of the foreign-based opposition activists.
The Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, which takes place every year in Warsaw and is organized by the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, started on September 11 and will run through to September 22. The meeting is viewed by rights advocates as a valuable platform for openly discussing issues of concern with representatives of their respective governments.
But when the Tajik delegation was last year confronted in Warsaw by members of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and other opposition figures, the reaction in Dushanbe was incendiary. Law enforcement officials in Tajikistan harassed family members still living in the country. A youth group with state backing was particularly active in the intimidation, picketing the homes of activists’ relatives and the OSCE office.
On September 8, Khovar state news agency warned that the repeat attendance of the IRPT and its leader, Muhiddin Kabiri, could lead to even more serious consequences, including the expulsion of the OSCE.
At the opening of the Warsaw meeting, around 100 members of IRPT and other groups, like Group-24, nonetheless turned up for a rally, holding up pictures of political prisoners and calling on the international community to pay greater attention to the decline in basic freedoms in Tajikistan.
The IRPT held a panel at the meeting on September 12 to discuss specific rights violations and acts of intimidation in detail.
The Central Asia researcher for the Norwegian Helsinki Group, Marius Fossum, said during a plenary session that authorities in Tajikistan have in recent days intensified their threats against and arrests of relatives of people attending the event. Fossum said that the father of an organizer of the Tajik side event was detained for three days.
The fate of the OSCE office in Tajikistan has been hanging in the balance for some time already. The Dushanbe operation was downgraded in June from an office mandate to a program office, which entailed the closure of several provincial offices and a considerable dilution of its activities. Politically themes programs have all but been suspended and any activities must now be pre-approved by the Foreign Ministry.
The refusal of the Tajik delegation to attend the OSCE event indicates a further weakening in the government’s willingness to engage with international partners on democratic reforms and other political matters. On the other hand, the boycott may serve as a face-saving measure allowing the Tajik authorities to turn a blind and refrain from closing the OSCE office, as intimated in state media.