One of the few opposition figures still remaining in Tajikistan was assaulted last week in an incident he is describing as politically motivated.
Rahmatillo Zoirov, head of the Social Democratic Party, said on his Facebook account on November 14 that he was attacked by a group of two men and one woman while he was taking his dog for a walk. The incident took place on November 9.
Many opposition politicians have been forced to flee the country or been arrested in the past two years, but Zoirov’s relatively low-profile appears to have sheltered from worse treatment.
Zoirov said that the attack began with a women in her mid- to late thirties verbally berating him in the street, shouting: “You don’t deserve to call yourself a Muslim, you damned Uzbek, you don’t even say your prayers.” Later, the woman was joined by a young man, who also hurled insults at Zoirov.
As the verbal onslaught was taking place, a third man approached Zoirov from behind and repeatedly struck him with an iron rod, according to the account on Facebook. Zoirov said his right arm is paralyzed as a result of the attack.
Zoirov said he consulted with police and security services officers about the incident, but that there has been no follow-up. The politician told RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, that he did not recognize his aggressors, but that he is certain the attack was a politically motivated.
Zoirov’s Social Democratic Party is the only remaining genuine opposition group in the country since the liquidation in 2015 of the Islamic Renaissance Party, or IRPT, which has been dubbed a terrorist organization by the government. The party has no real resources to speak of, however, other than social media.
On October 20, Zoirov used his Facebook account to publicly congratulate IRPT deputy leader Mahmadali Hayit, who is currently in jail on terrorism changes, on his birthday. Ten days later, when he was flying back into the country from a trip to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, Zoirov was held for questioning for 40 minutes by border guards.
Such harassment of opposition politicians is par for the course in Tajikistan, even for somebody as marginal as Zoirov. In 2014 and 2015, mobs of men and women would regularly burst unannounced into Social Democratic Party press conferences, typically accusing those present of trying to incite a new bout of civil war in Tajikistan. Police were invariably never able to track down the people responsible. Victims of such treatment contend the perpetrators are as a rule stooges put up to the job by the government.
Zoirov told Radio Ozodi in an interview in August that the worsening political situation had led some 70 percent of the party’s members and supporters to relocate to Kazakhstan, Russia and other countries. The party claims up to 12,000 members, although those figures may well be greatly inflated.