Tajikistan: Opposition Spokesman Brutally Attacked
A prominent member of Tajikistan’s embattled opposition was badly beaten outside his Dushanbe home early on February 7. Hikmatulloh Saifullohzoda, the press secretary for the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), is in a Dushanbe hospital in “serious condition,” a colleague of his told the Asia-Plus news agency.
The genial Saifullohzoda, 60, is also a prominent political scientist and editor of the opposition Najot newspaper. A photograph posted by the Avesta.tj news agency showed him in his hospital bed with a swollen eye and bandaged head, mouth and jaw.
The IRPT has come under increasing pressure in recent months, with members of President Imomali Rakhmon’s government accusing it of being a front for Islamic radicals. IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri could not be reached for comment immediately after the attack. However, the Regnum news agency cited a deputy of his as saying that Saifullohzoda’s neighbors had seen the attackers casing his building for several days before striking, leading the IRPT official to speculate that the beating had been premeditated. He added that the country’s interior minister has promised to personally oversee the investigation.
Calls to the press service of the Interior Ministry went unanswered on the afternoon of the attack.
US diplomats consider the IRPT -- which came about as a result of the peace treaty that ended Tajikistan’s 1992-1997 civil war -- to be a moderate force in an otherwise authoritarian state. In a reference to Kabiri, one recently leaked cable from the US Embassy in Dushanbe suggested the West “find ways to support Kibiri [sic] as a new-generation, moderate Islamic leader. This would include giving him greater political exposure at high levels, not just at the usual international seminars and conferences.”
While it is too early to classify the assault definitively, either as politically motivated or as run-of-the-mill street crime, a well-known government critic suggested it signifies a change for the worse in Tajikistan’s political climate.
Zafar Abdulloev, former editor of Avesta.tj, called the beating an act of “barbarism.”
“To attack an elderly man is an example of cowardice, and beating a political opponent is a sign of political defeat. The lack of political dialogue in society, the atmosphere of intimidation and physical harassment are a direct path to destabilization,” Abdulloev warned in comments on the Avesta website, adding that a failure to solve the crime and bring the perpetrators to justice could lead to greater radicalization of political activity in Tajikistan.
A few weeks ago, Tajik presidential advisor Suhrob Sharipov said the IRPT was receiving too much attention and journalists should shift their emphasis elsewhere. The latest violent attack, however, is likely to keep the IRPT in the news. Perhaps coincidentally, it is also reminiscent of anti-opposition incidents that led up to ex-President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s bloody ouster in neighboring Kyrgyzstan last year.