The US Ambassador to Tajikistan this week attended the launch of a new printing press intended for the use of the country’s would-be independent media, which has in fact almost all but disappeared.
If one recently published article is anything to go by, however, the only things to be printed freely in Tajikistan these days are anti-opposition screeds.
Ambassador Elisabeth Millard unveiled the press on April 27 alongside Munim Olamov, the secretary general of the Media Alliance, which is comprised of 12 media organizations, and the general director of Imruz News daily newspaper.
As Millard explained, US financial support for creating the press was intended to promote a free media.
“Freedom of expression is one of our country’s core values, and one that we promote in Tajikistan. We sincerely hope that through the use of this printing press, your news agencies will prosper and access to information in Tajikistan will increase as more people are able to regularly read your newspapers,” Millard said, according to a US Embassy press release.
And what sort of information will the public be able to access exactly?
One article that appeared in a supplement inside an edition of Imruz News only days before the printing press opening is highly indicative.
In the piece, Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda launches a phenomenal tirade against the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, which has been liquidated and had almost its entire leadership stuck behind bars.
The main charge leveled at the IRPT is their alleged responsibility in the murder of a dizzying array of activists, intellectuals and government officials during the civil war of the 1990s. Among the many victims mentioned are Muhiddin Olimpur, a photographer and the first BBC representative in Tajikistan, a former deputy Interior Minister, Habib Sanginov and a general prosecutor, Nurullo Huvaidulloev.
The ultimate responsibility for many such deaths during the war has until this day remained an unsettled question, but dropping it all at the IRPT’s feet has now become fair game.
“With the goal of destroying millennia of cultural traditions, religious beliefs and national values, IRPT members tried to eliminate all visible politicians, academics and literary specialists with any authority in society,” Rahimzoda said.
Needless to say, the IRPT also stands accused of a vast quantity of terrorist activity and was responsible for creating several groups engineered to sow instability.
Among Rahimzoda’s most extravagant allegations are the number of people covertly belonging to the party.
There is Amriddin Tabarov (also known as Mullo Amriddin), who is purported to be the leader of the Jamaat Ansarullah extremist group. There are Salafists, who have until recently been distinctive for their public excoriations of the IRPT.
Mahmudruzi Iskandarov, the jailed leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Tajikistan, was also a member, according to Rahimzoda. The minister argued that creating the Democratic Party of Tajikistan, which in fact has its roots in the late Soviet period, was simply a smokescreen.
Zaid Saidov, the businessman-turned-opposition leader, who has been in prison since 2013 and is serving a lengthy jail sentence on flimsy charges? An IRPT member.
"He created the New Tajikistan party in order to trample on national values and divide society,” Rahimzoda said, referring to Saidov.
Logical inconsistencies in the accusations do not get in Rahimzoda’s way.
Haji Akbar Turajonzoda, a popular and much-admired theologian, is also in the ranks of the IRPT and is propagandizing Shiite tenets of Islam, it is claimed. Turajonzoda was indeed a founding member of the IRPT but turned against the party after the civil war. As to his disseminating Shiite beliefs and militating in a party allegedly also incorporating all manner of Sunni extremists, these are difficult arguments to reconcile.
Rahimzoda wrote that the IRPT have committed 560 grave criminal offenses and 1,050 administrative offenses. More than 800 party members have been detained on suspicion of belonging to terrorist organizations, he said.
The party has been receiving funding from anonymous sources in Islamic countries, the minister suggested nebulously. IRPT has also duped labor migrants into handing over cash to them, Rahimzoda said.
Once Rahimzoda is finished accusing the IRPT of links with every well-known global terrorist organization and acting as a de facto recruiter for the Islamic State group, he turns to decrying their criticism of the government.
“The IRPT attacks the government because every year the bodies of 200-300 migrant laborers are brought home [the official estimate is actually around 1,000], while in fact most of them die because of illness, accident and membership in terrorist groups. But we should note that they bring 800-1,000 [bodies] back to Kyrgyzstan every year, and around 2,000-3,000 to Uzbekistan. And no political or civic movement attacks the government for that over there,” Rahimzoda said.
In a final plaintive parry, Rahimzoda accuses IRPT of not helping the poor, the disabled and orphans, whereas the government gave these categories 90 million somoni ($18 million) in 2014.
“The party didn’t thank the people that helped the poor and displayed indifference to the fact that the authorities are building schools,” Rahimzoda wrote.
And the next time this kind of nonsense appears in print, US taxpayers can bask in the glow of pride that comes with knowing it is all made possible with their money.