The Supreme Court of Tajikistan has given life sentences to two leading figures of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), while ten other party members received up to 28 years in jail, Avesta news agency reported on June 2. The trial, criticised by human rights groups as politically motivated, deals the final blow to what was once the only opposition force capable of challenging authoritarian President Emomali Rahmon.
The Tajik authorities are continuing to crack down on IRP members even after the party was banned and branded a terrorist group in 2015. Prior to the ban, IRP was the only registered political party of Islamic affiliation in the whole Central Asia. It also served as the only formidable political opposition force to Rahmon’s regime. The party failed to enter parliament in a February 2015 election, which international observers considered neither fair nor free. Its leader, Muhidding Kabiri, announced in June 2015 he had gone on self-imposed exile amid repeated threats and fear for his life.
The life sentences were delivered to deputy party heads Husayni Saidumar and Mukhammadali Hayit. The court also sentenced four members of the party to 28 years of prison. Six other members were given prison sentences varying from 14 years to 25 years. The group is accused of conspiring with former Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda in attempting to seize power deadly clashes in early September 2015. The trials were held behind closed doors.
The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch has described the trial as part of a “severe crackdown on political opposition”, Reuters reports.
The trial comes less than a month after a referendum that allowed Rahmon, in power since 1992, to rule for life and start a presidential dynasty. Tajikistan held a national referendum on May 22 to approve amendments to the constitution that will allow the Tajik president to run for reelection indefinitely and lower the presidential age limit to fit the current age of his eldest son, Rustam Emomali. Preliminary results by the Central Committee for Elections and Referendums showed that 94.7% of the Tajiks voted in favor of amending the constitution.
In December 2015, the authorities have endorsed another bill that granted Rahmon and his relatives lifelong immunity from prosecution and gave Rahmon the title of “Leader of the Nation”.
The country’s struggling economy and stifling tenure of longtime strongman President Emomali Rahmon is playing into the hands of radical Islamic groups by making parts of the traditionally Islamic Tajik society vulnerable to the propaganda of radical Islamic groups like the IS. Around 1,000 Tajiks have joined IS as of January 2016. The government has been making the most of the threat of radical Islam to get rid of opposition.