Tajikistan is a country located in Central Asia. In January, authoritarian president Emomali Rachmon appointed his 29-year-old son Rustam Emomali as new mayor of the capital, Dusjanbe. The long-time former mayor Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev was dismissed. The appointment came after the president appointed one of his daughters, Ruhshona Rachmonova, to head the Foreign Affairs Department’s international relations department. Previously, daughter Ozoda Rachmon had been appointed President’s Chief of Staff. Several other close relatives of Rachmon hold important positions or control profitable companies.
The Tajik regime evolved into a family dynasty, and the dismissed Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev seemed to step by step lose his influence as the second most powerful politician in the country after the president. During the year, several of Ubaidulloev’s allies were sentenced to prison for corruption in construction projects during Ubaidulloev’s time as mayor.
Later, several investigators and officials at the country’s anti-corruption agency were arrested on suspicion of being themselves guilty of corruption and fraud. Some of the bribery cases at the Anti-Corruption Bureau were said to be linked to Ubaidulloev’s allies. Several of the agency’s officials were sentenced during the year to long prison sentences.
Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin visited Dushanbe in February and agreed with Rachmon to strengthen security at the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border. About 7,000 Russian soldiers are stationed in Tajikistan, and Putin designated Tajikistan as a key country for regional security in Central Asia.
The International Center for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT) in The Hague noted in a March report that Tajikistan is the country that has exported the most suicide bombers to the Islamic State (IS) terror group. According to the ICCT, the reasons are the repression of unapproved religious organizations, the humiliation of working as migrant workers abroad and the fact that a former Tajikistani officer from a special federation has moved to IS.
In March, the Supreme Court extended the prison sentence for a senior human rights lawyer from 23 to 25 years for a court violation. Buzurgmehr Yorov was sentenced for solicitation to overthrow the government and stir up social unrest, accusations he denied. Several human rights lawyers were jailed, and Human Rights Watch demanded their release. The leader of the Social Democratic Party, Rahmatullo Zoirov, said the judgments against Yorov and the 26-year-old opposition entrepreneur Zaid Saidov were politically motivated. Zoirov asked the Supreme Court to reconsider them. It was an unusual challenge to the regime in the heavily controlled country. Buzurgmehr Yorov’s lawyer feared for his safety and left the country. She later sought political asylum in Germany, saying that the Tajik authorities planned a criminal investigation against her.
The president’s son reaffirmed his position as mayor of Dushanbe, when in April he was also elected to the city council. Rachmon junior was said to have won a filling election with close to 85% of the vote after his representative Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev left his seat in the council.
In April, a plane from Uzbekistan’s national airline landed in Dushanbe for the first time in 25 years. The regular airline between Dushanbe and Tashkent resurfaced after relations between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan improved after many years of conflict over border guarding, transport routes and distribution of water resources.
During the year, the Ministry of Culture declared that no books could be taken into or out of the country without written permission. The smuggling of valuable manuscripts would be prevented, it was said, but critics saw an attempt to stop the introduction of extremist religious material.
Citizens under the age of 40 were banned from participating in this year’s pilgrimage to Mecca in an effort to prevent radicalization of young people. In a July speech, President Rachmon urged men not to wear beards and women not to wear headscarves, to resist what he termed foreign cultures, and to preserve what he described as the true Tajik culture. The government set up a commission to design appropriate clothing for citizens, with a view to both Tajik tradition and modern life. Hijab is prohibited at state offices and schools, and boys under the age of 18 are prohibited from participating in prayer in the mosques. The police are sometimes said to arrest men with stout beards and force them to shave. A couple of actors were said to have been allowed by the police to wear a beard because it belonged to their role figures. In August, Parliament’s lower house approved a law amendment that forces individuals and organizations to adhere to traditional and national attire and culture. The law also regulates other details of privacy, such as what families can spend on weddings, funerals and other private parties. There were reports of raids to wedding parties, where authorities seized food that was considered wasteful and not in line with family income.
Authorities also banned loud crying at funerals as well as tearing of the hair and thumping with the head. Families and friends may cry and mourn their dead, but shouting and hiring others to howl is forbidden, it was called. The latter has otherwise been seen as a sign of love and respect for the deceased in many parts of Tajikistan. The authorities also did not allow black upholstery at the funeral but called for the traditional blue color.
Prosecution was brought against the former head of the National Library for Crime Law regulating the cost of weddings. He was accused of spending too much on his son’s wedding.
In October it was reported that the Prosecutor General has established a register of gay and lesbian people, officially to prevent the spread of venereal diseases.
In November, in an effort to counter Islamic radicalization, the authorities decided to dismiss all foreign-educated imams and replace them with imams who received their education in Tajikistan.