By Edward Lemon
September 23rd, 2015, The CACI Analyst
Rather than resulting from external factors, as the regime has argued, the recent violence in Tajikistan erupted from within the state itself. Elites within the Tajik state continually compete for political influence and economic gain. These struggles occasionally break out into violence. Ironically, such conflicts are actually useful for the regime. They allow it to legitimize a purge of potentially disloyal members and a crackdown on other opponents. By blaming the latest conflict on the country’s leading opposition party, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), the regime legitimized its move to ban the party and arrest its leading members.
By Oleg Salimov (05/08/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
A series of high-profile convictions and trials of members of the political opposition took place in Tajikistan in the second half of July. Among them are a 17-year prison term for Maksud Ibrogimov, the leader of “Youth for Revival of Tajikistan,” a 5-year prison term for Jamoliddin Makhmudov, the top political advisor to the leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, and the final phases of a new trial of former Tajik Minister Zaid Saidov, who is already serving a 26 year prison term, which could result in an additional sentence of 25 years. Human rights activists and relatives of convicted opposition members report unfair trials and significant violations of human rights.
Ibrogimov disappeared in Moscow in January 2015 and later reappeared in Dushanbe (see the 04/01/2015 Issue of the CACI Analyst). He was tried behind closed doors at the Ismoili Somoni district court of the city of Dushanbe. The information about Ibrogimov’s trial and verdict was kept secret for a month. Ibrogimov was convicted on June 24 but the official release of the verdict was published only on July 23. Yet the details of Ibrogimov’s case, such as his illegal extradition from Russia to Tajikistan, the substantiation of the accusations against him, and details of the trial, were declared a state secret. The 36-year-old Ibrogimov was convicted on four criminal counts, including “organization of extremist group,” “organization of activity of extremist group,” “public calls to extremist actions,” and “organization of criminal group.” According to Radio Ozodi, Ibrogimov was deprived of his right to be defended by a Russian attorney as his Russian citizenship was revoked during his extradition to Tajikistan.
On July 20, the Hissar district court sentenced Makhmudov to five years in prison for illegal possession of weapons and ammunition. At the trial, Makhmudov admitted that he possessed a handgun due to his leadership position during the Civil War but dismissed state accusations and witness statements on his illegal turnover of weapons, calling them a farce. Makhmudov is a political advisor to the leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) Mukhiddin Kabiri. As a prominent IRPT member, Makhmudov held positions in the IRPT Supreme Governing Council as well as the State Central Committee on Elections and Referendums as part of the post-Civil War reconciliation agreement between the government and opposition. Makhmudov was arrested in February 2015, right before Tajikistan’s parliamentary elections in March. IRPT was subjected to substantial persecution from the government prior to the elections, forcing its leader Kabiri to flee the country after IRPT lost the elections. Makhmudov’s case was likely intended to intimidate Kabiri and drive him out of the country.
Tajikistan’s Supreme Court finalized the review of Saidov’s new economic case on July 22 in Dushanbe. The trial took place behind closed doors at the ward of Tajikistan’s State Security Services (former KGB). Saidov was sentenced to 26 years in prison in 2013 for criminal charges, including rape and polygamy. In the new case, the state prosecutor requested another 25-year sentence for Saidov, a US$ 5.5 million fine, and the confiscation of his entire property for economic crimes involving abuse of office and illegal assets appropriation.
Earlier this year, Tajik courts in Dushanbe and the Khatlon region sustained the decision of Tajikistan’s Anticorruption agency to expropriate two enterprises owned by Ukrainian businessman Dmitry Firtash, which were privatized during Saidov’s work as a Minister of Industry of Tajikistan.
In his final statement, Saidov rejected all state accusations and insisted that his imprisonment was politically motivated. Saidov was arrested in May 2013 after announcing the formation of the political party New Tajikistan. The announcement preceded the November 2013 presidential elections in Tajikistan.
Recent events in Tajikistan demonstrate the disregard for international law, human rights, and principles of democracy on the part of Tajik authorities. Human rights activists and organizations protested against the secretive trials, lengthy and questionable prison terms, concealment of information, deprivation of defense for the accused, and other transgressions. Tajikistan’s justice system is highly politicized, and is frequently used as a tool to deal with political challengers for Rakhmon’s regime. The president’s clan exercises strong influence over the country’s courts and justice in Tajikistan is curtailed by the judges’ personal loyalty to the country’s ruler rather than their commitment to the rule of law and democracy. The long overdue reform of Tajikistan’s justice system must emphasize the actual independence of the justice system as a separate branch of power and guarantee its representatives safety from retribution from the government and president. Until then, the illegal persecution and imprisonment of political dissidents in Tajikistan will continue.
(Image courtesy: RFE/RL)
By Valeriy Dzutsev (05/27/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Chechnya’s ruler Ramzan Kadyrov has unexpectedly clashed with Moscow. The Russian government appears increasingly uneasy with Kadyrov’s unquestionable authority in Chechnya. At the same time, while Kadyrov will not easily yield to pressure from Moscow easily, he is evidently the weaker side in this battle. Only if Russia experiences a breakdown of power and its own strongman Vladimir Putin steps down, the Chechen leader will outlive his enemies in Moscow. Acutely aware of Russia’s projected economic downturn and its dampening effect on state capacity, Russian elites may force a regime change in Chechnya to avoid the risk of dealing with a strong regional leader at a time of decline in Moscow’s power.
By Huseyn Aliyev (05/27/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On May 17, the head of the republic of Ingushetia, Yunus-bek Yevkurov, announced in an interview to the Russian News Service radio station that there are only 14 insurgents left in the republic. Yevkurov insisted that his security services have detailed profiles on these members of the insurgency, who have long been included in federal search lists. Despite detailed information about the identities of these militants, their whereabouts remain unknown to the authorities because, as stated by Yevkurov, “these people are spread all across the republic: some of them are hiding in forests, others in urban areas.” Realizing that his quantitative assessment of the insurgency’s strength is rather hard to believe, Yevkurov added that “of course, these bandits have assistants and kin members who can easily join their ranks, when needed.” The latter statement suggests that the authorities are well aware that the actual number of members of the Islamist underground in the republic is above the figure claimed by Yevkurov.
In Yevkurov’s words, the main reason why the republic’s security services, several thousand-strong, have so far failed to locate and neutralize a dozen insurgents, is due to the militants’ “exceptional” sophistication. As stated by Yevkurov, “these bandits have extremely good counterintelligence, they know how to conceal their radio and phone communication. To a certain extent they are one step ahead of modern technology.” Hence, the head of Ingushetia tacitly admitted that the militants are not only better equipped than his counterterrorism units but also have better access to modern technology. Yevkurov narrowed down the explanation for this “superior professionalism” of Ingushetia’s militants to their training by “foreign secret services.” He emphasized that “here in Ingushetia, hiding in mountains, it is impossible to learn all these things.” The latter statement falls in line with the common rhetoric of blaming the effectiveness of Islamist insurgents in the region on their alleged links with foreign (presumably Western) intelligence services, which was previously reiterated by Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
Nonetheless, Yevkurov announced that “terrorism has been defeated” in his republic and that over the past four years, 80 members of the Islamist underground have voluntarily surrendered. All 80 of them were later amnestied and only one has since re-joined the militants.
However, Yevkurov’s bold announcement about the demise of the insurgency comes amid a relative decrease in militant activity across the North Caucasus. In fact, only one insurgency-related incident in the republic has occurred since the start of the year, in which one member of the security forces was killed in a confrontation with militants, while one insurgent was injured.
While some analysts suggested that the decrease in militant activity is due to last year’s killing of the head of Ingushetia’s insurgency, Arthur Gatagazhev, the decline of the Ingush wing of the Caucasus Emirate (CE) is more likely a part of the overall decomposition of Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus. Quantitatively, Ingushetia’s branch of the CE started phasing out its activities after the capture of its founder, amir Magas (Ali Taziyev) in 2010, which weakened its position within the CE. For example, as estimated by the Caucasus Knot, only 37 people became casualties of the armed conflict in Ingushetia in 2014, in comparison to 94 victims in 2013. In 2011, following the capture of amir Magas, the number of insurgency-related casualties decreased to 108 from 326 in 2010. Yet, Ingush militants have managed to increase the rates of violence in the following year, causing 167 casualties. Nevertheless, the overall decline of the CE has delivered a heavy blow to the Ingush insurgency, leaving it in steady recession. This decline became even more obvious after the death of the CE’s longtime leader Doku Umarov in late 2013 and the failure of his successor, Dagestani cleric Aliaskhab Kebekov, to prevent the CE’s decomposition.
Given that the current head of Ingushetia’s militants recently announced his decision to pledge loyalty to the Islamic State (IS), the withdrawal of significant numbers of Ingushetia’s militants from the CE becomes imminent. Given the traditionally close linkages between Ingush and Chechen Islamists, the above move can be expected to create cleavages within Ingushetia’s insurgency similar to the situation in neighboring Dagestan. In this light, the current lull in insurgency-related activities in the republic is likely a consequence of internal strife within the CE rather than the ability of Ingushetia’s security forces to put an end to the insurgency.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.