Military crackdown in Tajikistan: another step backwards for Pamiri minority rights and towards potential conflict
Minority Rights Group (MRG) is deeply concerned by the deteriorating human rights situation in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) of Tajikistan. Daily aggravations against the mainly indigenous and minority population, and increasingly systematic human rights violations have given rise to a situation much graver than simply the existence of political tensions, as widely reported.
MRG is particularly concerned that the pretext given by the Tajikistan authorities for their actions – that they are conducting ‘anti-terror operations’ – is being echoed in international media. MRG can verify that Pamiri residents have been subjected to wide ranging forms of surveillance, invasions of privacy, arbitrary detention and coercion since November 2021.
‘We witnessed the heavy military build-up and installation of comprehensive surveillance infrastructure in the region, which has been readied for use against the population, in case of further protests against human rights violations,’ says Neil Clarke, Head of Legal Programmes and EU Advocacy at MRG. ‘The actions of the last few days by the Tajikistan authorities shows this operation in force. Without urgent intervention by the international community, we believe the climate in GBAO is very likely to escalate towards a conflict with potentially deadly consequences for the Pamiri population.’
Khorog, the regional capital, has been in a state of elevated tension since 14 May 2022, when around 1,000 people gathered to demand the resignation of the region’s leader and a proper investigation into the police killing of a local resident late last year. On 16 May, a local man, Zamir Nazrishoev, was killed during protests. Afterwards, military forces opened fire on protesters in Vomar town. According to unconfirmed reports, the crackdown against protesters in Vomar has likely left at least 17 civilians dead, with further casualties amongst the soldiers. One day later, an independent media outlet, Asia Plus, announced that it would no longer cover events in Khorog due to threats from the authorities. Ulfatkhonim Mamadshoeva, a prominent Pamiri human rights defender, as well as other activists and journalists, have also been detained and interrogated by security forces without due process as part of coordinated efforts to silence the Pamiri people.
‘These increasingly systematic reprisals form part of a continuous process of suppression of human rights and minority rights. Pamiri people being targeted are mainly human rights defenders and members of the media,’ says Clarke. ‘We are calling for urgent measures by the Tajikistan authorities to de-escalate the situation by restoring and ensuring respect for human rights in GBAO. Charges against Ulfatkhonim Mamadshoeva and other detained activists must also be dropped.’
The international community must go further than calls for de-escalation and establish urgent mechanisms for the comprehensive monitoring and restoration of human rights in GBAO, as the only means to prevent the incidents of the last days from escalating.
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Photo: Tajik soldier at the main crossing in Khorugh, GBAO district, Tajikistan. Military presence reaches up to 25 per cent of the population. Credit: MRG.