Lashes and Suffocation Take Turns
Freedom of the press, expression and opinion in decline and under grave threats in much of South Eastern and Eastern Europe...
Tajikistan “Free and Fair Elections” score deteriorated further and it’s the lowest among all analyzed countries in 2016 edition of Freedom Barometer, due to massive crackdown on opposition political parties and individuals in 2015. Dominant president Emomali Rahmon, who is in power since 1994, and his ruling elite don’t hesitate to use all means to silent critics and suppress political pluralism. Period before March 2015 parliamentary elections, during the campaign and the elections day, and after it abounded with violations, irregularities, media restrictions, frauds, physical attacks and intimidation by the government. One rebellion attack led by former deputy defense minister of Tajikistan, Abduhalim Nazarzoda, ended with a huge violence outbreak in which 20 people lost their
lives, including Nazarzoda. Government accused the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), main opposition party, for alleged plotting of the event without viable proofs. Court proclaimed IRPT as a terrorist organization in September and arrested around 200 IRPT members. Also, leader of the other opposition party called Group 24 was assassinated in March 2015 in Istanbul and opposition accused government for this murder.
President and close circle of people around him have unchallenged power to rule the country. Executive branch in authoritative Tajikistan, represented by the president, dominates over other two branches and keeps them under strict control. However, when making decisions, president needs to think about interests of certain influencers, like wealthy businessmen and high ranking military officials. Few families around president, including his own, control the majority of the state and privately owned enterprises. Corruption is pervasive among them, however authorities brought cases of corruption only to deal with the opposition.
Press is not free in Tajikistan. Country’s media landscape is highly restricted and regulated. Journalists often face harassment, intimidation, arrests, and therefore self-censorship is at the extremely high level. Critics of the government can rarely be found. But whoever dared to criticize and accuse the President or his family of corruption, would face serious charges and attacks. Opposition parties don’t have access to state owned media outlets, which are on the other hand often abused for campaigns against them. Media regulatory bodies are controlled by the government and serve as efficient tools to limitate the independence of journalism in Tajikistan.
Tajikistani judiciary has faced setbacks regarding both its independence and quality for a few years. The President nominates, with the approval of Parliament, members of the most important courts (Constitutional, Supreme and Supreme Economic Court) as well as the prosecutor general. Judges on the ground are often inexperienced, poorly trained, or corrupt. Arbitrary arrests and frivolous application of laws are common. Prisons are dangerously overcrowded. Torture (such as beating to death of a student in September 2015), extortions and corruption are frequent during custody. Following the ban of the main opposition party in 2015, lawyers were also arrested, or they received death threats. Along with deterioration of political freedom and of the respect for human rights, additional - in
reality political - limits were introduced to practicing law. Everyone in legal profession will have to re-certify each 5 years with the Ministry of Justice.
The catastrophic situation regarding corruption has just minimally improved. Most investigated high level corruption cases are due to political vendetta or to power struggle and not to genuine attempts to increase transparency. With the score 26, in the Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2015, Tajikistan was ranked 136 of 168 countries, together with Comoros and Nigeria. Among CIS countries, only Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are worse. As Freedom House noted, “nepotism, cronyism, extortion and bribe-seeking by government officials pervade all levels of Tajik society”. President Rahmon`s family members hold important government posts and own the largest bank, the railroad and the main TV station. Other members of his clan own or control most of the country`s
lucrative production facilities, e.g. aluminium plants. It is estimated that a couple of billion dollars have been so far siphoned out of the country via offshore accounts. Taken that half of the country depends on the remittances by expatriates and that cotton makes another 20% of the GDP, the level of corruption in Tajikistan could be described as grand.
Unlike stagnating in 2014, human rights` situation in Tajikistan has, according to several observer organizations - including Freedom House and Human Right Watch - dramatically worsened in the second half of 2015. Following the ban on the main opposition party, in August, on the grounds of “extremism”, a number of IRPT activists were arrested, alongside with several journalists or lawyers. New cases of severe torture or other ill treatment in custody were reported. Political purges are implemented in cooperation with Russian authorities, who use to readily extradite Tajikistani dissidents. The pressure on NGOs increased as the new restrictive legislation on “foreign agents” as of June 2015 was applied. Those among them who alarmed at torture of political prisoners were themselves
summoned. The obligation to maintain a government-prescribed personal outlook while in public affects both men (ban on non-traditional beards) and women (ban on wearing hijabs or other non-traditional scarves). It is exercised through societal as well as, increasingly, via police pressure. Restrictions on practicing religion were also severed. Serious restrictions affecting the freedom on Internet remained in place. Meanwhile, recently carried legislation on prevention of domestic violence is still awaiting implementation.
Private property is not adequately secured in Tajikistan. Judiciary lacks independence from strong influences of government officials and groups politically connected to them. Court rulings also suffer from inconsistencies in application of laws. Big state-owned companies are sometimes protected by refusal to enforce court dealings, as in the case of TALCO, one of the biggest aluminum companies in the world. In several cases, government regulatory agencies have been used to pressure businesses into ceding properties and business assets. Nepotism, favoritism and corruption among public officials are omnipresent. Court procedures can be lengthy and bear significant costs - most notably, of the legal enforcement of court decisions - which impedes access to justice. Out of court settlement
has not been systematically developed, since the role of Third Party Arbitration Courts was brought to minimum. All land is by law in state ownership, but first and second tier land use rights are leased - to Tajik natural persons and companies indefinitely, while to foreign entities up to 50 years. Weak performance of the land registry diminishes security of property rights in the agricultural sector.
The size of government in Tajikistan with total public revenues lower than 30% of GDP is considerably smaller in comparison with developed European countries, leaving a fiscal room for lower taxes but together with it also for lower level of government services. Low level of economic growth recorded in 2015, if compared to the previous period, is mainly owing to slowdown among its main economic partners, mainly the Russian Federation. The level of remittances has been strongly affected, with repercussion on imports and consumption. High levels of inflation pose a significant problem. Accumulated public debt is envisaged to reach 50% of GDP in 2016, almost doubling its 2014 level. Shadow economy in the country is very much developed. The role of the state in the economy is still
considerable, via numerous big state-owned companies active in many fields, even in those where state interference is obviously unnecessary. The most important SOEs are industrial facilities such as the largest company in the country, the aluminum company Talco. Private companies cannot compete with SOEs, unless being favored by political connections, whereby SOEs take over a large share of government procurements. They are also favored by banks in financing, due to political influence and government support. Many of these SOEs have reported high financial losses during previous years, which burden public finances. SOEs are badly managed, with strong political influences from the government, incurring losses, but also being at the forefront of corruption.
Labour Code in Tajikistan is characterized by both flexible and rigid components: coping with hiring and firing regulations is not expensive, but working hours` regulation is inflexible. Centralized collective bargaining is not widespread. The minimum wage is rather low in comparison to the average wage, not bringing too much distortion in the economy. Notice period for redundancy workers is limited to 8.7 weeks. There is a legal requirement that at least 70% of the workforce must be domestic, and if the CEO is a foreign national then this limit is as high as 75%, but this figure is set at 80% and even 90% for projects signed by the Tajikistani government. Business regulation is complicated, with lengthy and costly procedures. Tax administration procedures are among areas that incur the
highest regulation compliance costs. Governmental company for standardization has a weak record of performance, with the lack of expertise and necessary equipment. Starting a business has been improved by enabling the Statistics Agency to provide statistical code at the time of registration, but new companies still have to follow several steps in order to finish all the paperwork. In getting electricity and obtaining construction permits, Tajikistan is at the bottom of the world economies – on average it takes more than 8 months to get a construction permit. This regulatory framework, with many procedures and long timetables, is an environment prone to corruption, which has become endemic in the country, while the bribe is considered as a necessary business cost.
Tajikistan has since 2013 been a full member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which led to lower tariffs or other artificial barriers to trade. However, the average tariff rate is still high, standing at 8.1% (and being higher for agricultural than for manufacturing products). Further trade liberalization is expected, as action plan for full implementation of Tajikistani obligations towards the WTO has been devised and adopted. Free Economic Zones within the country facilitated trade and investments. Geographical position and bad transportation infrastructure further impede international trade, making exports and imports expensive and lengthy. Furthermore, custom procedures necessary for import or export are burdensome. However, submitting customs declarations can now be done
electronically, thus lowering trade barriers. Obstacles in movement of goods are augmented by capital controls, in order to maintain the exchange rate regime. Procedures for obtaining residence permit for foreign nationals are burdensome and provide for only up to one year of residence.