Tajikistan Pulls Out All Stop For Independence Bash by EurasiaNet

A quarter century ago, on August 19, 1991, a botched coup attempt began in Moscow, sparking a chain of events that led to the Soviet Union’s collapse. These days, Tajikistan is preparing to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its independence with an unprecedented mass parade and a slew of amnesties. But the planned festivities aren’t a source of happy anticipation for many Tajiks.

For the anniversary celebration, President Imomali Rahmon’s administration is mobilizing legions of government workers to participate. Meanwhile, none of the 12,000 individuals slated for release from jail include any of the country’s burgeoning population of political prisoners.

Tajikistan

Tajikistan

The independence anniversary parade will take place in the center of Dushanbe on September 9 and will feature roughly 50,000 participants. Preparations are taking place under a veil of secrecy, but people at government departments being press-ganged into organizing activities have shared some details with EurasiaNet.org, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The plan is for each ministry and government agency to contribute up to 1,200 participants. Ministers and heads of departments will march along in the parade flanked by their deputies and cabriolets on either side. Their subordinates will trail behind.

All those taking part are under strict instructions what to wear. The orders, which have been read out loud at staff meetings in recent days, were issued by the president’s aide responsible for social development and public relations, Abdujabbor Rahmonzoda (formerly Rahmonov).

The main idea is that employees of each government entity should be dressed in a distinct manner. At one ministry, female staffers have been instructed to wear elegant evening dresses reaching five centimeters below the knee and shoes with heels that are neither too short nor too long. Men must wear shirts and suits. Employees of another government department must wear traditional dress.

The unluckiest participants are those being asked to wear clothes of a style and color that they do not already own, since this will require additional outlays. The government is providing no clothing itself.

“At the market, the cost of the outfits can reach $200. As a result, women are mainly buying the fabric and taking it to a seamstress,” one source familiar with the preparations for the parade told EurasiaNet.org. “It is a different story with the shoes. People are going out of their minds over that, and sometimes they are resorting to ordering them from abroad.”

According to the source, employees at one government department laughed out loud when they heard instructions about how clothes should look.

“We all immediately understood that this was coming from Abdujabbor Rahmonzoda. Only he could pay such minute attention to the size of people’s heels,” the source said.

Rahmonzoda became notorious for his obsession with students’ style of dress when he was Education Minister, from 2005-2012, and then rector of the Tajik State Pedagogical University, from 2012-2014. His primary concern was with young people adopting an Islamic style of dress, although US diplomatic cables leaked to the Wikileaks website indicated his anxieties also went in the other direction.

“[Rahmonzoda] ordered a new dress code, complaining that girls had been wearing revealing clothing, such as miniskirts, to school and too much jewelry. The new dress code gives the minister an excuse to reintroduce his informal ban on hijabs. This de facto order will be treated and enforced by education administrators as real legislation,” a US Embassy cable noted in 2007, when Rahmonzoda was head of the Education Ministry.

On one occasion, when Rahmonzoda was attending an event at a school, he ordered parents wearing the hijab to leave the school grounds, describing them as “monkeys.” He was later forced to apologize for the insult.

In 2013, he decreed that female students at the Tajik State Pedagogical University should only wear shoes with heels, and heels no longer than 10 centimeters at that. Young women were also ordered to wear clothing in one shade and without elaborate designs. Skirts could be of any color other than white or black. Students were examined at the entrance to the university each morning to check whether they were sticking to the rules.

In more preparations for the September 9 independence celebration, authorities are closing off a central square every evening to allow soldiers to rehearse for the parade. The military parade is expected to involve 16,000 troops from garrisons all over the country.

In another gesture to mark the anniversary, President Rahmon this week proposed a bill to parliament to release 12,000 criminal suspects and convicts from jail. Under the bill, women, minors, men over the age of 55, tuberculosis sufferers, Afghan war and Second World War veterans, and foreign nationals will be eligible for amnesty. People convicted of serious crimes will have their sentences commuted. Those jailed on charges of committing economic crimes will be released provided they “make amends.”

Those jailed for murder, kidnapping, human trafficking, rape, torture, terrorism, armed insurgency or any acts of extremism are not eligible, according to the bill.

Perhaps the most notable absences from the list of amnestied individuals are the growing number of people imprisoned on political grounds. There had been some expectation that Zarafo Rahmoni, a female member of the banned opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, sentenced to two and a half years in jail in June, might be released. But her charges — creating a criminal association and inciting hatred — are among those not covered by the amnesty. Indeed, not one jailed leading member of the IRPT appears set to be released.

Going by the scant official information available, there are only about 12,000 people even currently in jails in Tajikistan. So opposition politicians would become some of the very few still languishing behind bars, if the figures are to be believed.

A political analyst who asked to remain nameless out of concern of reprisals from the state suggested that authorities are eager to make way in the prisons for more politically motivated arrests.

The scale and regularity of mass amnesties are a stark reminder of the revolving door nature of Tajikistan’s justice system.

Amnesties in Tajikistan have become a semi-regular occurrence. The last one was in 2014 and coincided with the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the constitution. On that occasion, 10,000 people were reportedly set free. And back in 2011, as many as 15,000 prisoners were released.