Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev, the mayor of Dushanbe, recently made a stir when he met with Facebook users in Tajikistan.
Well done, Mr. Ubaidulloev! Despite all the problems, he has managed through this meeting to make people feel better, even a little bit. The governors of the provinces of Sughd, Khatlon, and Badakhshon, please use some of this experience.
While it is nice to see the good Mayor — in office continuously for the past 16 years — engaging with social media, don’t mistake this for any sign of growing political openness. Earlier this year the Tajik government blocked Facebook and other social media; just last month the government announced the creation of a new organization to monitor these websites to make sure Tajiks aren’t saying insulting things about political leadership. Insufficiently pro-government users are already being identified for reeducation, which isn’t creepy in the slightest.
The Internet is still not an impervious force for good in Tajikistan, it seems. The $1-million “cybercafe” that Boulder, Colorado built in Dushanbe in return for a beautiful Tajik-style teahouse Dushanbe built for Boulder is falling into disrepair — there just isn’t the political interest to keep it open. This was meant to be a showcase of the college town’s “culture” — a solar-powered internet cafe that also served coffee and snacks (I went to Boulder for my undergrad and drank tea many times at the chaikhanna there).
Just yesterday, in fact, the Tajik Prosecutor-General accused the Islamic Revival Party (IRP), an opposition movement, of “committing crimes against the constitutional order of the country.”
The PG zeroes in on Sherik Karamkhudoyev, who runs the Khorog office of the IRP. Khorog is the site of continuing unrest and occasional violence over the last several weeks, where dozens have died in clashes with the government. As Asia-Plus describes it, this accusation is really bizarre:
Sherik Karamkhudoyev met with Sultonnazar Imomnazarov, the brother of Imomnazar Imomnazarov, on evening of August 23 and they knocked together an armed group numbering 21 persons, according to the statement. This group was allegedly involved in armed clashes against the government force in Khorog on the night of August 23-24…
We will recall that Sherik Karamkhudoyev was reported missing on July 24, when the government troops launched a military operation in Khorog and only on August 8 it became known that Karamkhudoyev is being held in the detention facility of the State Committee for National Security (SCNS) in Dushanbe. On July 23, the head o IRP’s organization for Gorno Badakhshan Sabzali Mamadrizoyev was killed in Khorog.
So Karamkhudoyev was imprisoned for a week right after the previous head of his party was killed, and now he’s accused of being responsible for the violence. Imomnazar Imomnazarov was killed last week by government forces; his death prompted yet another round of protests in Khorog.
It is important to keep sight of this continuing unrest in Gorno-Badakhshan while the Tajik government in other places tries to portray itself as responsive and “hip” to new technology all the kids are using. It’s a pretty weak attempt to paint itself as caring about the needs of ordinary Tajiks, especially considering the roiling violence east of the capital.