Kambiz Arman 2/21/06
The secret trial in Tajikistan of former key presidential ally underscores that President Imomali Rahmonov seems intent on choking off all avenues of opposition as the country prepares for a presidential election later in 2006.
The trial of Ghaffar Mirzoyev, a major-general who commanded the presidential guard, resumed on February 15. The proceedings, which began in mid January, are closed to the public. Arrested in 2004, Mirzoyev stands accused of engaging in dozens of criminal acts, including allegedly conspiring to overthrow Rahmonov.
In January, Mirzoyev’s lawyers petitioned to have the trial opened to the public. Authorities summarily rejected the request citing national security concerns. The case against Mirzoyev reportedly centers on "secret facts," according to a representative of the Tajik Prosecutor-General’s office. Qayum Yusufov, one of Mirzoyev’s lawyers, said the government’s ruling did not come as a surprise, adding that the petition was submitted with the intention of calling attention to the case.
Mirzoyev played a pivotal role during the early years of Rahmonov’s rule, serving as a pro-government military commander during Tajikistan’s 1992-98 civil war. Mirzoyev’s detailed knowledge of the Rahmonov administration’s decision-making processes and activities provide a strong incentive for government officials to ensure that the trial’s testimony remains sealed. In mounting his defense, some political analysts suggest, Mirzoyev is likely to offer testimony that is politically damaging to the president. Defense lawyers have hinted that they would move to call Rahmonov as a witness if prosecutors proceeded with the coup conspiracy charge. Given the trial’s secret nature, there is no way to determine whether or not the coup conspiracy charge has been dropped, or whether a verdict has already been reached.
What is certain is that Rahmonov has taken steps in recent months to eliminate potential rivals for power. The president has moved firmly to neutralize domestic political opposition. For example, in what many analysts see as a politically motivated conviction, Democratic Party chairman Mahmadruzi Iskandarov received a 23-year prison sentence last October on abuse of power charges. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Rahmonov also has purged his administration of potential threats. Mirzoyev appears destined to share the same fate as former Interior Minister Yakub Salimov, who is serving a 15-year sentence following his 2005 conviction on treason charges. And in January of this year, Rahmonov carried out a wide-ranging personnel reshuffle aimed at strengthening his grip on regional political administrations, local political analysts say.
On top of neutralizing political rivals, Rahmonov appears intent on constraining the development of civil society. In a February 11 interview published by the Vecherny Dushanbe newspaper, a Justice Ministry official, Davlat Sulaymanov, revealed that the Rahmonov-controlled parliament was debating a new law governing the activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). "Tajikistan needs a law stipulating strict control over NGO activities in the country," Sulaymanov said. NGOs should report annually to respective ministries and agencies on the work."
Vecherny Dushanbe quoted another Justice Ministry official, Rustamsho Megliyev, as saying the draft legislation does not at present envision "the strengthening of financial control" over NGOs. Most of the legislative changes are "related to the registration of these organizations."
Editor’s Note: Kambiz Arman is the pseudonym for an independent journalist based in London.