Voters in Tajikistan on May 20 approved changes to the country's constitution that will allow President Emomali Rahmon to rule indefinitely. Voters approved amendments to remove presidential term limits, lower the minimum age for presidential candidates from 35 to 30 and ban religiously based political parties. The first provision allows Rakhmon, 63, to extend his rule, which he has held since 1992. The second provision would allow his son, Rustam Emomali, 29, to be able to run for president in the next election in 2020. The final provision would continue to ban the main opposition Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan, which was declared a terrorist organization and banned last year. Election authorites reported that the 41 proposed amendments were approved by 94.5% of voters, with 92% turnout.
Internet partisans are at present avidly posting a story from conspiranoid website AntiMedia back in June noting reports that a former police commander from Tajikistan was featured in an ISIS video, where he "admitted" (boasted would be more like it) that he was trained by military contractor Blackwater under US State Department aegis. While AntiMedia says he was thusly trained "up until last year," the cited CNN report quotes him as saying the training was from 2003 to 2008. It apparently took place both in Tajikistan and at a Blackwater facility in North Carolina. (Blackwater, strictly speaking, has not existed since 2009, having twice reorganized and changed its name since then.) Gulmurod Khalimov, an ex-colonel of the Tajik Interior Ministry's OMON elite units, says in his ISIS promotional video: "Listen, you American pigs: I've been to America three times. I saw how you train soldiers to kill Muslims. You taught your soldiers how to surround and attack, in order to exterminate Islam and Muslims."
A court in Tajikistan on Jan. 13 sentenced Sukhrat Kudratov, an award-winning human rights lawyer, to nine years in prison for bribery and fraud. Kudratov, who was named human rights defender of the year in 2011 by the Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, represented political official Zaid Saidov in 2013 after he was arrested for starting a new political party. Before his arrest in July 2014, Kudratov also represented victims of torture, political activists and accused religious extremists. Many see Kudratov's imprisonment as a warning against criticism of the authoritarian government. Steve Swerdlow of Human Rights Watch (HRW) called the action "a serious setback for the freedom of expression."
One of Afghanistan's top airlines has been officially blacklisted by US authorities for allegedly trafficking opium on civilian flights, the Wall Street Journal reported Jan. 25. Kam Air is said to be smuggling "bulk" quantities of the drug to Tajikistan, a major export route to international markets. US Army Maj.-Gen. Richard Longo, commander of Task Force 2010, a coalition anti-corruption unit, stated: "The US will do no business with those who fund and support illicit activities. Kam Air is too large of a company not to know what has been going on within its organization." Gen. Longo confirmed that his task force has conducted an investigation into Kam Air but said details remain classified. The airline remains barred from US contracts, even as Kam Air is in talks to merge with Afghanistan's state-owned carrier, Ariana Afghan Airlines.
Tajikistan sealed its border with Afghanistan this week, after clashes with armed rebels left 48 dead. Security forces are now searching for Tolib Ayombekov, a former rebel who became a commander of the border guard after a 1997 peace deal and is now believed to have taken up arms again. Ayombekov has been a fugitive since he refused to show up for questioning about the July 21 murder of a local security official in southern Badakhshan province, or to turn over men under his command suspected in the slaying. A conflict over control of the cross-border traffic in Afghan opium is said to be behind the fighting. (IWPR, July 31; DPA, July 30; Registan, July 27; AP, July 25)