Eastern Tajikistan faces violence and information blockade
Death of an intelligence service general in Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakshan region triggered violence leaving at least 48 dead, 30 arrested and information blockade imposed. No particular action was taken to protect civilians. The UN, the OSCE and Tajiks from all over the world expressed their concern with the government’s handling of the situation.
Tuesday, 31 July 2012, by HRH Oslo, based on Helsinki Committee information
Death of a general triggers retaliation
On 22 July media reported that a crowd in Khorog, the capital of the Gorno-Badakshan Autonomous Province in Tajikistan, stopped a car in which Abdullo Nazarov, a general in the Tajik intelligence services, was travelling. The general was pulled out of the car and beaten to death.
His death triggered the retaliation by government forces and the fiercest fighting in Tajikistan since government soldiers battled militants in a northern region of the mountainous country in 2010. "This murder was the last straw. The warlord, who has clean forgotten that the war ended 15 years ago, must be destroyed", Reuters news agency quoted a Tajik security officer as saying.
On 24 July central Special Forces entered the Gorno-Badakshan region (Pamir) with military personnel and equipment, including helicopters. Allegedly, the aim was to arrest the militants suspected of murdering the local head of the KNB. However, as the day advanced, reports of civilian casualties emerged, as well as raids and shooting of schools and private homes. There was no organised evacuation of civilians before the actions started, and an information blockade followed.
Reports that phone, internet and roads were blocked in Pamir were accompanied with information that the independent news site Asia Plus was blocked in Tajikistan, later also YouTube. Official Dushanbe reported of 30 militants, 17 army and one civilian casualty after the attack, along with the arrest of 40 militants, including 8 Afghani citizens. Due to the information blockade, there are no confirmed numbers of casualties and damage to civilians and civilian property.
Since 25 July the central forces have laid down their weapons, giving the militants time to surrender with whilst continuing negotiations.
In the meantime, food delivery is scarce to the remote region, and insecurity spreads as to what will be the continuation even if the latest news says that some of the militants are ready to lay down their weapons. There have been reports of raids and snipers during the ceasefire, and criticism of lacking information stream.
Lack of information to the inhabitants in the region before, during and after the attack is an extra ordeal for the Pamiris, who were suffering the most from the tragic civil war in the newly independent republic in the nineties. What seems clear is the disproportionality in the attack, where large military forces were used in what allegedly was a police action to arrest murder suspects, and no particular action was taken to protect civilians.
The UN and the OSCE have expressed their concern with the government’s handling of the situation. In particular taking into consideration the remote location of the actions the Tajik government is criticised for restricting access to YouTube as soon as video clips were available there, and not ensuring communication channels.
Tajiks from all over the world have joined forces by the use of social media, sharing information about the incident and also appealing to the international society with requests for help – humanitarian assistance, restoring of communication channels and ensuring human rights. Though Pamir is an autonomous region and the citizens speak a different language and adhere to a different branch of Islam than the remaining Tajikistan, Pamiris and Tajiks stood side by side in pickets and demonstrations all over the world, and have made common statements for support. The full statement can be found here.
HRH Oslo, based on Helsinki Committee information