Gorno-Badakhšan, UN: fears for the ethnic minority of Pamir
by Vladimir Rozanskij

Local population protests after killing of a person stopped by police. Tajik government increases military presence and does not launch an investigation into the incident. Internet access in the area reduced. UN asks the Tajik government to take steps towards reconciliation with the region's minority.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - A group of UN experts has expressed deep concern about the growth of tensions in the autonomous province of Gorno-Badakhšan in Tajikistan, and called on the authorities in Dushanbe to defend the "Pamir minority" and respect human rights in the region. The problems stem from the assassination of a local citizen last November by security forces, which sparked mass protests. The government had reacted in a very decisive way, sending army troops and taking very strict measures, including the disconnection of the internet in the whole area.

The panel is led by Fernand de Varenne, special rapporteur for minority issues and Iren Khan, special rapporteur for freedom of expression, along with several other representatives. The demonstrations began in November 2021, when numerous people gathered on the central square of Khoruǧ, the provincial capital located at an altitude of 2,200 meters, near the border with Afghanistan.

Police officers had killed Gulbiddin Ziyobekov, who was accused of kidnapping a person, and the protests denounced the abuse of power as criminal arbitrariness. During the protests two other people were killed, with 17 wounded, while the authorities had reported only the injuries suffered by some men of the security forces.

In the UN statement it is stated that "we are deeply disturbed by the repression of protests, the arrests of several inhabitants of Pamir, and also the excessive and illegal use of military force. We call on the authorities to take measures to counter discrimination against local protesters."

The Dushanbe government has so far not reacted to the demands, but had previously communicated that it is "fighting organized crime groups active in Gorno-Badakhšan province." According to UN experts, of particular concern are the increased presence of the military in the area, the strengthening of checkpoints, arrests and summary interrogations, and also the ban on travel outside the province for participants in the protests. Ziyobekov's own killing in the course of the arrest remained uninvestigated, as did the police officers' violence at the demonstrations.

The activists of the ethnic minority of Pamir are presented in the official press, and in the statements of the competent bodies, only as criminals, supporting this campaign of accusations with the blocking of information and access to the internet, which remains available only to state offices and banks. According to the UN, this choice "further increases tensions and negatively affects the education of youth and children".

After four months, internet access was re-established on April 21, leaving the population with only the 2G band, with very limited browsing speed and the impossibility of opening most applications.

The UN calls on the President of Tajikistan, Emomali Rakhmon, together with the entire government, to take concrete steps towards conflict reduction, in favor of national reconciliation with the persecuted minority of the Pamir.