Less than a month before elections to Tajikistan’s rubber-stamp parliament, members of the embattled opposition say the authoritarian-minded government is resorting to new tactics and old – sex tapes and arrests – to discredit them. A flurry of allegations about alleged sexual impropriety among members of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) has surfaced on social media and state television in recent months. Meanwhile, another opposition group has seen several members arrested on what supporters call spurious charges. For longtime observers, the harassment in the run-up to the 1 March parliamentary elections is an unsurprising attempt to discredit opponents of President Imomali Rakhmon. In its most recent report on Tajikistan, Freedom House ranked the country’s electoral process a 6.75 out of 7, with 7 representing the farthest a country can be from democracy. The Central Asian state has never held an election judged free and fair by independent observers, though it regularly goes through the motions of holding polls. Eight parties, several of them loyal to the president, will field candidates in the elections next month.
Ironically, it is an official IRPT Facebook group that has become the chief source of compromising materials, including explicit videos and flirtatious correspondence. The IRPT claims the page, Nahzat, was taken over by hackers in June. Because Nahzat still counts many IRPT supporters as members, it is a perfect place to distribute slanderous materials that undermine confidence in the party.
One of the most compromising Nahzat posts contains alleged correspondence wherein IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri, a married father of seven, appears to be coaxing an unknown woman to his apartment. He says the letters are fakes.
Scandalous videos are also distributed on the Nahzat page. Since April 2014, a studio calling itself Nuri Nahzat (Light of the Renaissance) has published several tapes featuring an alleged mullah, Asadullo Karimov, luring women to his home with claims he can heal them, then forcing them to have sex. A voice in the videos claims Karimov is an IRPT member; the party denies this. One of the videos appeared on state television, which is strictly controlled by Rakhmon loyalists.