Demonstrators demand the resignation of the regional governor and the mayor for their inaction after the death of a kidnapping suspect in police custody in November 2021.
DUSHANBE -- Several Western diplomatic missions in Tajikistan have voiced "deep concern" about the latest deadly unrest and authorities' repression of protests in the Central Asian nation's volatile Gorno-Badakhshan region that borders Afghanistan and China.
Clashes between residents and government forces in the region's capital, Khorugh, and an "counterterrorist operation" in the region's Rushan district left 10 people dead, including a soldier, and 27 injured, according to official figures.
More than 70 local residents have been detained, authorities said .
The protests were sparked by anger over the lack of an investigation into the 2021 death of an activist while in police custody.
The diplomatic missions of the European Union, the United States, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement on May 19 expressing "deep concern about the unrest" and calling on all parties to "de-escalate, exercise restraint, and refrain from excessive use of force and incitement to violence."
In recent days, demonstrators have taken to the streets to demand the resignation of the regional governor and the mayor of Khorugh for their inaction after the death of a kidnapping suspect in police custody in November 2021.
The Interior Ministry said on May 18 that the situation in the region was now "stable" and that public transportation and other social institutions had resumed operations. RFE/RL correspondents, however, reported from the region that schools and state entities in region remained closed.
The Western statement urged the Tajik government "to ensure that law enforcement agencies act in strict compliance with the rule of law and uphold the standards of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms even in security-related crisis situations."
It added that reports of "intimidation and prosecution of citizens and journalists, and the apparent broad limitation of access to information, undermine the prospects for a swift de-escalation and return to normal order."
Four RFE/RL journalists -- two from its Tajik Service (known as Radio Ozodi) and two from Current Time -- were attacked on May 17 by unknown assailants after they interviewed civil-rights activist Ulfatkhonim Mamatshoeva, who was accused by Tajik authorities of organizing the protests.
The protesters in Gorno-Badakhshan have insisted their actions are peaceful and that they have a right to peaceful demonstrations.
Opposition groups based abroad have called on Tajik authorities to stop what they called the "persecution of peaceful demonstrators" in the region.
The protests started earlier in the week after the regional authorities refused to consider the resignation of Governor Alisher Mirzonabot, and Khorugh Mayor Rizo Nazarzoda.
The situation in the restive region has been tense since November 2021, when security forces fatally wounded Gulbiddin Ziyobekov, a local man wanted on charges of kidnapping. Locals rallied at the time to demand a probe into Ziyobekov's death.
The Western statement expressed deep regret for the loss of life and called for dialogue.
"In conclusion, we encourage all to engage in good-faith communication and seek an expeditious path to de-escalation of the situation," it concluded.
Protests are rare in the tightly controlled country of 9.5 million, where President Emomali Rahmon has ruled for nearly three decades.
Tensions between the government and residents of the restive region have simmered ever since a five-year civil war broke out shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Gorno-Badakhshan, a linguistically and ethnically distinct region, was home to rebels who opposed government forces during the conflict.
While it occupies almost half of the entire country, its population is a mere 250,000. The region is difficult to travel around because of the mountainous terrain, while its economy is wracked by unemployment, difficult living conditions, and high food prices.