13 handed long jail terms in Tajikistan for raising "IS flag"


A court in ex-Soviet Tajikistan sentenced 13 men on Thursday to lengthy jail terms for allegedly hoisting an Islamic State flag amid what rights groups say is a crackdown on religious groups in the ex-Soviet state. The thirteen, from the provincial town of Nurek, received terms ranging from 10 to 25 years on charges of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, calling for extremist action and organising a criminal group.

The regional court in Khatlon said the men had "joined a criminal group with the aim of propagating the terrorist ideas of the Islamic State" jihadist group.

According to the interior ministry, at least 1,000 Tajik nationals are fighting with Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, including the ministry's former special forces commander who defected last year. The impoverished ex-Soviet nation – which borders volatile Afghanistan – has seen the number of trials based on extremism charges rise sharply in recent times. And critics accuse the regime of 63-year-old autocrat Emomali Rakhmon of branding opponents extremists in order to consolidate control over the Central Asian country of eight million.

In the last year, reports of forced beard shavings by police have increased, while the government has imposed restrictions on the sale of Islamic clothing.

New York based advocacy group Human Rights Watch said in a Wednesday statement that Tajikistan was experiencing "the worst political and religious crackdown since the end of the country's civil war."

The five-year Tajik civil war claimed over 100,000 lives according to some estimates, concluding in victory for pro-government forces over pro-Islamic and other factions in 1997.

Last year the government banned the moderate Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) that was the largest opposition party in the country and branded it a terrorist group.

An ongoing trial of over a dozen IRPT members on extremism charges has seen the United States, the European Union and the United Nations all release statements of concern. But the government says the heavy-handed tactics are necessary to stem the swell of radicalism in the country.    (AFP)

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