DUSHANBE, Tajikistan: Tajikistan on Thursday jailed 13 leading members of a banned moderate Islamist opposition party for up to life, officials told Agence France-Presse.
The ex-Soviet Central Asian country handed life sentences to two leading figures in the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) while 11 others received up to 28 years, officials in Dushanbe said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Tajikistan has not yet released an official statement on the outcome of the closed trial at the supreme court.
Savrinisso Dzhurabekova, wife of one of the jailed men, confirmed to AFP that “two have been sentenced to life” including her husband Makhmadali Khait, the deputy head of the party.
The convicts’ ages range from 41 to 70.
Khait is known for “his vocal support for human rights, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion,” Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said last month.
The high-profile trial of the formal opposition to Tajikistan’s strongman President Emomali Rakhmon has prompted the United States, the European Union and the United Nations to issue statements of concern.
In April, the US State Department labelled Tajikistan a “country of particular concern” over the growing crackdown on Islam in the majority-Muslim country.
The men who were arrested in October last year and went on trial in February, were accused of attempting to seize power by force and “terrorism” over deadly clashes last September.
More than 50 people were killed in nearly two weeks of clashes between security forces and followers of a renegade deputy defense minister.
Afterwards, Tajikistan banned the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan as an “extremist terrorist organisation,” although the party has denied any involvement in the violence.
The party was widely viewed as moderate and was legally registered until the ban. It was seen as one of the few potential sources of genuine opposition to President Rakhmon’s two-decade rule.
Critics have called the high-profile trial part of attempts by the government to eradicate Islam from public life.
The country was riven by a five-year civil war in the 1990s that saw pro-Islamic factions fight government forces.
The government argues that such heavy-handed tactics are necessary to stem the swell of radicalism in the country that borders Afghanistan.
At least 1,000 Tajik nationals are fighting on the side of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, according to the interior ministry. AFP