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Kyrgyzstan Jails 32 Suspected Islamists

Some of the defendants were accused of being members of Hizb ut-Tahrir

Some of the defendants were accused of being members of Hizb ut-Tahrir

BISHKEK (Reuters) -- The Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan has jailed a group of suspected Islamists for organising a protest last month, officials said on November 28.

A group of 150 protesters in southern Kyrgyzstan clashed with riot police on October 1 during celebrations to mark the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Dozens were arrested.

The Prosecutor-General's Office said 32 of them, including two women and a teenager, received jail sentences of nine to 20 years during a court hearing late on November 27 for advocating subversion to the constitutional order.

"Some of them are members of Hizb ut-Tahrir," prosecutors' spokesman Usen Ashimov said, referring to a banned Islamist group.

Their lawyer, Ulugbek Usmanov, said his clients denied any wrongdoing and planned to challenge the verdict in court. "We will appeal," he told Reuters by telephone.

Hizb ut-Tahrir seek to unite Muslims into a pan-Islamic state but says its means are peaceful.

Rights groups have accused governments in Central Asia, a Muslim region where the authorities frown on groups outside the state-approved version of Islam, of using the perceived threat of growing extremism as an excuse of clamp down on dissent.

A wave of violent protests in Kyrgyzstan toppled its long-serving president in 2005 and brought Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the current leader, to power.

Any form of instability in Kyrgyzstan, an impoverished nation hosting a U.S. and a Russian military base, is a worry to regional players already concerned with instability in nearby Afghanistan.