DUSHANBE -- Imams at several mosques across Tajikistan have urged Muslims to support the closure of the Islamic Renaissance Party, calling for a referendum to dissolve the only officially registered Islamic party in former Soviet Central Asia.
A letter distributed to imams before Friday Prayers on March 27 said that dissolving the party would help Tajikistan "avoid the fate of other nations where Islamic extremists are disrupting peace and order."
The letter is believed to have been circulated by a state-backed Islamic center that often sends imams recommended texts for sermons.
It sharply increased the pressure from the government and mainstream Muslim authorities on the Islamic Renaissance Party, which failed to win even a single seat in parliament in the March 1 elections that were marred by fraud allegations.
The party said their image was blackened by state media reports ahead of the poll that linked them to extremist groups in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
At the central mosque in Dushanbe, Tajikistan's Deputy Mufti Domullo Saidakbar called on believers to dissolve the party through a referendum.
Saidakbar said that Tajiks are Muslims historically and culturally, not through membership in political groups.
The imams' call comes a week after Tajik President Emomali Rahmon publicly urged the country's intellectuals to outline the concept for the national development until 2050 that would establish a "democratic and secular country based on the rule of law."
Speaking at the annual meeting with Tajikistan's intellectuals on March 19, Rahmon stressed that the concept has "to be mainly focused on development of secularism and national and secular thinking."
Deputy Chairman of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, Saidumar Husaini, told RFE/RL that the imams' proposal is an "order."
Husaini said that his party's activities had been conducted in accordance with all international norms and Tajik laws and its closure must be justified by "concrete reasons."
Husaini said that an open discussion of the party's activities must be conducted via a roundtable discussion by his party members and those of the Islamic center "in order to find out if the Islamic Renaissance Party is, in fact, an obstacle for Tajik society's further development and a threat to the country’s national security."
"Let them prove that it’s the Islamic Renaissance Party's fault that there are electricity shortages during cold seasons, that operations at the country’s most important industrial facilities have been suspended, that the state organs are corrupt. If they prove that all this is our party's fault then, fine, let them close our party," Husaini said.
The Islamic Renaissance Party is one of the oldest political parties in the former Soviet Union. It was founded in 1990 but banned by Tajik authorities during Tajikistan's 1992-97 civil wars. The party played a major part in the conflict and the peace talks and was legalized again after a peace accord was signed in 1997.
Since 1999, the party has been the second-largest party in Tajikistan after the ruling People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan led by Rahmon.
In the 2005 and 2010 parliamentary elections, the Islamic Renaissance Party won two out of 63 seats in the parliament, but in recent parliamentary polls the party failed to clear the 5 percent threshold needed to win parliament seats.
The party leaders said the elections were not fair and alleged fraud in vote-counting.
Ahead of the March 1 parliamentary elections, the Islamic Renaissance Party's Jamoliddin Mahmudov, who was a member of Tajikistan's Central Election Commission, was detained on suspicion of illegal weapons possession.
The party condemned the arrest, saying it was politically motivated.
In July, the leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party's local branch in the eastern Gorno-Badakhshan Province, Saodatsho Adolatov, was sentenced to five years in jail for inciting social hatred, a charge he claimed as politically motivated.
In April, Husaini and his son were beaten by a group of unknown assailants in Dushanbe. No arrests were made.
In January 2014, a member of the Islamic Renaissance Party, Umedjon Tojiev, died in a prison hospital in Tajikistan's northern city of Khujand. Officials claimed the 34-year-old Tojiev died of a heart attack, but the Islamic Renaissance Party said Tojiev was tortured.