DUSHANBE -- In what has been billed as a first in Tajikistan, a former militant has publicly expressed remorse for joining Islamist fighters in Syria.
Farruh Sharifov, from the northern city of Khujand, addressed a large VIP audience at the Jami Palace in central Dushanbe on May 7.
He provided a gruesome account of his time fighting in Syria, saying he was appalled by the cruel and "barbaric" actions he witnessed.
Sharifov said that many people were beheaded by Islamic State (IS) militants on the basis of unproven accusations, with no proper investigations or legitimate trials.
He said he was an eyewitness to the decapitation of several Islamists from Azerbaijan who had been accused of blasphemy or spying for Kurdish organizations fighting against IS.
Sharifov's public display of repentance appears to be aimed at curbing the outflow of Tajik jihadists. Officials in Tajikistan have estimated that some 300 Tajik men and women are fighting alongside Islamic militants in Syria and Iraq.
The same day as Sharifov's testimony, Tajikistan's Supreme Court announced that 19 people from his native Sughd region had been sentenced to prison for extremist activity.
The 19 were sentenced to prison terms of 9 1/2 to 17 1/2 years, according to the Supreme Court, after being found guilty of involvement with the banned Islamic group Jamaat Ansarullah.
Four more defendants in the case received one-year prison terms for not reporting the 19 co-defendants to the authorities.
Over the last five months, 47 people have been sentenced in Tajikistan for being members of Jamaat Ansarullah, which Tajik authorities believe is linked to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). The IMU has ties to Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and some members have declared allegiance to the Islamic State group.
There are nearly 50 known cases of Tajik nationals losing their lives in clashes in Syria and Iraq in recent months.