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Tajiks Who Studied Abroad Face Criminal Charges

Tajiks study at a local religious school in Gisar in February 2007.

Tajiks study at a local religious school in Gisar in February 2007.

QURGHONTEPPA, Tajikistan -- Police in southern Tajikistan have opened criminal cases against 22 former students at Islamic universities and religious schools abroad who returned to Tajikistan in the past year, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.

In August 2010, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon expressed concern that foreign religious schools were indoctrinating Tajik students with radical Islamist ideology. He urged parents of students studying at foreign madrasahs and universities to bring them home.

Since then, officials say some 900 former religious students have returned to the southern Khatlon Province alone.

Tolibjon Azimov, an aide to Khatlon's chief prosecutor, told RFE/RL on August 18 that unfortunately the local authorities failed to provide the returning students with either appropriate employment or the opportunity to study at local universities and state-sponsored religious schools.

He added that in some cases that failure was due to a lack of available funds, and in others to negligence on the part of local officials.

Azimov said that 225 of the students who returned from abroad have since left Khatlon, apparently many seeking work in Russia. But Azimov admitted that nobody knows where they are or what they are doing.

Local observer Muhammadiqbol Imomiddin told RFE/RL that the authorities opened criminal cases against some of the returned students to warn them and others that they should stay away from religious extremists and banned Islamic groups such as Salafiya, Jamaat at-Tabligh, Hizb ut-Tahrir, and other Islamic groups.

Ahmad, who formerly studied theology in Pakistan, said that at his religious school he studied the same subjects as students in Tajik religious schools. He added that it is wrong to regard the students who returned from abroad as "enemies."

Ahmad said that according to official data, about 100 students from Khatlon are still studying at religious schools in various Islamic countries and have not yet returned home. He said if they saw how badly those students who have returned are being treated they might delay returning themselves or even decide not to return at all.