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Police in Kyrgyzstan have detained eight alleged members of a banned Islamic group.

Interior Ministry officials said on February 14 that the men were detained in the southern district of Kara-Suu on suspicion of being members of Hizb ut-Tahrir.

According to the ministry, police found books and video materials that featured "possible extremist content" in the homes of some of the suspects.

Kyrgyz authorities contend that Hizb ut-Tahrir plays a role in efforts by Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) militants to radicalize the country's youth and recruit them to fight in Syria and Iraq.

Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned across former Soviet Central Asia and in Russia, says it is a peaceful group.

The stated goal of the international pan-Islamic political organization is to unite Muslim countries in a global caliphate ruled by Shari'a law.

Zhanbolat Mamay, editor of the Tribuna newspaper

A journalism watchdog group has called on Kazakhstan to release an independent journalist and outspoken government critic who was imprisoned last week on allegations of money laundering.

"Kazakhstan’s authorities have systematically cleansed the country's news media of dissenting voices, and the arrest of Zhanbolat Mamay is one more step in that direction" Nina Ognianova, a Central Asian coordinator for the Committee To Protect Journalists, said on February 13.

"Kazkhstan should release the editor without delay and cease harassing him for his work," she said.

Mamay, who has written about official corruption and other sensitive issues, was arrested for a period of two months on February 11. He stands accused of illegally receiving funds from opposition leader and former head of BTA Bank Mukhtar Ablyazov, who faces similar charges in absentia from exile in France, according to the Kazakh government and media reports.

If found guilty, Mamay faces up to seven years in prison.

Mamay has denied the charges and called the case "politically motivated" and "an attempt to close the newspaper," one of the last independent media outlets in Kazakhstan.

Ablyazov also called the charges "absurd," saying he has never met Mamay.

Mamay told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service before his arrest that he was being followed.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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