DUSHANBE -- The trial of 56 people accused of belonging to the Jamaat-ut Tabligh Sunni missionary group has begun in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.
Tajik Supreme Court spokesman Sherali Sharipov said they are being charged with participating in extremist religious activity.
The defendants and their lawyers say their religious activity was peaceful and did not violate Tajik law.
Sharipov said that despite special security precautions, the court proceedings are being held in an open court and journalists and relatives may attend the trial. But relatives of some of the accused told RFE/RL they were not allowed into the courtroom.
In April 2009, Tajik authorities arrested 124 men at the Umar Faruq Mosque in Dushanbe and accused them of involvement in Jamaat-ut Tabligh
activities. All but four were subsequently released.
But in April and May, officials reported that dozens of others connected with Jamaat-ut Tabligh had been detained in southern Tajikistan's Khatlon region.
The Tajik Supreme Court sentenced five people in September to prison terms of between three and six years for their affiliation with Jamaat-ut Tabligh.
The government describes the Islamic organization as a hard-line extremist group based in India and Pakistan.
They also say there is evidence that Jamaat-ut Tabligh engages in extremist activities in Tajikistan, something the organization denies.