KHUJAND, Tajikistan -- A court in Tajikistan has sentenced a former member of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) to 15 years in prison after a controversial extremism trial.
The April 9 ruling at a hearing in the northern city of Khujand followed Naimjon Samiev's return late last year from Russia to Tajikistan under murky circumstances, with rights activists saying he was forcibly sent back by Russian authorities
Samiev was convicted of illegal weapons possession, organization of an extremist group, and participation in the activities of a criminal group.
The charges stem from his former membership in the IRPT, a once-prominent political party whose designation by Tajik authorities as a terrorist group and prohibition has been sharply criticized by human rights groups.
Samiev disappeared in December in Grozny, the capital of Russia's North Caucasus region of Chechnya, and relatives learned days later that he was in a detention center in Tajikistan.
In February, Samiev was shown on state-run television saying that he returned to Tajikistan of his own will and surrendered to the Tajik police. Government critics say people in custody are sometimes forced to make such appearances.
Human Rights Watch researcher Steve Swerdlow said on April 9 that Russia forcibly returned him to Tajikistan and called the sentence "extremely bad news."
Samiev, 56, was the leader of the IRPT branch in the northern city of Isfara in 2012-14.
The IRPT, long an influential party with representatives in the government and parliament, was labeled an extremist and terrorist group and banned in 2015 -- moves the party and human rights organizations say were unjustified and politically motivated.
Dozens of IRPT officials and supporters have been prosecuted and many of them imprisoned, drawing further criticism of President Emomali Rahmon's government from rights groups.
IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri has been living abroad since 2015.
Rights groups say Rahmon, who has ruled Tajikistan since 1992, has used the security forces and other levers of power to sideline opponents and suppress dissent.