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Tajik Court Sentences 20 People Over Links To Banned Muslim Brotherhood

A court in Tajikistan has sentenced 20 people to prison terms ranging from between five and seven years, after finding them guilty of membership in the banned Muslim Brotherhood movement.

The trials took place behind closed doors in the northern Sughd Pronince last week, without the presence of family members and reporters, relatives and officials said.

The names of the defendants have not been made public and details of the investigation and the trial process remain unknown.

Anvarjon Abdughaffori, the judge who presided over the trials, said on August 18 that the main charge against the defendants was membership of a banned group.

Separately, one defendant has been fined after being found guilty of failing to report crimes, Abdughaffori told RFE/RL.

The defendants were among 154 people who have been detained in several raids against suspected Muslim Brotherhood cells across Tajikistan since January.

It remains unclear whether the defendants pleaded guilty or rejected the charges, or if they had been given a chance to appeal their sentences.

The defendants are said to have been denied access to defense lawyers, a claim RFE/RL cannot independently verify.

Several relatives of the defendants told RFE/RL that they have been kept in the dark about the situation since the arrest of their family members.

The relatives said they have complained to higher courts about the Sughd court’s handling of the cases, saying the accusations against the defendants are baseless and unfair.

They described the defendants as educated people with university diplomas on secular subjects.

They spoke in condition of anonymity, fearing retaliation by Tajik authorities, who show little tolerance of criticism.

Courts in Tajikistan are known to be under the government control, especially in handling cases that involve opposition figures, government critics, or suspected members of religious movements.

Such trials often take place behind closed doors amid widespread allegations of mistreatment and torture of the defendants during pretrial detentions.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been banned in Tajikistan since 2006. Tajik authorities accuse the group of seeking to overthrow the government through violence and replace it with an Islamic system.

There are several university lecturers, students, businessmen, and at least one government official among those detained in anti-Muslim Brotherhood sweeps.

Those who went to trial in Sughd are all the residents of the region. In July, authorities said that 116 Muslim Brotherhood defendants, including two foreign citizens have gone in trial in the capital, Dushanbe.

Despite having the trials behind the closed doors and not making public the details, the Supreme Court insists that the trials are not "secret."

Opponents and rights groups accuse the Tajik government of cracking down on peaceful Muslims using bogus charges of religious extremism and terrorism.

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