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Alleged Police Beating Of Bearded Tajik Student Prompts Outrage, Investigation

Did Tajik police beat up Umar Bobojonov just because of his beard?
Did Tajik police beat up Umar Bobojonov just because of his beard?

Tajik police are investigating claims that a bearded university student was left in coma after being beaten by several police officers.

The family and friends of Umar Bobojonov, a 23-year-old who had returned to his hometown of Vahdat while on break from his studies in Russia, insist he was targeted because of his beard.

The August 28 attack in a park in Vahdat, a town on the outskirts of the Tajik capital, prompted a public outcry, leading the Interior Ministry to announce on September 1 that it was setting up a special investigation.

A deputy interior minister and the head of the counterterrorism department of the National Security Committee have visited Bobojonov in the intensive-care unit of the Vahdat district hospital.

Police targeting bearded young men is not uncommon in Tajikistan, where staunchly secular authorities show little tolerance for anything it perceives as a potential sign of religious extremism.

The authorities are known to occasionally round up bearded men to forcibly shave off their beards or present them with hefty fines.

Bobojonov's case sparked outrage in Vahdat, where dozens of people gathered outside the hospital to demand the arrest of the culprits.

"It was a brutal attack that left my son disabled," the victim's father, Mahmadsaid Bobojonov, said. "You attack a completely innocent person just for his beard?"

The elder Bobojonov said his son was a student at a St Petersburg university and returned to Vahdat for his summer vacation.

Zohirjon Sohibov, an eyewitness, described the circumstances of the late-evening attack. "We were walking in the Vahdat park when suddenly three police vehicles came and six to seven officers came out and took me and my friend Umar Bobojonov to the police station."

Sohibov said Bobojonov was beaten and "kicked on his head and chest" multiple times until he lost consciousness.

Doctors at the Vahdat hospital told RFE/RL that Bobojonov's condition remained "critical."

The Health Ministry has dispatched medical specialists, including experienced neurologists, to Vahdat, officials said.

Tajik authorities strictly control the practice of Islam in the predominantly Muslim country.

The Islamic hijab is banned in schools and offices, while Dushanbe city authorities in August closed down private stores that sell Islamic clothing.

On August 28, The Justice Ministry banned the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, the only officially registered Islamic party in the former Soviet Union, giving it 10 days to halt all activities.

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL's Tajik Service correspondents Ganjina Ganjova and Umed Nazar

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