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Tajik Prosecutors Say 23 Islamic Party Officials Arrested

The head of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), Muhiddin Kabiri, who is living in exile, denies the party had anything to do with a deadly mutiny.

Tajik prosecutors say 23 top officials of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (HNIT) have been arrested, many on suspicion of leading a deadly mutiny by a serving deputy defense minister in early September.

The Tajik Prosecutor-General's Office said on October 6 that criminal probes are under way against the party officials who face charges including terrorism, inciting religious and racial hatred, and attempting to seize power by force.

Many also face forgery, fraud, and other economic crime charges.

The arrested officials include deputy heads of the HNIT, while party leader Muhiddin Kabiri remains in a self-imposed exile outside Tajikistan.

On September 29, the Supreme Court ruled that the HNIT was an "extremist and terrorist organization" and banned it.

The decision came after the government blamed the party for organizing the September 4 attacks on a police station and an arsenal near Dushanbe that killed 26 people.

Authorities say the attacks were carried out by an armed group led by Abduhalim Nazarzoda, a deputy defense minister who was later killed.

HNIT officials have rejected connections to Nazarzoda or the insurrection and have called arrests of party officials to be politically motivated.

Human rights groups have condemned the crackdown as politically motivated.

"This will have a disastrous effect on the overall climate of freedom of expression in Tajikistan," said Steve Swerdlow, a Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Swerdlow urged Tajikistan's foreign partners, including Western governments, to press the country over the crackdown, saying, "Not doing so opens up Tajikistan to far greater risk of instability and radicalization."

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on October 2 slammed the Tajik government for its crackdown on the HNIT and accused it of risking to commit "human rights violations."