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Although Tajikistan’s Islamic Renaissance Party (aka Islamic Revival Party) has been banned and dispersed, it claims that retaliations continue against former members. (file photo)

The Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT) says it halted its activities in Tajikistan nearly three years ago, when it was outlawed by the Supreme Court. What hasn't stopped, the Islam-rooted party claims, is the government's persecution of its followers.

In a statement released on June 11, the IRPT accused Tajik authorities of targeting "the opposition and especially the IRPT members" with a "new wave of arrests and retaliation," a claim swiftly rejected by Dushanbe.

The IRPT statement said that more than 100 former party members have been detained since the beginning of 2017 -- two of them, it added, died in custody "due to pressure and torture."

A list provided by the IRPT identified the two men as Komil Khojanazarov and Hoji Ghaybullo, residents of the northern Tajik districts of Asht and Istaravshan, respectively.

According to the statement, 27 of the detained were given prison sentences ranging from three to 25 years. Most were charged with affiliation with the outlawed Salafi movement or for having links to the IRPT, which was banned in 2015, the statement said.

Among the 27 listed was Alijon Sharipov, a 32-year-old man with no party affiliation who in May was sentenced to nine-and-half years in prison for watching, liking, and sharing information about IRPT gatherings on social media.

Sharipov was found guilty of "calling for extremism, calling for the overthrow of the government, and working for banned political parties."

Most of the more than 100 allegedly detained were released, the IRPT statement said, and five remain in custody in Dushanbe's police detention center while their cases are being processed.

IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri currently lives in self-imposed exile. (file photo)
IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri currently lives in self-imposed exile. (file photo)

The party accused Tajik authorities of "systematic mistreatment, insult, beating, and harassing the relatives of the detainees." It also claims that officials "extorted money from the relatives."

The Interior Ministry dismissed the party’s accusations as "baseless," although spokesman Umarjon Emomali told RFE/RL's Tajik Service on June 11 that the ministry would withhold further comment until it could review the list.

An official at Dushanbe police detention center countered the claim that it was housing detainees, telling RFE/RL that there were no IRPT members or relatives of IRPT members in custody. Speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, the official said that no one at the facility was being held for having a connection to the IRPT.

The Supreme Court in 2015 outlawed the IRPT, which was the only legally recognized Islamic party in Central Asia, as a "terrorist organization." The decision came after deadly violence in Dushanbe that the government claimed was a coup attempt carried out by Abduhalim Nazarzoda, a former deputy defense minister.

Authorities promptly arrested dozens of party officials on charges including terrorism and plotting to overthrow the government.

Amid widespread criticism by human rights defenders, several lawyers who represented IRPT officials in court cases were also arrested and handed long-term prison sentences.

IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri, who was charged with terrorism and involvement in the coup attempt, denies the accusations. He lives in self-imposed exile abroad.

Written by Farangis Najibullah with reporting by RFE/RL’s Tajik Service.
Turkmen journalist Soltan Achilova (file photo)

RFE/RL Turkmen Service correspondent Soltan Achilova says she was accosted by two men over the weekend and punched in the chest, the latest in a long string of attacks on the 69-year-old journalist.

The incident occurred on June 9 in the town of Yoloten on June 9, when she was visiting her relatives, Achilova said.

She said she noticed a car following her when she was on her way to the home of her relatives' neighbor.

When she left the neighbor's home 30 minutes later, two young men on bicycles blocked her way and demanded to know why she had taken pictures of their homes -- something she said she had not done.

One of the men punched her in the chest and she fell down.

The same day, local police impounded her relatives' car and said it would not be returned until she leaves Yoloten for the capital, Ashgabat, where she lives.

Achilova says her relatives in Yoloten have been under pressure for a long time over her work for RFE/RL.

Achilova, who has been reporting on the experiences of ordinary Turkmen residents with her photographs for years, has faced an onslaught of physical assaults by police, thugs, and other unidentified assailants.

On May 9, Achilova was detained and threatened by security officers in Ashgabat when she was taking pictures of the flower-laying ceremony at the Eternal Flame near the Memorial Complex to victims of World War II.

That incident came two days after Deputy Foreign Minister Vepa Hajiyev said at a hearing of the UN Human Rights Council on Turkmenistan in Geneva on May 7 that "the fact that Radio Liberty correspondents work freely in the country" proves that there is media freedom in Turkmenistan.

RFE/RL President Thomas Kent, citing the violent attack on Achilova, condemned Hajiyev's statement on May 10, calling it "outrageous and offensive."

Other RFE/RL reporters and contributors in Turkmenistan have faced physical attacks, threats, and prosecution on charges that critics say are groundless.

The natural-gas-producing Central Asian country has been ruled with an iron fist by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov since 2006, when he came to power following the death of longtime autocrat Saparmurad Miyazov.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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