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Mother Of Tajik Attack Suspect Pours Gasoline On Herself In Protest
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DUSHANBE -- The mother of a Tajik man who is suspected of carrying out a fatal attack against a group of foreign cyclists in the Central Asian country in July poured gasoline on herself outside the Dushanbe office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Gulhehra Shodmonova was approached by police and taken into custody after the incident on September 7.

Shodmonova was protesting the participation of the leader of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), Muhiddin Kabiri, in a human-rights conference sponsored by the OSCE.

Shodmonova and the Tajik authorities have accused Kabiri of influencing her son, Hussein Abdusamadov, and leading him astray.

Abdusamadov was detained on July 31 and is accused of being the "cell leader" of a group of five Tajik men suspected of carrying out the July 29 attack on a highway some 120 kilometers from Dushanbe, in which a car rammed into the group of cyclists before multiple attackers emerged from the vehicle and stabbed survivors, killing two Americans, a Swiss, and a Dutch national. Two foreign cyclists were injured.

The extremist group Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack shortly after it occurred and released a video showing five men -- at least some of whom appeared to resemble those identified by Tajik officials as suspects killed in a confrontation with security forces -- pledging allegiance to the IS leader. But the government maintained the suspects were members of the IRPT, which they have blamed for the attack.

In a television appearance on September 4 that was organized by the Tajik security agency, Abdusamadov confessed to the crime and said he carried it out at the behest of IRPT member Kori Nosir. Such public confessions are common in the former Soviet Union, and rights activists say detainees are sometimes forced to make them.

The leadership of the IRPT has denied responsibility for the attack, calling the authorities' claims "baseless and irrational."

Tajik authorities have imprisoned dozens of IRPT officials and members since 2015, when the party was designated a "terrorist organization" by the Supreme Court and banned. The ban on the party and prosecution of its members have drawn criticism from international human rights groups and the UN.

Activists accuse President Emomali Rahmon's government of using the group -- which was formerly the only registered Islamic political party in former Soviet Central Asia -- as a scapegoat for unrest and attacks in the predominantly Muslim country that borders Afghanistan.

President Shavkat Mirziyoev has vowed reforms in Uzbekistan, but journalist groups continue to express concerns about press freedom.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on Uzbekistan to end its harassment of bloggers covering social and religious issues and to release at least four people reportedly arrested for their writings on religious matters.

In urging action, CPJ on September 6 cited the cases of Adham Olimov, Ziyodulla Kabirov, Otabek Usmanov, and Khurshidbek Muhammadroziqov, who were reportedly arrested in various cities between August 28 and September 2.

"Uzbekistan's roundup of bloggers signals that the country is not serious about improving the environment for press freedom," said Gulnoza Said, the New York-based watchdog’s research associate for Europe and Central Asia.

"Authorities should release the detained bloggers and ensure that journalists are allowed to comment freely on issues important to Uzbek society," she added.

Under the rule of the late President Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan maintained a tight rein over Islam and Muslims were often prosecuted for practicing their religion outside state-controlled mosques, CPJ said.

His successor Shavkat Mirziyoev, who came to power in 2016, has sought to open up Central Asia's most populous country and move away from Karimov's oppressive policies.

While praising many of the efforts, rights groups have continued to express concerns about free speech, censorship, and prosecutions of journalist in the country.

In its statement, CPJ said that the detained bloggers write on social and religious matters, often pressing for a greater role for Islam in society and mainly on Facebook, “given limitations on the independent press in Uzbekistan.”

The watchdog said the Prosecutor-General's Office did not respond to its telephone requests for information on the arrests.

It quoted news media as saying that Olimov, publishing under the name Musannif Adham; Kabirov, a blogger and religious scholar known as Ziyovuddin Rahim; and Usmanov, who writes for a local religious website, had been arrested, fined, and sentenced to jail terms of up to 15 days.

Much of their recent writing had focused on Islamic issues, including expressing opposition to a ban on the sale of the hijab in the country.

CPJ also said that police detained Muhammadroziqov in the eastern city of Kokand.

The group quoted supporters as saying that the whereabouts of Muhammadroziqov, who has been critical of the government's transition to the Latin alphabet and educational reforms, were unknown.

The watchdog said it was investigating the cases of other bloggers that local rights groups say have been detained and were either still being held or released after administrative arrest.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service

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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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