Tajik crackdown on Islamic group

Dushanbe, Tajikistan - Authorities in Tajikistan have said they arrested nearly 100 members of an international Islamic organisation last year.

A senior state prosecutor said that many of the members of the Hezb-ut-Tahrir organisation had been sentenced to long jail terms.

Two of those detained were high-ranking leaders of the party in Tajikistan.

Islamic groups in Central Asia have been most active in the Ferghana Valley.

Tajikistan's deputy general prosecutor, Abdusami Dadoboyev, told journalists in Dushanbe that 99 Hezb-ut-Tahrir activists were arrested during 2005, including 16 women.

Nearly 40 of those arrested have already been tried and sentenced to jail terms of up to 12 years.

The rest are in detention awaiting trial.

Human rights concerns

Hezb-ut-Tahrir, the Party of Liberation, was founded in the Middle East in the 1950s. It calls for the restoration of an Islamic caliphate to unite all Muslim lands.

Missionaries began winning followers in Central Asia a decade ago. But all the Muslim republics of the region have now banned the group.

The authorities consider followers of Hezb-ut-Tahrir to be dangerous extremists who want to overthrow local governments.

But human rights groups say that most members are innocent believers who do nothing more harmful than distribute religious leaflets.

Nevertheless, police in Tajikistan and neighbouring republics have been actively rounding up members of the party in the past few years.

Nearly all end up in jail after trials which often fail to meet international standards of justice.

Human rights groups say that many of the several thousand people now in jail for religious reasons in neighbouring Uzbekistan are members of Hezb-ut-Tahrir.