Monday, Tajikistan’s Ministry of the Interior reported that it had arrested a group of men in Nurek, a city in the Khatlon region about 43 miles southeast of Dushanbe, for hoisting an ISIS flag in the town center. In the Shahrtuz district, which is the same region but further south and west, near the Afghan border, a group of teenagers were reportedly arrested for the same crime.
According to Interfax, citing a Ministry of the Interior statement, 14 men were detained in Nurek “by officers of the Interior Ministry department in the Khatlon Region in the course of their investigative work on suspicion of propaganda of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS] ideas. The men had “became acquainted online with a certain Tajik ISIS fighter, Yunus, and hoisted a black flag in the center of the town to prove their loyalty to the terrorist group.” Other reports said 10 men had been arrested in Nurek.
Authorities in Tajikistan claim that 519 Tajik citizens have traveled to Syria to join ISIS, though regional analysts dispute the actual extent of the group’s linkages to Central Asia. There have been other ISIS flag-raising incidents in the region. Last September an ISIS-style flag hung from a bridge in neighboring Uzbekistan misspelled “Allah” in its Arabic script.
Asia-Plus carried reports that the Tajik Ministry of the Interior was pointing fingers at the beleaguered Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) for the recent flag-raising incidents:
The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Tajikistan reports that they found black linens, similar to the ISIL flag, were hung out in Nurek and Shahrituz. MIA suspects that the members of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan are involved in it.
The Ministry of Interior Affairs says that the local leadership of the IRP, instead of doing political duty towards the prosperity and creation of society, was promoting extremist ideas.
According to another Asia-Plus report, the 73-year old head of Nurek’s IRPT chapter, Kurbon Mannonov, was detained on August 19 but his family and lawyer were unaware of the charges. On August 28, Mannonov showed up in a TV program broadcast on every channel, in which he was accused of “propaganda of extremist ideas among the members of the IRP.”
A late June report that appeared in the CACI Analyst, chronicling the IRPT’s increasing troubles in Tajikistan after the March elections, noted that the IRPT said Mannonov had been arrested in early June. It is unclear on what charges he had been arrested on (in June) or when he was released. The Tajik authorities are now claiming he is one of those responsible for the recent black flag incident and alleged contact with “Yunus.”
Tajikistan has come under increased criticism for what many perceive as an orchestrated crackdown on the only legal religious party in the entire region. In August, the IRPT’s publishing arm was shuttered, and last week its main office was closed by the authorities. An attempt by the party to hold a press conference at a Sheraton in Dushanbe was canceled when the hotel’s power was apparently cut off. This follows a summer rife with stories about party member being intimidated into quitting, arbitrary arrests and sentences, and a spring filled with reports about increased pressure on expressions of Islam.
The final knell for the IRPT may be coming–the government has given the party ten days to shut down. Friday, Susan Corke, Freedom House’s director of Eurasia programs said in the statement that “Banning the IRPT is the latest low in Tajikistan’s descent into dictatorship…The government’s action against the party helps undo the agreement that ended Tajikistan’s civil war and increases the possibility of violent conflict. The United States and the EU should speak out clearly against this decision.”