Tajikistan court imprisons 'Islamic militants'

Tajikistan's President Imomali Rakhmon watches as President Karzai of Afghanistan embraces Pakistan's President Zardari (March 20102)
Image caption The authorities in Tajkistan are worried about extremism coming in from neighbouring countries

A court in Tajikistan has sentenced 34 people to long jail terms on terrorism charges at the end of a closed trial.

The defendants were accused of membership or association with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an al-Qaeda affiliated group.

The IMU is especially active in the Afghan-Pakistani border areas.

The convictions and sentences of various lengths relate to the find last year of car bombs near government buildings in the city of Khojand.

Human rights groups have accused the Tajik authorities of a harsh clampdown on independent Muslims.

One of the defendants received a 10-year sentence for sheltering suspected IMU members.

The defendants are all aged between 18 and 55, the Russian Interfax news agency reported.

They were sentenced for periods between eight and 28 years for terrorism, murder and attempting violently to overthrow the government.

Interfax said that all were residents of the northern Tajik region of Isfara - "where followers of various extremist movements are regularly detained".

In 2010 Tajikistan - an impoverished country that shares a long and poorly secured border with Afghanistan - saw a rise in militant activity leading to the deaths of dozens of troops.

Officials in the authoritarian former Soviet nation argue that hardline Islamism constitutes a genuine threat to stability.

But some observers say the clampdowns on followers of conservative Islam is an attempt to smash dissent.

The IMU has been blamed for much of the violence and battle hardened fighters are thought to have gone to Tajikistan from Pakistan, where they came under pressure from American drones and the Pakistani military, correspondents say.

The movement fought in the region to establish an Islamic state or entity across the populous Ferghana valley before being displaced during the US-led attacks on Afghanistan in 2001.

Observers say that official corruption and widespread poverty have radicalised young men with little prospects in a country where more than a million have gone to Russia as working migrants.

More on this story