A closed-door trial of 18 suspected members of the banned Salafiya movement has begun in Tajikistan, with almost no information made public about the defendants or the charges they face, according to Radio Liberty’s Tajik Service.  

Tajik authorities often warn about what they describe as "serious threats" posed by religious extremist groups seeking to overthrow the secular government in Dushanbe and destabilize the country.

Security raids against alleged extremist cells, the arrest of suspects, and subsequent trials are often shrouded in secrecy in Tajikistan.

The latest group of Salafiya suspects -- all of them residents of the Bobojon-Ghafurov district in northern Tajikistan -- were arrested in a police raid in February.

RFE/RL’s Tajik Service notes that the defendants’ relatives said ahead of the trial on June 12 the defendants deny having links with the Salafi movement or any other religious extremist group.  They also accused police of torturing the detainees to obtain confessions.

Leading human rights lawyer Oinihol Bobonazarova said the defendants were not given access to defense lawyers in the first five days of their detention.

She added that at least one of the defendants has told the court that his confession was obtained under duress.

The Tajik authorities banned Salafism as an illegal group on January 8, 2009, saying the Salafi movement represents a potential threat to national security and the Supreme Court added Salafists to its list of religious groups prohibited from operating in the country.

The movement claims to follow a strict and pure form of Islam, but Tajik clerics say the Salafists’ radical stance is similar to that of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Salafists do not recognize other branches of Islam, such as Shi''a and Sufism.  The movement is frequently referred to as Wahhabism, although Salafis reject this as derogatory.

The overwhelming majority of Tajiks are followers of Hanafia, a more liberal branch of Sunni Islam.

On December 8, 2014, the Supreme Court of Tajikistan formally labeled the banned Salafi group as an extremist organization.  The ruling reportedly followed a request submitted to the court by the Prosecutor-General’s Office.  The ruling means that the group’s website and printed materials are also banned.