Fourteen residents of the village of Khistevarz in Sughd’s Bobojon-Ghafourov district have been jailed for membership in the outlawed Salafi group.  Four other residents of this village have been convicted of not reporting a crime.

A court in Bobojon-Ghafourov district sentenced a resident of Khistevarz village Muhsin Kholmatov, who is allegedly an organizer of the cell, to 5½ years in prison on July 1 this year.  Thirteen other residents of this village were sentenced to five years in prison each.

The sentence followed their conviction on charges of organizing an extremist group and organizing activities of an extremist group (Article 307 (2, 3) of Tajikistan’s Penal Code),

Besides, four other residents of Khistevarz were convicted of not reporting a crime (Article 347 of Tajikistan’s Penal Code).  They got a jail term of one year each.

A lawyer representing one of convicts denounced the ruling and vowed to appeal to a higher court.

In early July, parents and relatives of the convicts complained to the President’s Executive Office and Prosecutor-General’s Office about the way they were detained and the trial process.  According to them, the convicts are innocent and “they don't even know what kind of movement the Salafi group is.”

Recall, a closed-door trial of 18 suspected members of the banned Salafi movement began in June, with almost no information made public about the defendants or the charges they face

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.

These Salafi suspects were arrested in a police raid in February.  Radio Liberty’s Tajik Service noted last month 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.

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 Salafists 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.