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Tajikistan arrests target Islamist opposition amid rights concerns

Tajikistan has arrested 23 members of the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party. The clampdown has rights groups concerned it is politically motivated, but the government argues the party is a terrorist organization.

Authorities in the small Central Asian republic have arrested 23 members of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) on Tuesday in a broadening sweep against what it labels a banned terrorist organization.

The crackdown on IRPT has been met with criticism from rights groups and analysts, who argue it could push the only genuine opposition to President Emomali Rakhmon's two-decade rule to take radical action.

In August, the government said IRPT was illegal, and last month the country's supreme court banned the party and labeled it a terrorist organization.

Dozens of its members have since been arrested.

The government accuses the party of orchestrating a coup attempt after a

renegade former deputy defense minister, General Abdukhalim Nazarzoda,

was killed last month. Forces loyal to the general clashed with government forces, killing at least 40 people.

IRPT said it was not involved in the failed uprising and had no association with Nazarzoda.

The IRPT had been a legally registered party since 1999, two years after a peace agreement ended a five-year civil war between the Moscow-backed government and a rebellion tinged with Islamist and regional grievances.

The party's leader Muhiddin Kabiri (pictured above) fled to Turkey in June and warned the crackdown risked provoking an extremist backlash.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said last week the party's closure has created concern over human rights violations and freedom of speech.

cw/se (AFP, Reuters)

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