08/22/2018, 17.57
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Islamic State used as an excuse to stifle dissent in Central Asia

A few days after the attack in late July, the Tajik President blamed an opposition party, banned in 2015, for the attack. Alleged extremists have been tried in secret. The crackdown on dissent and religions is counterproductive, fuelling extremism.

Dushanbe (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Central Asian leaders are using the threat of the Islamic State (IS) group and Islamic extremism to suppress dissent in the name of national security.

Central Asian countries have been on high alert against terrorism since IS claimed responsibility for the 29 July attack in Tajikistan in which four foreign tourists were killed.

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, who has been in power for 26 years, took the opportunity provided by the attack to crack down on the banned Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP).

Even though IS had already claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack, state TV reported on 31 July that 14 IRP members had been arrested in connection with it. They were put on trial in secrecy and it is unclear what evidence was presented to convict them.

For Eurasianet, Rahmon wants to smear the opposition party - banished and labelled as "terrorist" in 2015 – by associating it to IS, partly to persuade Western governments not to give political asylum to its exiled members.

Dushanbe's repression against the opposition and its grip on religions have increased. However, according to the Jamestown Foundation, more repression will likely boost extremism in the poorest Central Asian republic, something also visible in other former Soviet republics in the region.

In a report, Al Jazeera yesterday noted that the Turkmenistan government does not openly discuss the problem of the Islamic State but has jailed many young people for "excessive religiosity".

In Uzbekistan, the legacy of the harsh repression under the late Islam Karimov is still felt even though he died in December 2016.

His successor, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, has embarked on reforms but has been struggling to bring real change to the country's politics. Many people are still tried for religious extremism and there is no real political opposition in the country.

In 2016, Kazakhstan blamed IS for an attack that killed 25 people, even though the Islamist group never claimed responsibility.

Following the incident, President Nursultan Nazarbayev set up a Ministry of Religious Affairs and Civil Society, which has outlawed hijabs, banned minors from taking part in religious rites, and forced mosques to report the donations they receive.

According to Fergana News, charges of extremism are used to target civil society activists.

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