Tajikistan has said it is holding an independent journalist and government critic on extremism charges, fuelling concerns that the government of the ex-Soviet republic is cracking down on dissent before upcoming elections.
The state prosecutor said in a press release late on Saturday that Daler Sharipov had been detained for publishing “over 200 articles and commentaries containing extremist content” between 2013 and 2019.
The document said he had also published 100 copies of a text affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement that was banned in Tajikistan in 2006.
Officials said in January that more than 100 people had been arrested over alleged ties to the movement, which briefly led a government in Egypt before being overthrown in 2013 and banned.
The arrests came as Tajikistan prepares to hold parliamentary elections in March and presidential elections in November.
The parliamentary vote will be the first of its kind since a moderate faith-based party called the Islamic Renaissance party of Tajikistan was banned as extremist in 2015.
Sharipov became a popular figure on state television before focusing on writing for independent outlets, where he commented on the difficulties Muslims faced in observing their faith in Tajikistan.
More than 90% of the population adheres to Islam but the government is secular and wary of the religion’s popularity.
Sharipov was beaten up in 2012 shortly after trying to set up a civic organisation devoted to fighting against regional divisions. The assailants were never caught.
One article he wrote last year for Rushnoi.tj – a website that receives funding from western donors – was titled “Mohammed was For Peace and Against Terrorism”.
The prosecutor’s statement did not say which articles had been identified as extremist.
The US state department last year cited the Central Asian country for “systematic, ongoing, [and] egregious violations of religious freedom”.
Other countries listed as “countries of particular concern” were Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkmenistan.