The Trials of Urunboy Usmonov

Tags: , ,

Categories: Blog

Khujand, Tajikistan — This afternoon I met with a source who has been following the recent arrest of BBC correspondent Urunbay Usmonov. Two days ago, a Tajik government advisor told me that the arrest was an unfortunate error on the part of local authorities and would be quickly resolved. Yet here in Khujand, regional security officials continue to insist that Usmanov is a member of the banned Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT). Even if Usmanov is ultimately released, he seems almost certain to stand trial and will probably be convicted.

At this juncture, my information concerning Usmanov’s imprisonment is not much different from what the BBC and other Western media have already reported. What’s missing, however, is a sense of the local context. According to my source, the… Tajik security services have grown much more aggressive in their approach toward suspected HuT members—particularly in the wake of the suicide bombing of an MVD facility here in Khujand last September. They are also much less discriminating, with some officials viewing long beards and Islamic dress as probable cause for an arrest.

These trends are significant for two reasons. First, they reveal growing concern regarding the influence of HuT and other underground groups—concern shared by many moderate religious leaders. Second, they raise serious questions regarding… the tools used to identify and interdict suspected HuT members. By relying on superficial profiles, the Tajik security services risk targeting a cohort that is both overinclusive in terms of outward belief and underinclusive with respect to illegal activities.