A court in Tajikistan has sentenced a group of men to jail terms of up to 27 years for hoisting a flag in the latest draconian attempt by the government to crush Islamic radicalism.
Khovar state news agency reported on December 4 that a judge presiding over the court in the southern Khatlon province said the eight men had sought to incite people to violence and the overthrow of the government.
The purported offense dates back to the night of August 10, when the group is said to have hoisted a flag “similar” to the one adopted by the Islamic State group on a monument to Ismoil Somoni, the 9th century king viewed as the founder of the Tajik state.
Interfax reported at the time of the incident that investigators were not initially certain if the gesture was politically motivated or simply a prank.
The sentences ranged from seven to 27 years in jail.
Radio Ozodi cited the judge presiding over the case, Zubaidullo Mahmudzoda, as saying three of the defendants were 17 years old and were accordingly granted a more lenient punishment.
“Four of the accused, who were older than 20 years, were recognized to be main instigators for hoisting the [Islamic State] flag,” Mahmudzoda said.
It is not clear from official statements how authorities accounted for the fact it took eight people to hoist one flag.
Khovar cites an unnamed official source as saying the accused had been in touch with militants in Syria over the Internet. The agency also claims the group had been planning a series of terrorist attacks across Tajikistan, but that their plans were thwarted.
The men were all from the Shahrtuz district in the Khatlon province, around 40 kilometers north of the border with Afghanistan.
By the estimates of local police, around 200 residents of the Khatlon province have left for fighting in Syria and Iraq, but that assessment is all but impossible to verify.