Tajik Authorities Release Imam Detained On Extremism Charges

DUSHANBE -- An imam at a Dushanbe mosque, who was arrested in April on extremism charges after he called a late Islamic cleric "one of the great leaders of the country," has been released from custody.

A police official in the city of Vahdat near Dushanbe told RFE/RL on June 21 that Abdulhaq Obidov (aka Makhsumi Abdulhaq) had been released. Two men arrested along with the cleric, Aziz Turkov and Ahmadkhoja Tabarov, were also let go.

According to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to journalists, Obidov was relieved of his imam duties. It was not clear whether the charges against Obidov were dropped.

Tajik authorities said in April that Obidov was arrested on suspicion of being a follower of the Salafi branch of Islam that is labeled as extremist and banned in the Central Asian nation.

Media reports at the time said that Obidov was detained several days after delivering a speech at the burial ceremony of a well-known Islamic cleric, Domullo Hikmatullo Tojikobodi. During the speech, he called Tojikobodi a great leader of Tajikistan, which some authorities considered to be a direct questioning of the official title of authoritarian President Emomali Rahmon, who, in accordance with a 2016 law, is officially known as the Leader of the Nation.

The State Committee on Religious Issues, Traditions, and Rites rejected the media reports at the time, saying that Obidov's arrest had nothing to do with his speech at the funeral and called on media "to stay away from distributing rumors."

Rahmon, who has ruled Tajikistan since 1992, also enjoys special powers following a May 2016 referendum, including the right to seek as many terms in office as he wants.

Rahmon has been criticized by international human rights groups for years over his disregard for religious freedoms, civil society, and political pluralism in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic.