DUSHANBE -- A court in the Sughd region of northern Tajikistan has sentenced 10 local men to 8 1/2 years in jail each after convicting them of being members of a banned Islamic group.
The Central Asian country's Supreme Court said on May 4 that a Sughd region court found the men guilty of being members of Jamaat Ansarullah on April 29 and sentenced them the same day.
The men, residents of the Isfara district between 30 and 38 years of age, were arrested in January on suspicion of joining the banned group while they were in Russia as migrant laborers.
The convictions followed the latest in a series of trials this year targeting suspected Jamaat Ansarullah members in Sughd, which borders Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan and includes part of the restive Ferghana Valley.
In February, a court in the city of Istaravshan handed lengthy prison terms to 13 men convicted of being members of Jamaat Ansarullah. In March, the same court sentenced a man to nine years in prison for membership in the group.
Tajik national Amriddin Tabbarov is believed to be the leader of Jamaat Ansarullah, which Tajik authorities say was founded in 2006 in Pakistan by former members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).
Tajik officials say former field commander Tabbarov refused to accept the peace agreement that ended the 1992-97 civil war pitting the government against the Islamic and democratic opposition, and moved to Afghanistan and later to Pakistan.
Jamaat Ansarullah announced itself publicly for the first time in fall 2010, when it claimed responsibility for a deadly attack at a police station in the Sughd region's capital, Khujand.
Tajik authorities say that Jamaat Ansarullah was linked to a large armed group that was eliminated in the restive eastern region of Rasht in 2011, and that it continues to be a branch of the IMU.
The IMU, which is currently active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is on the U.S. State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations and is banned in Central Asian countries and Russia. It is believed to have links to Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.
Longtime President Emomali Rahmon has called recently for the strengthening of secular principles in the mostly Muslim former Soviet republic of 8.5 million.
Tajikistan has banned head scarves for schoolgirls, barred minors from mosques, and forced many students to return home from Islamic schools abroad amid reports that many Tajiks -- some recruited in Russia -- have joined militants in Iraq and Syria.