Dushanbe (Tajikistan) (AFP) - Tajikistan on Friday demanded that the country's largest opposition party halt its "illegal activities" in a move widely seen as an effective ban on the group.
The move comes after the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) failed to win a single seat -- a first since the 1997 end of the country's civil war -- in a disputed March vote that left President Emomali Rakhmon's party without real opposition in the parliament.
Analysts warned that the crackdown could radicalise the moderate Muslim opposition.
The ex-Soviet nation's justice ministry sent a formal note to the beleaguered party, demanding that it "cease its illegal activities" as it attempted to hold a congress.
The note, which comes amid increasing pressure on the impoverished Central Asian country's largest opposition party, is seen by analysts as an offer to close voluntarily. IRPT has ten days to respond to the letter.
The note said that the IRPT, which its leaders claim has around 40,000 members, is "no longer a republican-level party."
The IRPT is the only registered faith-based party in the former Soviet Union and is one of the few potential sources of genuine opposition to Rakhmon's 22-year rule.
Few in Tajikistan are surprised by the move, with many perceiving it as a harbinger of ever-increasing authoritarianism in the majority-Muslim country of some 8 million.
"The process of the official closure of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan has begun. I do not support it," civic activist Zafar Abdullayev wrote on Facebook.
"The way in which we shut down views that differ from the government and its political course, general civic and private initiatives, structures, unions, opinion -- this is dictatorship, not democracy."
-'Opposition can become radicalised'-
The party has become an umbrella opposition bloc for moderate Muslims as well as more secular-minded Tajiks following the 1997 peace deal between the government and the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) that ended a five-year civil war.
Tajik political analyst Parviz Mullojanov called IRPT's likely exit from the domestic political scene "a blow to the peace agreement."
"IRPT's existence was the product of this agreement. Now the opposition can become radicalised," Mullojanov told AFP.
Tajikistan's civil war cost some 150,000 lives, with damages estimated at $7 billion (6.2 billion euros).
After March parliamentary polls the party has been strongly targeted amid a crackdown on religion, including a ban on importing hijabs and reports of forcible beard shaving.
Friday's statement said that Tajik legislation forbids non-republican level parties from holding congresses and indicated that nearly 60 branches of the party had been voluntarily dissolved following its shock failure to make the parliament.
The party aborted its attempt to hold its congress in the capital Dushanbe on Thursday after the electricity in the Sheraton hotel suddenly failed and its administration withdrew support for the event.
On Tuesday, an economic court in the Tajik capital sealed off the party's headquarters.
In July, IRPT appealed to the guarantors of the 1997 peace accord, including the United Nations, the European Union, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and Russia.
The party complained of "illegal and immoral actions by the state organs against individuals, parties, opposition and religious groups."