KHATLON PROVINCE, Tajikistan -- The London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) is conducting training in Tajikistan to help activists reach residents, especially youth, who are at risk of joining terrorist outfits.
Tajikistan is the focus area of IWPR's "Stability in Central Asia through an Open Dialogue" project, which involves regular meetings with local civil society activists and discussions on the causes of religious intolerance and some of the reasons why youth join extremist organisations.
The project began in August 2018 and is set to run until March 2020.
Co-ordinators have already organised dozens of meetings, discussions and intellectual games across the Central Asian region. By the end of the programme, the organisation plans to hold training sessions for local activists every month.
IWPR also is holding similar meetings in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
The threat of terrorism is an acute problem in Tajikistan, which has low public awareness regarding radicalisation and violent extremism, said Ilham Umarahunov, IWPR's project manager in Central Asia.
IWPR instills in local residents "a proper understanding of secular principles such as tolerance and inter-faith dialogue", Umarahunov said in an interview.
Vulnerable to extremism
IWPR analysts, alongside the Government Committee on Women and Family Affairs, held the latest training on August 27 for local activists in Hamadoni District, Khatlon Province.
The district is one of the most vulnerable to the influence of extremism because of its widespread poverty. More than 20 residents, including three women, have joined radical groups in Iraq and Syria.
Residents of Hamadoni District told IWPR that they suffer from unemployment and low living standards, even in relation to other parts of Tajikistan, which is already economically disadvantaged.
Hamadoni, which has a population of more than 138,000, has high unemployment, partly because it has no industry, according to IWPR's Central Asian Bureau for Analytical Reporting (CABAR).
Those with jobs receive a meager salary and most residents of the area mainly live on income derived from selling crops grown on household plots, it said.
The training plays an important role in terms of making citizens more literate about the relations between religion and the state and about the fight against terrorism, Umarahunov said.
"We provide an understanding of secular principles and of state policy in the religious sphere. We explain the legal foundation so that people are not put in jail for 'liking' social media posts of terrorist groups or for reading extremist content. We cultivate public tolerance [towards other religions]," he said.
Local residents are particularly interested in how to recognise those who have been radicalised and how to prevent violent extremism, including attempts at recruitment, said Umarahunov.
"Everyone is at risk of radicalisation, especially people seeking justice, many of whom believe that they are unjustly prosecuted," Umarahunov said. That risk group includes ex-convicts as well as as well as individuals living below the poverty line, he added.
"Everyone has his [or her] own motives," Umarahunov said.