Reuters International

DUSHANBE (Reuters) - A Tajik lawyer who represented members of a banned Islamist party went on trial on Tuesday in a case criticised by human rights groups as part of the government's crackdown on dissent and basic freedoms.

Human rights lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov was detained last October, after a court banned the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party whose members he had represented, and has since been charged with fraud and extremism.

Yorov has dismissed the charges against him as politically motivated and rights groups such as Human Rights Watch have said they appeared to be trumped-up and that the move threatened the legal profession in general in the Central Asian nation.

Yorov's own lawyer, Rustam Khakimov, told reporters the hearings began in Dushanbe on Tuesday behind closed doors.

President Imomali Rakhmon's government has accused the Islamist party of being behind a failed coup last September led by a deputy defence minister who then died in a fight with government troops.

Several party leaders and members are now on trial on charges related to the coup.

(Reporting by Nazarali Pirnazarov; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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 Reuters International