April 5, 2016 / 5:47 PM / 2 years ago

Uzbekistan says sentences man to 16 years in jail for spying for Tajikistan

TASHKENT (Reuters) - An Uzbek military court has sentenced a local citizen to 16 years in prison on charges of spying for neighboring Tajikistan, state television said on Tuesday, a move hinting at fresh tensions between the two ex-Soviet republics.

A documentary broadcast on state television on Monday night said the man had been providing Tajik secret services with valuable information since the late 1990s, including the location of Uzbek military units in the south of the country.

The documentary did not specify when and where the sentence was handed down, but showed the convict, Sharifjon Asrorov, a middle-aged man, apparently confessing to the alleged crimes.

“Asrorov collaborated with Tajik secret services and passed information on the situation in Uzbek jails, dissident inmates, as well as military units and facilities of security and law enforcement bodies in the Surkhandaria, Kashkadaria and Bukhara regions,” the documentary said.

Asrorov was married to a woman from Tajikistan, according to the documentary titled “Traitor”.

Tajikistan’s government declined to comment on the case.

Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which have tense relations over a number of issues including water and energy supplies, have both jailed dozens of people on mutual espionage charges over the past decade.

However, tensions appeared to ease somewhat in the last few years. Last December, Dushanbe and Tashkent agreed to step up diplomatic contacts by holding regular foreign ministry-level consultations.

Last month, Uzbekistan was involved in a week-long standoff with another ex-Soviet neighbor, Kyrgyzstan, over a disputed border area.

All three countries are predominantly Muslim and have suffered from the recession in Russia, where many Central Asian migrant laborers used to work in order to provide for their families.

Reporting by Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov; Additional reporting by Nazarali Pirnazarov in Dushanbe; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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