Authorities in several Central Asian countries are stepping up measures against Islamist underground groups. The main targets are the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Hezb-e Tahrir organization, both of which operate from bases abroad. IMU seeks to establish an Islamic state in Uzbekistan. Hezb-e Tahrir is credited with a program to create an Islamic state in the Ferghana Valley, straddling the current borders of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
On June 15, Uzbek law enforcement agencies made public a report of their recent activities in the Ferghana Region’s Tashlyk district. In that district alone, the agencies identified 157 out of an estimated 200 “Wahhabis” and members of Hezb-e Tahrir. The wording of the announcement implied that the 157 include both those arrested and those wanted by security services. The same services reported having recently confiscated parts of the print run of twenty-two unlawful “publications”–that is, underground pamphlets and leaflets–of an “extremist religious nature.”
On June 26, Uzbek authorities announced that a Namangan Region court has sentenced a group of ten “religious extremists,” four women among them, to prison terms of up to sixteen years. The group includes Nasir Hojiev, elder brother of Juma Namangani (alias Jumaboi Hojiev), the expatriate leader of the banned IMU. The defendants were found guilty of producing and distributing leaflets, audio cassettes and videotapes which called to jihad (Islamic holy war) against the authorities and attempting to recruit men for paramilitary training in neighboring countries. To that end, the group established two-way contact through couriers with IMU militants in Tajikistan via Kyrgyzstan’s Jalalabad Region. According to the Uzbek authorities, Nasir Hojiev made his way to an IMU sanctuary in Tajikistan’s Tavildara district, met with his brother Juma there, and returned to Uzbekistan to step up IMU activities before being arrested. The final court session was public, and at least some of the defendants repented, but in this case, unlike other cases, the authorities did not make much of the repentance.
In Kyrgyzstan, internal security services made public on June 26 a balance sheet of recent “antiterrorist” measures in the Osh and Jalalabad Regions, traditionally the Muslim strongholds in southern Kyrgyzstan. The authorities report to have confiscated some 1,500 copies of leaflets, pamphlets and posters which called for the overthrow of the lawful governments of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Currently on trial or in pre-trial detention on criminal charges are fifty-three “religious extremists,” mostly members of Hezb-e Tahrir in those two regions. Also on June 26, Kyrgyz National Guard commander Lieutenant-General Abdygul Chotbaev claimed that some 300 citizens of Kyrgyzstan are currently being trained on the territory of Afghanistan for underground religious missionary work in Central Asian countries.
Earlier this month, Kyrgyz authorities reported two new trends in that country’s Islamic fundamentalist underground. First, its activities are beginning to spread northward, now penetrating central Kyrgyzstan and the capital Bishkek. Second, its printed propaganda is increasingly being disseminated also in the Kyrgyz language. Previously, that literature had mostly circulated in Arabic and in Uzbek, the latter intended for the sizeable Uzbek population of southern Kyrgyzstan.
National Security Minister Tashtemir Aitbaev is currently preparing in parliament a legislative initiative to amend and supplement the criminal codes, so as to facilitate prosecution of the militants. The ministry seeks to write into the codes a definition of “religious extremism” and heavier penalties for “religious extremist propaganda.” What this implies is that the ministry wants a freer hand to crack down on Islamic missionary activities, even when the intent to overthrow the state and seize power by force is absent or unproven (Ferghana Hakikati (Tashkent), June 15; Uzbek Television, June 26; Kyrgyz-Press, June 12;Kyrgyz-Habar, June 25; Itar-Tass, June 12, 14, 26; see the Monitor, May 4, 10).
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