CRACKDOWN ON “TERRORIST” GROUPS.
Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 182
With the Islamist insurgency successfully contained in high-altitude areas, Central Asian governments are cracking down on “terrorist” groups in the countries’ heartlands and cities.
On September 30, the Iranian state radio’s Tajik service reported from Hojand that almost 300 members of the banned fundamentalist Hezb-e Tahrir party are about to face trial in Tajikistan’s Soghd Region [recently restored historic name of the Leninabad Region]. The region’s chief prosecutor and the heads of its internal affairs and state security directorates cited that figure at a law-enforcement conference in Hojand, the region’s administrative center and the second-largest city in Tajikistan. The officials stated that Hezb-e Tahrir was disseminating “antistate literature and leaflets” and had set up clandestine party organizations in seven districts of this Region. They called for “stepping up the struggle against the party’s criminal elements.”
The officials, furthermore, announced that all political and public organizations will from now on be required to take a stand regarding Hezb-e Tahrir. The announcement sounds like the opening shot in a police-sponsored campaign to whip up public vigilance against a shadowy enemy. Meanwhile the Islamic Rebirth Party (IRP), mainstay of the semi-coopted United Tajik Opposition (UTO), seems to have been allowed by the authorities to propagandize and recruit members in the Soghd Region. IRP emissaries are urging their audiences to “refrain from joining illegal parties and movements”–a reference mainly to Hezb-e Tahrir. Apparently the authorities are beginning at long last to realize that the IRP is a moderate, not a “fundamentalist” party; and that banning and persecuting the IRP has only played into the hands of the real fundamentalists.
The Soghd Region, Tajikistan’s largest and most heavily populated, has traditionally been considered the most secularized part of the country. The IRP was never able to gain a foothold here until now. The authorities’ latest moves suggest, however, that political Islam is beginning to penetrate Soghd; and that the moderate and the fundamentalist currents compete with one another for influence (Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Mashhad), September 27, 30; see the Monitor, July 6).
On September 27, the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan upheld the sentences on a group of young “terrorists” for a series of murders and robberies, committed in the Tashkent Region in the autumn of 1999 and early 2000. According to the verdict, this group was also complicit in the November 15, 1999 attack on the police in Yangiabad, Tashkent Region, by a fourteen-strong armed group of Uzbek expatriate militants who had returned clandestinely from Tajikistan. Eleven Uzbek policemen and park rangers were killed in that attack. The investigation found “banned extremist literature” along with the usual paraphernalia of “arms and drugs” in the possession of the defendants; and it asserted that some of them had been trained in guerrilla camps abroad.
The court sentenced Polvonnazir Hojaev to death; three Hidirov brothers to twenty, nineteen and eighteen years in prison, respectively; and ten others to prison terms of up to twenty-four years. Hojaev had been arrested in Russia and extradited to Uzbekistan. In reporting the trial’s outcome, state-owned mass media added exhortations that young people should be brought up as patriots in order to prevent their recruitment by “international terrorists” (Uzbek Television, September 27; see the Monitor, May 4, 10, June 28, July 26).
On September 28, Kazakh security forces gunned down four “Uighur terrorists” in a shootout in downtown Almaty. The group had murdered two police officers in Almaty on September 24 and wounded six policemen in the September 28 shootout. Official accounts described the killed Uighurs, alternatively, as members of the East Turkestan [Turkic name for China’s Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region] Liberation Front or the Uighur Independence Movement, which are, however, two distinct groups. That was only one of a number of inconsistencies in the authorities’ version. Those killed may have numbered only five and may have included one or two women, termed “female snipers” in some officially inspired accounts. The same accounts listed “several books of a religious tendency” as part of the “evidence” of criminal intent. And they also pronounced this group guilty for the assassination of two Chinese officials in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in April of this year. The Kyrgyz authorities had asked their counterparts in neighboring countries to take part in an international search for the suspects in that case.
In a special statement in parliament, Prime Minister Kasymzhomart Tokaev sought to draw a clear distinction between “Uighur terrorists” and the Uighur ethnic community, “the culture and historical traditions of which merit the highest respect, and which forms an inalienable part of Kazakhstan’s multiethnic population.” The main Uighur associations in Kazakhstan issued statements in which they distanced themselves from “any separatist groups from abroad”–a formula that stopped short of naming fellow-Uighurs from Chinese-ruled territory or branding them as “terrorists.”
Meanwhile the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Internal Affairs Ministry and the State Security Committee are conducting a joint investigative operation against “illegal” Islamic groups in the South Kazakhstan, Kyzyl-Orda and Zhambyl Regions (Habar, Kazakhstani Commercial Television, September 25-29; see the Monitor, May 10, July 14, September 25; Fortnight in Review, May 12, July 21).
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