Police in Almaty have detained supporters of the Islamic organization Hizb-ut-Tahrir who had organized an unauthorized demonstration close to the central city mosque on the morning of January 20. The police media department told the Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency: “Police officers detained almost all demonstration participants, who numbered about 40 people. At present they are being charged with administrative violations for organizing an unauthorized demonstration.”
The press release also stated that around 10 am (local time), after the end of the daily namaz prayer, which was dedicated to the beginning of the holiday of Kurban-Bayram, people emerged carrying posters with anti-American and extremist slogans.
The demonstrators called for the overthrow of constitutional regimes throughout Central Asia. The police officials emphasized that the demonstration participants were arrested “almost immediately after” the unauthorized demonstration commenced (Interfax-Kazakhstan, January 20).
Kazakhstan’s mass media assessed Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s actions as a direct challenge to the authorities. Thus, according to the Kazakhstani TV program, “Dotting the ‘I’s,” which is broadcast on channel 31, Hizb-ut-Tahrir used the demonstration to show that, despite of the authorities’ efforts, they are unable to substantially reduce the organization’s activities (Kazakh TV channel 31, January 21).
According to Italian Central Asia expert Fabrizio Vielmini, who is currently living in Kazakhstan, it was not a coincidence that Hizb-ut-Tahrir members decided to organize their demonstration near Almaty’s central mosque. Vielmini thinks that by doing so the Hizb-ut-Tahrir members wanted to demonstrate that the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Kazakhstan, which is considered to be corrupt and dependent on the authorities, does not have the right to represent the interests of Kazakhstan’s Muslims (Kazakh TV channel 31, January 21).
Hizb-ut-Tahrir was established in 1953 in Palestine by a well-known judge from the Shari’at Appellate Court of Jerusalem, Taqiuddin Nabhani al-Falistini. The organization denounces armed methods of struggle and operates based on the principle of persuasion. The party’s goal is to unify all Muslims of the world into a single Caliphate. The organization’s leaders think that currently there is not a single truly Islamic state in the world. The party considers Western-style democracy unacceptable for Muslims, because, according to party theoreticians, only Shari’at laws should govern the lives of Muslims. Such states as the United States, Israel, and Great Britain are declared to be manifestations of the Shaitan (Satan). The party’s ideology is also characterized by an explicit anti-Semitism.
Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s activities in Central Asia date back to the mid-1990s and mainly consist of distributing proclamations and propaganda among the population. Most of the party members are ethnic Uzbeks. The group is most active in Uzbekistan and the Uzbek-populated regions of Kyrgyzstan. In Kazakhstan, Hizb-ut-Tahrir is active in the Southern Kazakhstani oblast, where Uzbeks constitute 20% of the population (Terrorism Monitor, February 26, 2004). It appears that the Kazakh members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir do not limit their activities to the Southern Kazakhstan oblast. In fact, they try to attract Kazakhs from other regions of the country to their cause. For example, according to information provided by the chairman of the Almaty-based Helsinki Committee, Ninel Fokina, about one year ago members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir organized a demonstration in the city of Pavlodar, along the northern border with Russia, where Russians form a majority.
The recent demonstration in Almaty is also another confirmation of the fact that Hizb-ut-Tahrir is trying to spread its influence across Kazakhstan. The activities of Islamic radicals make the Kazakhstani authorities quite nervous. According to the chairman of Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee, Nartay Dutbaev, his agency is trying to change the laws on terrorism, national security, law enforcement, criminal investigations, and freedom of religion. Dutbaev thinks that the existing laws “still contain weaknesses,” and it is necessary to augment the laws in a way that would strengthen state influence over believers (Interfax-Kazakhstan, November 14, 2004).
The OSCE office in Almaty disclosed to Jamestown a draft law on fighting extremist activities, which has been under discussion in the Kazakhstani parliament since November of last year. The term “religious” is mentioned in this document 10 times. At the same time, the concept of extremism is not clearly defined in the draft. In December the upper chamber of parliament introduced amendments to the draft law, which had already been approved by the lower chamber. These amendments increase state control over believers. The amendments introduced by the senators would allow law-enforcement agencies to temporarily suspend the activities of any religious organization without a court order, if the organization is suspected of extremist activities.