During the past week several individuals were detained by Kyrgyz law-enforcement agencies for distributing religious-ideological leaflets. According to recent reports, the number of detained people linked to radical group Hizb-ut-Tahrir has intensified in Kyrgyzstan’s northern cities, including the capital Bishkek (24.kg, August 14).
Small groups of radical religious movements have been training at various locations in southern Kyrgyzstan since the late 1990s, Deputy Interior Minister Omurbek Suvanaliyev told Jamestown. In fact, as the Uzbek regime became increasingly repressive over the past decade, the more radical groups, mainly from Uzbekistan’s southern cities, sought refuge in neighboring countries, including Kyrgyzstan. The inflow of at least 600 Andijan refugees on May 13-14, 2005, was the peak of this trend.
Hizb-ut-Tahrir, despite its continuous disavowal of using violence to achieve its goals, has ruined its image as a movement that promotes its ideas only through peaceful means. On July 9, according to various sources, members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) were suspected of attacking Kyrgyz law-enforcement officials, shooting dead one policeman and injuring three (Moya stolitsa novosti, July 12). Following the incident, Kyrgyz security forces killed five people suspected in the crime and detained about 14 on July 14. The majority of detainees were Uzbek nationals.
The Kyrgyz security forces had to mobilize up to 200 troops and special forces to search the suspects. Hizb-ut-Tahrir leaflets, along with weapons and opium, were discovered during investigation. The incident confirmed the suspected link between radical religious groups, such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the IMU, and drug trafficking.
At a July 13 press conference on religious issues held in Bishkek, Kyrgyz State Secretary Adakhan Modumarov and Kyrgyz mufti Murataly azhy Jumanov spoke in favor of harsher restrictions on the activities of illegal religious movements in Kyrgyzstan. But other experts warned that legal restrictions may also lead to suppression of freedoms and will not foil the activity of Hizb-ut-Tahrir or IMU. A USAID representative in Kyrgyzstan, David Hunsicker, also expressed his concerns over the situation with radical Islamic groups, especially Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s escalating activity (24.kg, July 13).
The number of captured members of radical religious groups in Kyrgyzstan is not high, compared to neighboring states. But the local mass media report all major and minor incidents related to radical Islam. The Kyrgyz law-enforcement agencies are often blamed for corruption and inefficiency in dealing with Islamic extremists. Likewise, a number of Central Asian experts recently criticized the Kyrgyz government for cooperating with Uzbekistan and suppressing forces that oppose Uzbek President Islam Karimov in connection with its ongoing counter-terrorism campaign.
Some experts interpreted the August 6 killing of Muhammadrafiq Kamalov, an ethnic Uzbek imam living in southern Kyrgyzstan, as the Kyrgyz government’s tyranny over the Uzbek minority living in that region. Hence, the fight against radical Islam was linked to Kyrgyz government’s ethnic-nationalist sentiments.
Similar criticism of Kyrgyzstan’s counter-terrorism policy could potentially push the Kyrgyz government into three disadvantageous situations:
First, while being bound to cooperate with Uzbekistan on the regional problems of terrorism and extremism, the Kyrgyz government might find itself acting as a proxy for Tashkent by suppressing political dissidents critical of the Uzbek regime (see EDM, August 1). The Kyrgyz government’s August 9 return of the remaining five Andijan refugees to Uzbekistan once again illustrated Kyrgyzstan’s dependence on Uzbek energy supplies. After holding the refugees in prison in Osh for more than a year, the Uzbek citizens were repatriated in spite of Western criticism.
Second, while suppressing more groups and individuals propagating radical religious ideas, Kyrgyzstan risks triggering the rise of even greater aggression among more troubling movements such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir and IMU.
Third, as with the case of Kamalov, the Kyrgyz government will be exposed to criticism for suppressing ethnic minorities under its counter-terrorism policy. The Uzbek minority, especially, can identify the Kyrgyz government’s cooperation with Uzbekistan and persecution of radical Islamic groups as an attack against their status. Thus, although the continuity of Kyrgyzstan’s current political regime is not challenged by the rise of Islamic radical movements, the fight against those groups undermines the government’s domestic and international image.