On August 17, three days after his inauguration, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev
signed the new law “On Counteraction against Extremist Activity.” official Kyrgyz
government newspaper Erkin Too published the text of the law on August 19.
Activists from Hizb-ut-Tahrir (the Islamic Party of Liberation) immediately made a
statement alleging that this law is primarily directed against their party. The
international organization Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which seeks to unite all of the Muslims
of the world into a single Caliphate, is outlawed across Central Asia. In fact, the
ideology of this organization is quite odious when judged by Western standards. The
party considers democracy unacceptable and inappropriate for Muslims. Democratic
countries such as the United States, Great Britain, and Israel are declared to be
“creations of the devil.” Members of the party also make no effort to conceal their
hatred of Jews.
Yet at the same time it is not right to label Hizb-ut-Tahrir a terrorist
organization. Members of the organization constantly emphasize and re-emphasize that
they condemn violent means of struggle. Its members believe that the desired
Caliphate will be created only when the majority of Muslims are ready for this task
(Terrorism Monitor, March 11, 2004).
Two years ago the Supreme Court of Kyrgyzstan officially banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s
activities within the territory of the state and declared it to be an extremist
organization. However, Hizb-ut-Tahrir ignored the Supreme Court decision, and it has
been conducting its activities more openly there than in neighboring Uzbekistan and
Kyrgyzstan’s criminal code has no provisions that relate to the party’s activities.
Members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir have been charged under Article 299, “Incitement of
Interfaith Conflicts,” however the lawyers of the accused claimed that the article
was not applicable. Therefore, they argued, the accused members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir
must either be released from detention, given the government’s inability to offer
proof of their guilt, or they should be released after paying a nominal fine.
But after the adoption of the law on extremism, Kyrgyz law-enforcement agencies have
the legal foundation to issue new charges. For example, the new law considers
propaganda relating to the exclusivity, supremacy, or inferiority of individuals on
the basis of their attitude towards religion to be extremism. A savvy police
investigator or legal expert could indict Hizb-ut-Tahrir based on this
interpretation of the law, as all of the organization’s leaflets are anti-Semitic
and anti-Western (Fergana, September 9).
However, many Kyrgyz political scientists believe Beijing pressured Bishkek to adopt
this new law. In their expert opinion, there are no significant extremist groups
that might pose a threat to the state order. Kyrgyz political scientist Ikbol
Mirsaitov summed up this perspective by saying, “China had a large influence on the
Kyrgyz leadership in working out and adopting this law…. The Chinese believe that an
underground party of Uighur separatists is active in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.”
Such a Uighur group would pose a double threat. First, a Uighur party could be a
possible terrorist threat to China, and Beijing could not defuse that threat without
having some form of control over the organization. Second, Mirsaitov believes any
party of Uighur separatists “poses a threat to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, as the
activity of these parties may destabilize the situation in these republics that have
a large diaspora of ethnic Uighurs.”
In a related move, the Kyrgyz government is currently considering a law “On
Amendments to the Criminal Code of the Kyrgyz Republic.” The text states that the
draft legislation was developed as part of the parliamentary work connected to
ratifying the Kyrgyz-Chinese “Agreement on Cooperation in the Fight against
Terrorism, Separatism, and Extremism,” which was signed December 11, 2002, in
Beijing. Under this proposed law such concepts as “separatism” and “extremism” must
be added to the Criminal Code of Kyrgyzstan. Furthermore, under this draft law,
terrorist and extremist activity would be punishable by imprisonment ranging from
five to 20 years (Fergana.ru, September 9).
Currently about 400,000 Uighurs live in Central Asia, mainly in Kazakhstan and
Kyrgyzstan. Many of these Central Asian Uighurs support separatists on the other
side of the border. According to the newspaper Novye izvestiya, Uighur and Central
Asian Islamic radicals are trying to join efforts and destabilize the situation both
in China and in the countries of Central Asia. In 2003, the head of the National
Security Service of Kyrgyzstan stated that Uighur separatists had joined the Islamic
Movement of Uzbekistan to form the Islamic Movement of Central Asia.
There have been several notable episodes of apparent Uighur activity in Kyrgyzstan.
On May 1, 1998, a taxi was blown up in Osh, the main city of southern Kyrgyzstan,
killing two people and wounding 12. Eighteen months later, Kyrgyz authorities
arrested five people accused of involvement in that terrorist act. According to
official information, three of them were Chinese Uighurs who had undergone training
in the camps of the warlord Khattab in Chechnya. In 2000 police investigators found
a secret hideout housing Uighur terrorists from Xinjiang. The terrorists refused to
surrender and were killed in a firefight. Negmet Bazakov, chairman of the Ittipak
cultural and educational center for Kyrgyz Uighurs was killed in Bishkek when he
refused to give money for the needs of the underground separatists. At the end of
2003 two Uighur separatists from the Eastern Turkistan movement seized a
passenger bus traveling from Xinjiang and killed 21 passengers (Novye izvestiya,
July 22, 2003).
Whether this new law discourages such activities or provide a legal justification
for a government crackdown remains to be seen.