Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 145

The authorities of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan–countries sharing the Ferghana Valley–seem to have stepped up the police measures against the shadowy Hezb-e Tahrir religious organization. Its program is said to focus on creating an Islamic state in the Ferghana Valley by carving out areas from the three countries. A state formed on that basis would be predominantly Uzbek in its ethnic composition. While Uzbekistan possesses the lion’s share of the Ferghana Valley, ethnic Uzbeks reside compactly in some of the Valley’s portions belonging to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

On July 20, a regional court in Jizzakh, eastern Uzbekistan, sentenced a group of fifteen members of Hezb-e Tahrir to prison terms of up to seventeen years. The Uzbek National Security Service had–according to the official account–“uncovered their evil deeds,” which consisted of learning Hezb-e Tahrir’s ideas and forming two underground cells to disseminate those ideas. Group leader Maruf Eshonov is 30 years old and most of the others even younger–three of whom are under 17 (Tashkent Television, July 20).

On the same day in Tajikistan, the authorities of Leninobod Region–situated in the country’s northwest–put thirty-five alleged members of Hezb-e Tahrir on trial. They are charged with having formed three clandestine cells, recruited more than 200 young people as members and taken loyalty oaths and membership dues from them, and with having distributed thousands of copies of propaganda tracts among the populace and “inciting to religious strife.” The group’s main leader, Nuriddin Dadaboev, is said to have been active since 1998 in the region’s main city, Hojent. Also on July 20, Tajikistan’s Internal Affairs Ministry announced that it had broken up a Hezb-e Tahrir underground cell in Dushanbe, seizing both its leader Rahmatullo Madumarov and a supply of propaganda material and books (Asia-Plus, July 20).

In Kyrgyzstan, two top officials–Security Council Secretary Bolot Januzakov and the National Guard commander, Lieutenant-General Abdygul Chotbaev–claimed in mid-July that approximately 300 Kyrgyz citizens are currently undergoing training in “Islamic extremist camps” on the territories of Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Kyrgyzstan itself, according to these officials, fifty-three citizens have been charged in the courts so far this year for spreading “inflammatory” religious propaganda and that eight have been convicted to hard labor. These announcements seemed to imply that most of those charged or detained are ethnic Uzbeks from southern Kyrgyzstan’s Osh Region, which–like Tajikistan’s Leninobod region–has a substantial Uzbek population. The Kyrgyz officials complained that their country’s legislation is too lenient, often allowing Islamic activists on trial to get away with suspended sentences or fines (Kyrgyz-Press International, July 12; KyrgyzKabar, July 14).

Whether all of those so tagged are in fact members of Hezb-e Tahrir or ordinary Muslims–albeit ones acting outside official structures–is far from certain. Much remains unclear about Hezb-e Tahrir’s actual scope, ideology, sanctuaries, possible foreign support and relationship to other radical Islamic movements in Central Asia–for example, with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which transcends the existing state borders, as does Hezb-e Tahrir. The recent reports from Tashkent, Dushanbe and Bishkek stop short of claiming either that Hezb-e Tahrir groups are armed or that they engage in drug trafficking. Those charges are routinely being proffered and often substantiated against IMU. Yet the criminal proceedings against members–real or alleged–of either organization do not seem to draw that distinction, resulting in equally heavy sentences for attempted overthrow of the constitutional order by force.