KYRGYZSTAN: Women Protest Hizb-Ut-Tahrir Leaflet Arrests.

by Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 28 March 2001

The authorities in the town of Karasuu in Kyrgyzstan's southern Osh region have broken up a second demonstration by local women protesting at the arrest on 19 March of 11 local residents on charges of distributing leaflets of the banned Islamic party Hizb-ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation). Members of the party told Keston News Service in Osh they reject government allegations that they are a violent group and maintain they are being persecuted for their religious convictions. One security official told Keston that 37 people had been sentenced over the past fifteen months for distributing the party's leaflets.

The first demonstration took place on 21 March next to Karasuu's police headquarters. All the estimated 100 demonstrators were women and were ethnic Uzbek citizens of Kyrgyzstan. The demonstrators gathered again the following day, this time at the town administration, but at around noon the meeting was dispersed by the security forces.

The deputy head of investigations at the Karasuu district militia, Erkebai Sakhibov, told Keston on 22 March that the demonstration had been dispersed because it had not been authorised by the town authorities. He added that the detainees were arrested in an unregistered mosque and some 100 Hizb-ut-Tahrir leaflets seized from them.

The Karasuu meetings were the first public demonstrations in support of Hizb-ut-Tahrir members in Kyrgyzstan. Local Muslims have noted that it was specifically women who attended and that the authorities nevertheless resorted to dispersal of the demonstrators.

Founded in 1953 in East Jerusalem, Hizb-ut-Tahrir aims to unite Muslims worldwide under one caliphate. It believes that western democracy is unacceptable for Muslims and that they should be governed by Sharia law. The party is banned under Article 8, section 2 of Kyrgyzstan's constitution, according to which `religious organisations do not have the right to set themselves political aims or to form political parties'.

The majority of Hizb-ut-Tahrir supporters in Kyrgyzstan are ethnic Uzbeks, who make up a quarter of the Osh region's population. The head of the National Security Service (former KGB) for Osh region, Marat Imankulov, told Keston on 20 March that 37 people had been prosecuted since 1 January 2000 for distributing Hizb-ut-Tahrir leaflets, all receiving prison sentences of between two and four years.

According to Hizb-ut-Tahrir members Keston spoke to in Osh on 23 March, who declined to have their names published for fear of reprisals, `repression' began after armed supporters of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)

forced their way from Tajikistan through the Batken district of Kyrgyzstan to the Fergana valley in Uzbekistan in August 1999. After almost two months battling against the Kyrgyz and Uzbek armies, the fighters returned to their bases in the Tajik mountains. Subsequently, Hizb-ut-Tahrir supporters began to emerge in many of Kyrgyzstan's mosques calling on Muslims to form an Islamic state in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. However, Hizb-ut-Tahrir members told Keston that, unlike the IMU, they condemn the use of arms, supporting only peaceful persuasion.

Activists said they felt they should `open the eyes of Muslims and prepare their consciousness for the creation of a caliphate'. Keston was shown party leaflets printed in Russian, Kyrgyz and Uzbek advocating the establishment of the caliphate and Sharia law. Some leaflets dealt with problems faced by Muslims in other countries.

Hizb-ut-Tahrir members regard the Kyrgyz authorities' actions against the movement as a battle against Islam. They asserted that investigators had promised those arrested for distributing party leaflets they would be released immediately if they declared in writing that they did not share Hizb-ut-Tahrir's views. The leaflet distributors are being charged under Article 299 of the criminal code for `incitement of nationalist, racist and religious dissension'. However, from a legal standpoint, the leaflets are difficult to characterise as calls for nationalist and religious dissension.

Officials believe current moves to change the religion law (see KNS 20 February 2001) and the criminal code will aid the crackdown. `If the new law on proselytism and religious organisations is approved by parliament and an article is added to the criminal code punishing participation in extremist religious groups, it will be significantly easier to prosecute members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir,' the chief religious affairs official at the Osh regional administration, Shamshibek Zakirov, told Keston on 18 March.

The country's muftis support the repressive measures. The prominent theologian Allauddin Mansur (who was the first to translate the Koran into Uzbek), told Keston on 21 March that Hizb-ut-Tahrir's aim of establishing a caliphate contradicts Islamic laws. Mansur also reported that in Karasuu's Al Bukhara mosque where he preaches, entrance is barred to those who declare themselves to be Hizb-ut-Tahrir members. This is not an isolated example; on 16 March, believers at Osh's Ochamazar mosque ejected two Hizb-ut-Tahrir members from Friday prayers.

Some of the country's senior Muslim theologians, however, do not support the authorities' response. `I think the views of Hizb-ut-Tahrir members are misguided, but the authorities' repressive measures are compounding the problem,' Sadikjan Kamaluddin, president of the Islamic Centre for co-operation between Islamic countries and Kyrgyzstan's mufti from 1987 to 1990, told Keston on 18 March. `Hizb-ut-Tahrir is quite popular among young Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan and, by moving against it, the authorities may simply increase this organisation's popularity. The authorities are creating a halo of martyrdom around Hizb-ut-Tahrir members.' (END)