KYRGYZSTAN: Authorities Confused By Hizb-ut-Tahrir Challenge.

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 27 March 2002

The Kyrgyz authorities are growing increasingly concerned by the activity of the banned Islamist party Hizb-ut-Tahrir in southern Kyrgyzstan, an area of the Central Asian state with a large ethnic Uzbek minority, but seem to be at a loss as to how to respond. "Despite the fact that we are acting quite firmly, the popularity of Hizb-ut-Tahrir is growing," one law-enforcement officer who wished not to be named told Keston News Service on 20 February in the town of Jalal-Abad. "We simply don't know how to neutralise the activity of this illegal party." Other officers agreed, telling Keston that the party's activity in southern Kyrgyzstan has increased sharply in the past few months. Speaking to Keston in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek on 22 March, one parliamentary deputy, Alisher Sobirov, warned that the harsh measures now being deployed against Hizb-ut-Tahrir members could lead only to an increase in dissatisfaction among ethnic Uzbeks in the south of the country.

Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an international Islamic party which calls for the unification of Muslims worldwide into a single caliphate, is banned not only in Kyrgyzstan, but across Central Asia.

The Jalal-Abad human-rights organisation Justice told Keston on 21 February that in the Jalal-Abad region last year, 417 party members were discovered and recorded, 72 cases of the distribution of Hizb-ut-Tahrir leaflets were recorded, 86 party members were arrested and criminal charges were brought against 56 of them.

The authorities' confused response to Hizb-ut-Tahrir is shown by the contradictory comments of Omurzak Mamayusupov, the chairman of the state committee for religious affairs. Mamayusupov declared on Kyrgyz television on 19 February that members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir are "citizens of Kyrgyzstan just like everybody else" and he could see no obstacles to registering the party. However, speaking to Keston just a month later, Mamayusupov distanced himself from his own remarks. "Hizb-ut-Tahrir's aims contradict the constitution of Kyrgyzstan and therefore the party cannot be registered," he declared in Bishkek on 21 March. "I spoke with journalists for over an hour and they showed only a small part of the interview with me which completely distorted the sense of what I was saying."

"The police are no longer treating Hizb-ut-Tahrir with kid gloves," Sobirov, chairman of the parliamentary committee on religious affairs, told Keston. "What's more, it seems the authorities are adopting Uzbek methods: bullets are being found on arrested Hizb-ut-Tahrir members, making it possible to prosecute them for illegal possession of weapons." (In Uzbekistan law-enforcement officers often plant drugs or weapons on those they wish to prosecute.) Sobirov openly expressed his concern about the Kyrgyz authorities' harsh measures against Hizb-ut-Tahrir. "Ninety percent of Hizb-ut-Tahrir members are ethnic Uzbeks. And the local Uzbeks could get the impression that the authorities are deliberately imprisoning their people," he warned.

Uzbeks form about 30 percent of the population of southern Kyrgyzstan. In 1990 there were bloody clashes between local Uzbeks and Kyrgyz which left about 320 people dead. As Sobirov told Keston, the root cause of the conflict has not been removed. "As before, the majority of positions in the power structures are held by Kyrgyz, which cannot fail to make the Uzbeks dissatisfied. If the conflict erupts again it will be much bloodier than the events of 1990. Then the conflict was contained with the help of Soviet forces. The Kyrgyz army is far less professional." (END)