Kyrgyzstan bans "extremism" with prodding from Beijing
  • Tue, 09/20/2005 - 12:00

By Igor Rotar | The Jamestown Foundation

EURASIA DAILY MONITOR, Volume 2, Issue 174 (September 20, 2005)

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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 Tajikistan.

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 (, 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.