Astana Concerned by Islamist Propaganda Drive

Hizb ut-Tahrir activists arrested distributing leaflets calling for a Caliphate and a Jihad against Israel.

Astana Concerned by Islamist Propaganda Drive

Hizb ut-Tahrir activists arrested distributing leaflets calling for a Caliphate and a Jihad against Israel.

Monday, 21 February, 2005

The arrest of two Islamists distributing leaflets in the southern Kazak city of Turkestan earlier this month underlines the growing power in the area of the secretive Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Sunni fundamentalist group dedicated to the creation of a theocratic Muslim state.

Esen Saparov, 43, and Izatulla Abdraimov, 33, detained on April 13, did not deny membership of the Islamic group, but they refused to give any evidence that might harm the organisation, which is banned across Central Asia and has been linked with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, rebel group that tried to assassinate Uzbek president Islam Karimov.

Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami (Party for Islamic Freedom) has hitherto held less sway among the nomadic Kazaks than in neighbouring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. But plunging living standards, the lack of a social safety net, corruption and state heavy-handedness have created a fertile breeding ground for the religious-political organisation.

It is dedicated to persuading Muslims to return to an Islamic way of life and to spreading the Islamic faith throughout the world by means of Jihad. The party aspires to the creation of a united theocratic Muslim state - the Caliphate.

Hizb ut-Tahrir was founded in 1952 by a judge at the Palestinian Sharia court in Jerusalem, Taki ad-adin Nabkhani al-Falastini. The 78 Kazak language leaflets confiscated from Saparov and Abdraimov, alongside traditional stirring calls for the creation of a Caliphate, explained the current crisis in the Middle East and attacked the Israeli government.

Following the death of al-Falastani in 1979, his successor Abd al-Kadim Zallum began work in the Muslim countries of the former USSR. At first, members of Hizb ut-Tahrir tried to work openly, distributing literature and leaflets and organising conferences.

But growing state antagonism forced the organisation underground, and in the early 1990s, Hizb ut-Tahrir wrote in its charter a secrecy article covering the location of its leaders.

The Islamists will not say how many members it has in the south Kazak oblast, but police estimate that there are about 20-30 activists. They are well organised and have the resources to print propaganda material. Last year, they distributed leaflets during the celebrations for the 1,500th anniversary of the city of Turkestan.

Turkestan, with its mausoleum of one of the founders of the Suffi order, Hadji Akhmed Yassawi, is a sacred site for Turkic-speaking Muslims throughout the world. Saparov and Abdraimov are from neighbouring Kentau but said they were distributing leaflets in Turkestan because the population was more religious in the city.

Kentau was a centre for the mining industry in southern Kazakstan during the Soviet era, and ethnographist Igor Savin believes it is no coincidence that the two pamphleteers came from there. Over the past ten years, the town has turned into a focus for social problems and a source of social discontent.

"This is evidence of social and not religious motives for people joining Hizb ut-Tahrir," Savin said. "The more southerly regions, bordering on Uzbekistan, which are more inclined towards traditional Central Asian ways of life have fewer followers of Hizb ut-Tahrir. It seems that traditional religion has got nothing to do with this."

Last November, a young resident of Kentau died in hospital, alleging he had been beaten by security forces while being interrogated about his involvement with the Islamists. Police said Kanat Beimbetov, 22, died when he attempted to escape by jumping out of a car that was moving at speed.

Kanat's relatives say they filmed his account of being beaten by the police on video. But sadly, there is little cause to doubt their claims as security forces frequently beat prisoners in Kazakstan. Since the government declared Hizb ut-Tahrir to be illegal, the hands of the police have been untied.

The corruption and the inflexibility of state bureaucracy have allowed the party to promote the importance of living according to the rules of the Sharia. Hizb ut-Tahrir followers believe people would show greater respect for the laws of the Sharia as they would be afraid of being punished by Allah.

A young man in Kentau, who wished to remain anonymous, told the IWPR that although he would prefer to live in a secular society, "Hizb ut-Tahrir, unlike our current authorities, doesn't lie." He said a state constructed in accordance with the laws of the Sharia would feature less of the corruption and other negative factors endemic in Kazakstan today.

"When speaking of the social roots of the appearance of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Kazakstan, it should be noted that the main factor is the impoverishment and spiritual vacuum of the population," said Savin.

"People don't see any legal means to improve their condition and respond well to any calls for alternative approaches. As a result, stopping people from being attracted to extremist organisations is problematic because of the limitations of just using repressive measures."

Daur Dosybiev is an independent journalist in Kazakstan

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