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Kyrgyz Officials Criticise Western Contact With Islamists

Security services say backing human rights for banned Islamist group only encourages it to grow.
By Gulnura Toralieva

In another sign of Kyrgyzstan’s apparent shift away from the West, the country’s security forces have accused foreign civil rights advocates of helping the radical Islamic group Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

At a government meeting on 28 June, National Security Service, NSS, spokesman Tokon Mamitov said the banned group was exploiting the undue attention it was paid by groups like the United States-based Freedom House.

As a result, Mamitov said, Hizb-ut-Tahrir had changed its tactics, which now “take the form of complaints of mistreatment by security service officers, which are then sent on to the media and international human rights organisations. These groups then present Hizb ut-Tahrir activists as victims persecuted by the authorities for their religious beliefs, and put pressure on law enforcement officers, thus obstructing attempts to curtail Hizb ut-Tahrir’s activities.”

Freedom House angered the Kyrgyz authorities when it invited Hizb-ut-Tahrir members to a March 1 meeting that was also attended by Kyrgyz police and prosecutors, and by representatives of the US embassy and the OSCE.

Recalling that meeting, interior ministry spokesman Joldoshbek Buzurmankulov told IWPR, “It is outrageous that Freedom House conducted a meeting with Hizb ut-Tahrir activists… at which we were made the whipping boys.”

He went on, “As it defends Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Freedom House appears to have forgotten the events of September 11, 2001. Hizb-ut-Tahrir has already planned explosions in our country, and as a result we will use the law to deal with its activists.”

Hizb-ut-Tahrir-al-Islami – the Islamic Liberation Party – is active across Central Asia with a radical agenda that involves replacing current regimes with an idealised Islamic “caliphate”, but it insists it is against violence and focuses on leafleting to recruit new members.

Freedom House rejects the charge that it is in some way sponsoring the group’s ideals, saying it regards the party’s views as inimical to freedom, democracy and respect for human rights.

The March meeting was about the use of torture, and Freedom House said the Hizb-ut-Tahrir people were there as part of a groundbreaking attempt to build meaningful debate between law enforcement officers and alleged victims of torture. It voiced regret that the event had since been misinterpreted by both the authorities and Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

Local human rights organisations support the idea that dialogue is better than brute force as a way of engaging with radical groups.

“It is pointless trying to fight ideology with aggression,” said Valentina Grizenko, of Justice, a council of rights organisations in the southern town of Jalalabad. “In Uzbekistan, Hizb-ut-Tahrir members have been sentenced to many years in jail, but this has failed to solve the problem. An ideology can only be fought with another more powerful ideology.”

Sources in the Kyrgyz security forces claim that Hizb-ut-Tahrir has become more active of late, and they are anticipating that it will soon launch an orchestrated publicity campaign for the release of detained activists. They suspect that it has chosen this sophisticated PR tactic precisely because it knows what impact this will have on human rights groups.

Others reject this out of hand. “The idea that human rights organisations are supporting Hizb-ut-Tahrir, and that the party’s activities have increased because of this support, is simply laughable,” political scientist Viktor Semin told IWPR.

“The movement’s increased activity is a consequence of our country’s economic problems. The spread of extremist feeling throughout the country has been made possible by the failure to appreciate the real danger posed by religious extremism, and a lack of coordination on the part of government agencies.”

The latest accusations against Freedom House follow last month’s remarks by President Askar Akaev, when he accused international organisations of trying to foist an alien democratic model on Kyrgyzstan, possibly through a popular revolution of the kind seen last November in Georgia.

This apparent campaign by a government once regarded as the west’s best friend in Central Asia, and the one most receptive to human rights concerns, comes as the authorities gear up for next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections, in which outside criticism will clearly be unwelcome.

Yrysbek Omurzakov, the editor-in-chief of the Bishkek newspaper Tribuna, told IWPR, “the authorities have decided to put those international organisations which criticise Kyrgyzstan over human rights firmly in their place. Government criticism is now being directed at Freedom House, the OSCE and the [US] National Democratic Institute, in other words western organisations that have started really getting on the nerves of the Kyrgyz White House [government].”

Gulnura Toralieva is a student at the Kyrgyz-Russian Slavonic university in Bishkek, and an intern with IWPR in Kyrgyzstan.

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