Kyrgyzstan: Mosque Spying Scandal

Uzbek and Kyrgyz security services caught spying on worshippers at a mosque in Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan: Mosque Spying Scandal

Uzbek and Kyrgyz security services caught spying on worshippers at a mosque in Kyrgyzstan.

Monday, 21 February, 2005

Video still showing one of the men confronted by worshippers. His identity documents named him as Shukhrat Yusupov from the Uzbek interior ministry.

Worshippers at a mosque in southern Kyrgyzstan claim to have caught a group of Uzbek and Kyrgyz security service agents secretly filming people attending Friday prayers. Local officials have denied that any such operation had taken place, but two tapes recovered from the scene and now in the hands of the Kyrgyz ombudsman suggest otherwise.


Tursunbai Bakir-uulu, the Kyrgyz ombudsman, said in a press conference on May 24 that collusion between the Kyrgyz security service and their Uzbek counterparts amounted to “espionage for the benefit of another country”.


Mukhamed Rafu Kamalov, imam of the mosque in Karasuu where the alleged secret filming took place, told Radio Liberty that an Uzbek and two officers from the Osh regional interior ministry had been caught on May 14.


Dilyorbek Jumaev, who witnessed the incident, recounted events to the station’s Uzbek service. “When we were leaving the mosque after prayers we noticed a man secretly filming people from a Zhiguli [Lada]. When we started asking questions, he locked the car doors and attempted to hide the video camera under the seat,” he said.


“Then some people dragged him out of the car and seized the video camera. Some even hit him a couple of times.”


The camera and cassettes were handed to members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir present at the scene who in turn passed them on to the ombudsman’s office.


The two tapes, which have been seen by IWPR, appear to have been recorded from a car with darkened windows and clearly show all those entering and leaving the mosque.


One cassette also contains material shot in Uzbekistan, including surveillance of Uzbek police and custom officials apparently as part of anti-corruption drive. The second captured the incident that took place on May 14. The camera was left running as angry members of the congregation confronted the three men in the car.


The video shows one of them appealing to the irate crowd in Uzbek, claiming that he had done nothing illegal. It is alleged that one of them, who the worshippers thought was a member of the Uzbek security services, carried identity documents in the name of Shukhrat Yusupov, a member of the Andijan regional interior ministry in Uzbekistan. The crowd, which appeared to be on the verge of assaulting him and his two Kyrgyz colleagues, later handed the three over to the local police – who subsequently released them.


Kanybek Ergeshov, head of the ombudsman’s office, said in an interview with IWPR that any operation carried out by Uzbek security services in Kyrgyzstan would be a violation of the citizens’ constitutional rights.


“The security services were conducting an unauthorised operation. They were discovered with operational plans, cover documents and car registration numbers from both countries. They were spying on worshippers and pursuing their own politics within Kyrgyzstan. We have demanded an explanation from the ?sh district interior department but have not yet had a reply,” he said.


He said that they would hand the material to the general prosecutor and the national security service for further action.


Shakir Zulimov, head of the Osh interior ministry, flatly denied that the incident took place in an interview with IWPR, saying there was no evidence to support the claims.


“The worshippers are very intolerant of outsiders and a Russian taxi driver parked near the mosque aroused their suspicions. Maybe they didn’t like that fact that he was Russian. There are members of Hizb ut-Tahrir among the congregation and they are always paranoid,” he said.


“People can come and go freely to the Karasuu mosque, and no one is watching them. People from Uzbekistan come through the Dostuk border crossing. We have no problem with that.”


The Osh department of the Kyrgyz national security service also denied that any surveillance operation had been authorised.


This mosque in Karasuu is the biggest one in the area, and several hundred Uzbeks regularly cross the border to attend Friday prayers there. Many of them use an unofficial frontier crossing


According to Sadyrbek Kachkynbaev, an advisor on religion for the Jalalabad regional administration, Uzbek security services closely monitor worshippers attending prayers. “There are some agreements between neighboring countries to tackle religious extremism but what they were doing in Karasuu was not right. It is illegal,” he said.


IWPR spoke to one middle-aged man who said he regularly comes to the market in Suzak (Jalalabad region) on Fridays to sell vegetables and pray in the central mosque. “I feel a little more freedom in Kyrgyzstan, but we Uzbeks still fear [Kyrgyz] law enforcement agencies, as they work closely with Uzbek colleagues,” he said.


Isabek Murzajanov, from the Jalalabad interior ministry, denied that members of radical religious organisations from Uzbekistan could freely enter the country and create a problem, “Many Uzbeks trade in Kyrgyzstan, labour migrants from abroad work everywhere, and they freely pray in the mosques where they stay.”


However, some human rights activists have claimed that the Uzbek security services have kidnapped worshippers inside Kyrgyzstan. Azimjan Askarov, an activist from Bazarkurgan, told IWPR, “Our citizens are far more scared of the Uzbek security services than the local police. They can easily take you out of Kyrgyzstan.”


Another activist, Abdunazar Mamatislamov, says that Uzbek security services regularly monitor people within Kyrgyzstan and then arrest them as soon as they cross the border. “There have been numerous cases in which the Kyrgyz authorities have collaborated with them in enticing people over the border,” he told IWPR.


Alla Pyatibratova in Osh and Jalil Saparov in Jalalabad are independent journalists; Ainagul Abdrakhmanova is an intern with IWPR office in Bishkek.


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