Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Tajik Radicals Arrested

The arrest of Khizb-ut-Takhrir activists in Tajikistan reflects the state's concern over the group's rapid spread across the region
By IWPR Central Asia

The authorities in the Leninabad oblast of Tajikistan are growing increasingly alarmed over the proliferation of Khizb-ut-Takhir members in the north of the country.


The decision this week to try six activists in the Tajikistan Supreme Court reflects the seriousness with which the country is treating the threat posed by the Islamic group.


On January 5, 14 supporters of the banned Islamic party, tried in Leninabad's administrative capital, Khodjend, received sentences of between eight and 14 years. They were found guilty of inciting ethnic and religious hatred.


The bid to set up an Islamic state in the Fergana valley, which straddles Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, lies at the heart of the group's activities.


The organisation appeals particularly to the young and unemployed, according to Kurbonali Mukhabatov, Leninabad oblast prosecutor. "Lack of experience and political education among these young people makes them the target for these kind of extremist organizations," he said.


Members also see it as their duty to address what they see as a moral deterioration in the fabric of society which, they think, governments have failed to address.


"The authorities are not able to tackle such problems as declining moral values, increasing divorce rates, prostitution, drugs and the spread of AIDS," said Khizb-ut-Takhrir activist Bakhtior Khakimov, arrested earlier this year on suspicion of setting up a network of supporters.


Material disseminated by the group accuses the authorities of violating human rights in Tajikistan. One leaflet described how a Leninabad resident, detained without charge, had died in prison. The article implied that his death resulted from ill-treatment while in detention.


"Muslims! Don't let countries in Central Asia turn into totalitarian states!" urges the leaflet. "We will build a real Islamic country!"


Party cells appeared in Leninabad in 1998 and spread swiftly across the region.


Last year, the Tajik authorities suggested Khizb-ut-Takhrir had attracted about a thousand supporters. Some 150 party leaders and activists were arrested. Many have been tried and sentenced to long prison terms.


What comes as a surprise to many is that practically all those detained are residents of the Leninabad region. Not only is the region considered the most economically and socially developed in Tajikistan, but it has also been the most open to democratic reform.


Mukhabatov believes the emergence of the Muslim radicals stems from political instability caused by various military factions vying for control.


The rivalry is thought to have resulted from the peace treaty that ended the civil war in 1997. Northerners felt the agreement excluded them from the country's political decision-making process.


A wave of protests initiated in 1996 was followed by the attempted assassination of President Emomali Rakhmonov and an abortive army mutiny in 1998. Opposition activity have been greater here than anywhere else in Tajikistan, according to Mukhabatov.


That Leninabad neighbours Uzbekistan, a country where Khizb-ut-Takhrir ideas have already taken root, is another important factor. Since the appearance of the organisation in 1992, it is fair to assume that religious emissaries and extremist literature passed into Tajik territory.


Tens of thousands joined the Khizb-ut-Takhrir and Wahabbi in the Fergana region of Uzbekistan following economic decline and the failure of market reforms.


The organisation's traditional secretive cell-structure makes it a formidable enemy. Once a new unit is formed, it is obliged to form new cells, leading to a geometric progression in numbers.


Tajik experts claim Islamic centres finance the activities of the supporters of Khizb-ut-Takhrir. The members of the party maintain close ties with many well-known extremist movements.


Recent reports point to their relationship with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan , IMU - blamed for Tashkent bombings in 1999 and also held responsible for armed incursions into Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan over the last two years.


The organisation's literature seems to confirm this. One leaflet - devoted solely to the incursion last year into the southern Surkhandarya region on the Tajik-Uzbek border - accused local government media coverage of events as "presenting a false picture".


"The Uzbek government is violating the rights of Muslims and that is why they are forced to fight for their freedom," reads the leaflet.


The interior ministry continues to issue regular bulletins detailing the arrests of suspects. Just a few days ago, the police arrested their first female suspect, picked up distributing Khizb-ut-Takhrir's leaflets.


Vladimir Davlatov is a regular IWPR contributor