KYRGYZSTAN: Wide-ranging extremism law not seen as threat
Kyrgyzstan has recently adopted an extremism law with a wide-ranging definition of extremism, which leaves open the possibility of it being applied to peaceful religious communities. However, most religious communities Forum 18 News Service spoke to – such as Catholics, Presbyterians and Jehovah's Witnesses - had mainly not read the law, and did not see it as a current threat. The former mufti of Kyrgyzstan commented to Forum 18 that "the very fact that the authorities are linking religion with extremism is worrying for educated Muslims. But most believers don't even know that a new law has been adopted. Theoretically the law could pose a danger to believers, but so far at least I have not seen any changes in state religious policy." Kanybek Malabayev, of the Kyrgyz government's Religious Affairs Committee, told Forum 18 that "we will apply this law only to the Hizb ut-Tahrir party, whose leaflets contain openly anti-Semitic sentiments."
This wide-ranging definition of extremism, not linked with any crimes or other acts against others, leaves open the possibility of it being applied to the self-understanding of peaceful religious communities. But religious communities Forum 18 News Service spoke to had mainly not read the law, and did not see it as a current threat.
"Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses and other religious minorities are not stirring up national or religious hatred and therefore the law on combating religious extremism cannot be applied to them. The law on combating extremist activity does not apply only to religious believers. For the time being, at least, we will apply this law only to the Hizb ut-Tahrir party whose leaflets contain openly anti-Semitic sentiments," Kanybek Malabayev, a leading specialist at the Kyrgyz government's Religious Affairs Committee, told Forum 18 on 18 October. An outline of Hizb ut-Tahir's policy can be found at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=170
Father Aleksandr Kan of the Catholic Church told Forum 18 on 18 October in the capital, Bishkek, that "I didn't even know that a new law had been adopted. We have no problems with the authorities." Fr Kan's view was echoed by Kuban Abylkasymov, pastor of the Protestant Presbyterian church in Karakol, the central town in the eastern Isyk-Kul region, speaking to Forum 18 on 19 October. "We have heard about the new law, but have not read it. So far at least this law has not had any effect on our relations with the authorities," he said. Anatoli Melnik is a member of the Council of Jehovah's Witnesses in Kazakhstan, which governs its fellow believers throughout Central Asia. He told Forum 18 from Almaty on 17 October that "so far at least we do not have any problems with the Kyrgyz authorities."
Vasili Kuzin, senior pastor of the Pentecostal Church of Jesus Christ, commented to Forum 18 on 17 October in Bishkek that "in Kyrgyzstan laws don't have any meaning, only verbal orders. So we have not read the law. Every so often the authorities carry out random checks on our daughter churches in the provinces, but I don't think this has anything to do with the adoption of a new law or with the events in Andijan."
Sadykjan Kamalludin, head of the Islamic Centre and former mufti of Kyrgyzstan commented that "the very fact that the authorities are linking religion with extremism is worrying for educated Muslims. But most believers don't even know that a new law has been adopted. Theoretically the law could pose a danger to believers, but so far at least I have not seen any changes in state religious policy," he told Forum 18 in Osh on 6 October.
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe's centre in Bishkek made no comment on the law to Forum 18.
So far, no actual punishment for extremism has been prescribed. However, the Kyrgyz parliament is working on a draft law "On introducing amendments to the Criminal Code of the Kyrgyz Republic" which will complement this new law. Under the draft law, terms such as "extremism" and "separatism" will be inserted into the Criminal Code. Engagement in extremist or separatist activity is proposed to be punishable by a prison term of between five and 20 years.
Following the country-wide demonstrations which led to the removal of former President Askar Akaev earlier this year, most religious minorities also noted no change in policy towards them (see F18News 23 June 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=592).
For background information see Forum 18's Kyrgyzstan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=222.
A printer-friendly map of Kyrgyzstan is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=Kyrgyz.
23 June 2005
Amid the breakdown of functioning government, some Protestants have complained to Forum 18 News Service of pressure against them. The head of a Protestant rehabilitation centre in a village near the capital Bishkek, Akhmed Saipov, told Forum 18 that local Muslims attacked his institution and demanded that it be closed. Saipov told Forum 18 that he has "no confidence" that police will protect the centre "if we are subjected to a pogrom again," but the police officer leading the investigation, Colonel Amangeldy Ishaliev, assured Forum 18 that "the police will protect the centre from hooligans if it is subjected to attacks again." Also, former junior Education Minister Gaisha Ibragimova's was allegedly forced to resign by "Islamic radicals" because she is a Protestant. However, members of a range of Protestant churches in Kyrgyzstan told Forum 18, in mid-June, that they had not heard of other incidents of pressure against religious minorities elsewhere in the country.
16 June 2005
The Kyrgyz government "controls" 300 students currently studying in Islamic colleges in Egypt and Iran through the muftiate (the official Islamic spiritual leadership), an official has told Forum 18 News Service. Samsabek Zakirov, head of the religious affairs committee for Osh region, also told Forum 18 that "in southern Kyrgyzstan practically all the mosques are registered and are therefore under government control." Zakirov is not satisfied at this level of control and also intends to ensure that travelling Muslim missionaries "only preach with permission from the muftiate," or official Islamic leadership. Kyrgyz law does not require this permission. Local people have told Forum 18 they fear that last month's uprising in Uzbekistan could destabilise the situation in southern Kyrgyzstan and believe the government may tighten its religious policy. But so far there have been "no noticeable significant changes," Sadykjan Kamaluddin, former mufti of Kyrgyzstan, told Forum 18.
16 June 2005
Akramia was at the centre of May's uprising, but it is still unclear if it is a bona fide peaceful religious group, or if it is violent. Their origins date from the founder, Akram Yuldashev, writing an Islamic theological pamphlet in Uzbek, Yimonga Yul (Path to faith), which he states did not touch on political issues, but rather on general moral themes. Those close to group members have insisted on this point to Forum 18 News Service, as does the Russian-language translation. The only indirect evidence that Akramia was pressing for violence prior to the uprising is a so-called supplement to Yimonga Yul; it is unknown both who wrote the supplement and whose ideas it contains. The main source of Akamia support in the uprising's centre, Andijan, seems to have been their "Islamic socialist" employment practices. Much is unclear about both Akramia and the events leading to the Andijan massacre, but calls for a credible thorough independent investigation have been rejected by the Uzbek government.