KYRGYZSTAN: "Medieval khan" closes mosques
The regional Muslim leader has accused Asan Erinbayev, head of Karadarya district in southern Kyrgyzstan, of "blatantly arbitrary" action in closing six out of nine local mosques. "He behaves like a medieval khan," Dilmurat haji Orozov told Forum 18 News Service from Jalal-abad. He said the Muslim community would be campaigning for the return of the mosques to believers. When Forum 18 visited the district on 9 May, Erinbayev arrived by car within ten minutes and forced Forum 18's car to stop. He made no attempt to deny the closures, but claimed the mosques had been built on state-owned land. "Now that the mosques have been closed, I can monitor the activities of the imams on my territory," he told Forum 18.
Within ten minutes of Forum 18's arrival on the territory of Karadarya rural district, a Zhiguli car appeared and forced Forum 18's car to stop. The man who got out of the Zhiguli introduced himself as Asan Erinabayev and said that "he had learnt that journalists were operating on his territory". He then asked Forum 18 for its "authorisation to enter his territory". Forum 18's correspondent had to explain that he was in Kyrgyzstan legally and had the right to move around the country without special authorisation.
Erinbayev made no attempt to hide his closure of the mosques. "Yes, I did close the mosques because they had deliberately been built on state-owned land," he insisted to Forum 18. "Also, the imams in various mosques were preaching different things and I closed down some of the mosques so that they would not argue among themselves." He claimed that as the Karadarya district borders Uzbekistan "I have to monitor carefully the mood of believers". "It had got to the point where some imams were performing marriage ceremonies before the bride and groom had registered at the registry office! Now that the mosques have been closed, I can monitor the activities of the imams on my territory."
The district stretches for around 25 kilometres (15 miles) and local Muslims, who asked not to be identified, told Forum 18 that it is now very difficult for elderly believers to reach the remaining functioning mosques. They maintained that Erinbayev believed he could operate with complete impunity because his brother, Baimat Erinbayev, is a deputy of the regional assembly. They also alleged that Baimat Erinbayev is "one of the most influential mafia members in the region".
Orozov said Erinbayev distorted the facts when he claimed that the mosques he closed down had been built on state-owned land. He insisted that at the start of the 1990s, when land from collective farms was redistributed, this land was handed over so that mosques could be built. "Before Erinbayev, all the heads of the district believed the mosques were functioning legally," Orozov told Forum 18. "Erinbayev simply wants to govern the believers in his area."
12 May 2003
Six Muslims whose daughters have encountered problems for wearing the Islamic headscarf, the hijab, in school in Karasu have appealed for help to the imam of the town's central mosque, his son Roshad Kamalov told Forum 18 News Service. School director Khalima Ibragimova invited the girls to the staff room, where she and a police officer with responsibility for minors searched the girls' bags and confiscated religious literature they found there. Ibragimova then told the girls she would exclude them from school if they did not stop wearing the hijab. Ibragimova defended her actions, telling Forum 18 she could see nothing unlawful in them. She maintained that school uniform does not allow girls to wear the hijab. However, Kyrgyzstan's senior religious affairs official disagrees. "The schoolgirls have the right to wear the hijab to school," Mumurzak Mamayusupov told Forum 18.
12 May 2003
Muslim pupils who perform daily prayers complain they are now being persecuted in schools in Bazar-Kurgan in southern Kyrgyzstan. Local resident Salimakhar Batirova told Forum 18 News Service how the director of her daughter's school had entered the class and asked who practised Islam. Five pupils came to the front of the class, whereupon the director wrote down their names and left. "Then the teacher, Mashrapkhan Isakulova, started to hit the children on their heads and faces. She told them to conceal the fact that they were carrying out Islamic practices. She kept the children in after lessons and sent for their parents." The head of the district administration categorically denied that any order had been given to find out which pupils are studying Islam. "We are simply concerned about the activity of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir party," Khaldarabai Shamsuddinov insisted to Forum 18. "Its activity has become much more dangerous since the launch of military action by the United States and Great Britain."
22 April 2003
Despite authoritarian rule, high levels of censorship of the local media and periodic barring of access to foreign-based political opposition websites, Central Asia's governments have so far only enacted limited censorship over access to religious websites based outside the region, a Forum 18 News Service investigation has found. Uzbekistan permanently bars access to the London-based website of Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir, though not to its Pakistan-related site. In several Uzbek Internet cafes, Forum 18 even came across the notice: "Viewing of religious and pornographic sites is forbidden". But with low Internet use in Central Asia and a population too poor to be able to afford access, Central Asia's governments – which to a greater or lesser extent try to control all religious activity - may believe they do not need to impose religious censorship on the Internet.