Kazak Crackdown on Islamic Party
Hizb-ut-Tahrir faces a bleak future as Kazakstan follows its Central
Asian neighbours down the road of banning the Islamic group.
By Daur Dosybiev in Shymkent and Eduard Poletaev in Almaty (RCA No.
February 11, 2005
Until recently, Kazakstan was one of the last places in Central Asia
where supporters of the radical Islamic group Hizb-ut-Tahrir could
operate with relative freedom.
But that looks set to change, following a recent police crackdown
which resulted in the arrest of about 50 party members, and a bill
just passed on extremist organisations that could see Hizb-ut-Tahrir
Already banned in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the group
had based its overt operations in Kazakstan and had recently stepped
up its leafleting activities in an ill-fated public relations effort
to convince people that it does not support extremism.
Most of the literature is highly anti-American and was critical of
China which has a Muslim population in the west and especially
Hizb-ut-Tahrir, whose name means the "party of liberation",
originated in the Middle East in the Fifties but first appeared in
Central Asia in the mid-Nineties, campaigning against the government
of Uzbek president Islam Karimov.
Hizb-ut-Tahrir wants to see secular governments replaced by a
caliphate modelled on the early Islamic state, but its literature
has always stressed that regime change can only take place by non-
That is not a claim the Uzbek authorities believe, and they have
arrested thousands of the group's members in recent years. But even
this has failed to stamp Hizb-ut-Tahrir out, and while it has spread
to neighbouring republics, it reserves its most hostile rhetoric for
the Tashkent regime in Tashkent.
"I don't think that this organisation sees Kazakstan as the goal of
its activity," said Sanat Kushkumbaev, a Kazak political
scientist. "It is directed mainly at Uzbekistan."
The Kazak authorities have grown increasingly concerned at the
growth of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, and have recently begun cracking down.
Pressure from Tashkent may also have played a role: the Uzbeks have
claimed that the Islamic radicals behind a bout of violence in
spring last year and three suicide bombings in July had links to
Kazakstan. It is not certain that Hizb-ut-Tahrir was the group
In the South Kazakstan region alone, 39 criminal cases were opened
against party members in 2004, three times more than during the
previous year, according to the prosecutor's office.
On January 21 this year, around 40 people demanding freedom for Hizb-
ut-Tahrir activist Vadim Berestov, who had just been jailed for one
year, were themselves arrested while protesting outside the main
mosque in Almaty.
One week later, nine members were detained in what looked like a
coordinated police swoops at four mosques in Shymkent and Kentau.
Both these towns are in the South Kazakstan region, where Hizb-ut-
Tahrir is particularly active because of the proximity of Uzbekistan.
Police announced on February 8 that a Hizb-ut-Tahrir printing press
had been found in an Almaty apartment and more than 12,000 leaflets
"Why have the police started treating us so harshly?" asked 27-year-
old Serik, who joined the group in 2003 after graduating from
university in Shymkent. "We bring nothing but love for Allah."
Kazak experts interviewed by IWPR suggest that Hizb-ut-Tahrir poses
little threat to the country.
"This party will never get a strong hold over the masses," said
Maksut Sarsenov from the Association of Sociologists and Politicians
of Kazakstan. "It is not a terrorist organisation. It functions
legally in civilised Europe."
Analysts believe pressure exerted by the Uzbek president continues
to shape Kazak policy Karimov has twice this year called on his
neighbours to crack down on the radical group.
"He would like to see his own tough actions against Hizb-ut-Tahrir
being accompanied by similar actions [in] our country," said Nikolai
Kuzmin, an analyst at the Research Centre for Communication
Technologies. "In Uzbekistan, members of this organisation are
behind bars. We do not have that here. It is understandable that
Karimov sees this state of affairs in quite a negative light."
Hizb-ut-Tahrir never sought to register with the justice bodies in
Kazakstan, which meant that it did not count as legal, though it was
not proscribed. A Shymkent lawyer who asked to remain anonymous said
the law clearly states that religious bodies do not have to register
with the authorities, adding, "there are times when individual
legislative acts of this country contradict each other".
In the past, Hizb-ut-Tahrir supporters in Kazakstan have been
charged with illegal public assembly, distributing leaflets, and
inciting religious strife.
Now life is going to get much tougher for the group, as the new
legislation will criminalise the very act of joining the party. The
bill called "resisting extremist activity" - was passed in
parliament on February 9, and now awaits President Nursultan
Before the bill went through parliament, Hizb-ut-Tahrir leaders were
already rattled by the arrests. They reacted by appealing to the
official head of the Muslim clergy in the country, Mufti Absattar-
kajy Derbesali, for protection. The mainstream clerical
organisation, which maintains good relations with the government, is
suspicious of what appears to be an upstart organisation imported
from abroad, voicing unorthodox views, and operating outside the
"Since the beginning of 2004 to January 2005, more than 100 Muslims
of Kazakstan have been imprisoned for advocating Islam. Around 20
innocent Muslims are in jail
Our brothers should be free," said the
appeal, which went on to ask the clerical leadership to take Hizb-ut-
Tahrir "under its wing".
Political scientist Igor Savin suggested that excessive pressure on
Hizb-ut-Tahrir could prove counterproductive, promopting the group
to split in two factions with half striving for legitimacy and the
other going underground replacing the stated peace-loving policies
"Their appeal is simply an attempt to increase their own status in
the eyes of Kazakstan Muslims. It seems that Hizb-ut-Tahrir wants to
change its tactics of political battle, since the country's
authorities have taken a harsh stand towards them."
Daur Dosybiev is an independent journalist in Shymkent. Eduard
Poletaev is IWPR director in Kazakstan. Inna Lyudva, an assistant
with IWPR in Kazakstan, contributed to the report.