KYRGYZSTAN: Imam's killing seen as attack on independent Islam
Muslims in both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan see the killing of an imam, by the Kyrgyz NSS secret police, as an attack on Islam that is independent of the state, Forum 18 News Service has been told. Mohammadrafiq Kamalov was imam of one of the largest mosques in south Kyrgyzstan, and was killed by the NSS in circumstances that remain unclear. "My brother was certainly not a terrorist," Sadykjan Kamalov, former mufti of Kyrgyzstan, told Forum 18. "He was a very influential theologian and had enormous authority among the people of south Kyrgyzstan. I can't yet say exactly what happened. People say that officials from Uzbekistan's National Security Service secret police were taking part in an operation led by Kyrgyzstan's NSS secret police when the tragedy occurred. But so far at least there is no clear proof of this." Mohammadrafiq Kamalov had been accused of membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir, but he had denied this.
The As-Sarakhsi mosque is one of the largest mosques in the south of Kyrgyzstan, and Mohammadrafiq Kamalov was killed by the Kyrgyz National Security Service (NSS) secret police on the outskirts of Osh, south Kyrgyzstan's largest city, on 6 August. The mosque is situated in Karasu, an ethnic Uzbek town split in two by the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border some 15 kilometres (9 miles) north-west of Osh. Karasu is known as one of the main centres in Central Asia of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a party - banned in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan - that wants to rule the world under an Islamic caliphate and is known for its virulent anti-Western and antisemitic rhetoric (see F18News http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=170 for an outline of its views).
The circumstances of the imam's death remain unclear, with the NSS on 7 August claiming that he was a terrorist shot along with two terrorists and that all three belonged to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. However, on 9 August, the NSS made a statement – quoted on fergana.ru - that "the terrorists had probably taken an influential religious leader hostage with the aim of using him as a human shield and, if he died, using his name to inflame the situation and provoke conflict between Muslims believers and the authorities, the end result being to destabilise the situation in the region".
"My brother was certainly not a terrorist. He was a very influential theologian and had enormous authority among the people of south Kyrgyzstan. I can't yet say exactly what happened. People say that officials from Uzbekistan's National Security Service secret police were taking part in an operation led by Kyrgyzstan's NSS secret police when the tragedy occurred. But so far at least there is no clear proof of this," Sadykjan Kamalov, brother of the deceased imam, former mufti of Kyrgyzstan and director of Kyrgyzstan's international Islamic centre, told Forum 18 on 22 August.
Kyrgyzstan has been widely condemned internationally – by for example the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the OSCE, and the European Union - for its co-operation with Uzbekistan, in deporting refugees from the Andijan events back to Uzbekistan. Karasu – where Imam Kamalov's mosque is – was itself caught up in the events surrounding the massacre (see F18News 23 May 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=567). The heads of the Kyrgyz and Uzbek secret police recently discussed co-operation, after the Kyrgyz and Uzbek presidents agreed in late July to fight "international terrorism" and "religious extremism."
No fewer than 5,000 people attended Kamalov's funeral on 7 August, according to the fergana.ru website. During the funeral, supporters of the imam declared him to be "a victim of state terror" and a "shahid." This Islamic term technically means one who died for the faith or a martyr. On 11 August, Kamalov's supporters tried to hold another meeting, calling on the Kyrgyz authorities to conduct an independent investigation into the murder of the imam and punish the perpetrators. Police cordons prevented people from attending the meeting, Forum 18's sources state.
Mohammadrafiq Kamalov had denied being part of Hizb ut-Tahrir, whose members openly attended his mosque along with other Muslims, but this is disputed by some. He himself publicly stated that Hizb ut-Tahrir members were mistaken in their views, but had the right to come to the mosque. On 24 May this year, Imam Kamalov was detained by officials from the NSS secret police, who claimed to have proof of the imam's connection with the activities of an armed group. However, Kamalov was released within a day at the insistence of his congregation.
"Our officials took no part in the operation during which Kamalov was killed – only NSS officials were involved in it," Zamirbek Sadykov of the Osh Internal Affairs Administration told Forum 18 on 22 August. "Therefore it is hard for me to make any comment on the circumstances of Kamalov's death. All I can say is that there are several versions of what happened."
Forum 18 tried to find out more at the Osh regional NSS office, but without success. The person who answered the telephone at the NSS said that the NSS "did not give information over the telephone."
The authorities in southern Kyrgyzstan have at times been hostile to the wearing of headscarves by Muslims (see F18News 11 April 2006 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=757). They have also expressed concern about the situation in south Kyrgyzstan, claiming that religious freedom for Christians and other non-Muslim faiths should therefore be restricted (see F18News 12 July 2006 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=810). (END)
For background information see Forum 18's Kyrgyzstan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=222 and Uzbekistan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=777.
A survey of the religious freedom decline in the eastern part of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) area is at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=806, and of religious intolerance in Central Asia is at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=815.
For a personal commentary by a Muslim scholar, advocating religious freedom for all faiths as the best antidote to Islamic religious extremism in Uzbekistan, see http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=338.
A printer-friendly map of Kyrgyzstan is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=kyrgyz
18 July 2006
In June 2006, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) held a "Tolerance Implementation Meeting on Promoting Inter-Cultural, Inter-Religious and Inter-Ethnic Understanding," in Kazakhstan. In a paper for the 11 June NGO Preparatory Conference, Igor Rotar of Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org looked at the reality of religious intolerance in Central Asia. This vital issue must be considered by examining the concrete reality of state policy that restricts the rights of believers of one or another confession, and religious intolerance in everyday life. It is sadly impossible to avoid the conclusion that many states in Central Asia deliberately pursue a policy which violates international religious freedom standards - despite the many fine-sounding statements made by these same states at OSCE and other conferences.
12 July 2006
An official of Kyrgyzstan's state Religious Affairs Committee has told Forum 18 News Service that the Religion Law could soon be amended to restrict evangelism or proselytism. "I hope that the new draft of the Law will be as close as possible to international standards," But, "we have to take local reality as our starting point," Shamsybek Zakirov told Forum 18. He expressed concern about anger from local Muslims in southern Kyrgyzstan, directed at the Religious Affairs Committee and local Protestants at Protestant evangelism. Zakirov confirmed statements made by Pentecostal Pastor Dzhanybek Zhakipov to Forum 18 that pressure by the authorities on local Protestants has increased. Government minister Adakhan Madumarov today (12 July) was reported as also indicating that the Religion Law may be tightened. The problem of intolerance of Christians and other religious minorities – leading to violent attacks and even murders – is widespread in Central Asia.
11 April 2006
A village school in southern Kyrgyzstan and a city Education Department are attempting to stop Muslim schoolgirls wearing the hijab, Forum 18 News Service has found. "It is unacceptable to attend lessons at a secular school wearing the hijab," Rozia Tokhtorieva, headteacher of School No. 26 in the village of Distuk, told Forum 18. "We will find ways to make the schoolgirls remove their headscarves." Not all officials in Jalal-Abad region agree with the ban. "There is no law on a single school uniform in Kyrgyzstan," Chyrmash Dooronov of the regional Education Administration told Forum 18, describing the ban as "hasty and ill-conceived." He also noted instances of parents sometimes infringing their children's legal rights. Commenting on officials' imposition of extra-legal demands, Gulnara Nurieva of the Committee for the Defence of Muslim Women noted that "people in Central Asia still have a Soviet outlook," and "follow orders from above rather than the law".