Accessibility links

(Un)Civil Societies Report: August 14, 2006

August 14, 2006, Volume 7, Number 14
SECURITY SERVICES TAKE ON RELIGIOUS DISSENT. PRAGUE, August 10, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Rafiq Qori Kamoluddin, the prominent ethnic Uzbek religious leader who was killed during a security raid in southern Kyrgyzstan on August 6, is not the first imam to have been targeted by law-enforcement agencies in the region. Several other Uzbek imams have been persecuted before. But he is the first to have been targeted by both Kyrgyz and Uzbek security services.

Authorities in Bishkek said Kamoluddin, who was also known as Muhammadrafiq Kalamov, had ties to terrorists from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). He was shot dead along with the two alleged IMU members in a joint raid by Uzbek and Kyrgyz security forces.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, dissident Uzbek imam Obidkhon Qori Nazarov calls the cleric's killing unprecedented.

"This is a horrifying event. There has been no such case in recent history," Nazarov says. "There have been abductions of Muslims -- Abduvali Qori [Mirzaev] was abducted by the Uzbek secret service. Several other religious figures have also been abducted. [Uzbek authorities] have done lots of dirty deeds. But openly shooting someone hasn't happened in recent history."

Nazarov himself is charged with terrorism. Uzbek authorities accuse him of involvement in deadly bombings in Tashkent in February 1999. He fled Uzbekistan and found refuge in Europe in March after spending eight years in hiding in Kazakhstan.

Nazarov and Kamoluddin are by no means the only imams that officials in the region have labeled "terrorists."

Imam Ruhitdin Fahrutdinov is facing trial in Tashkent, charged with terrorism and extremist and anticonstitutional activities. Fahrutdinov -- on the run since 1998 -- was detained in southern Kazakhstan in November and extradited to Uzbekistan.

Abduvali Qori Mirzaev, a prominent imam and a close relative of Kamoluddin, has been missing since 1995. He disappeared after clearing passport control at Tashkent's international airport. Mirzaev's relatives have alleged he was detained by the Uzbek security service, secretly tried, and possibly executed.

Nazarov mentions several other imams he says have been persecuted for their religious activities in Uzbekistan.

But none of those cases featured the kind of cooperation between the security services of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan that Kamoluddin's case showed.

Uzbek opposition leaders have condemned Kyrgyz officials' dealings with the Uzbek security organs.

Abdurahim Polatov, the exiled leader of the opposition Birlik (Unity) party, calls Kamoluddin's killing a "shameful act."

"It is difficult to comprehend why the Kyrgyz government is cooperating with Uzbekistan and even trying to win the sympathies of [President Islam] Karimov's regime," Polatov says. "Kyrgyzstan might be doing so because it is a small state. Unfortunately, in 1992-94, former Kyrgyz President [Askar] Akaev had a similar [policy] and assisted the Uzbek government in persecuting Uzbek opposition members and human rights activists on [Kyrgyz] territory. Yet it is a shameful act by the new democratic Kyrgyz government."

The joint Uzbek-Kyrgyz raid came soon after the chiefs of those countries' security services agreed to conduct joint counterterrorism operations. The meeting followed talks between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek presidents on combating what they called "international terrorism" and "religious extremism."

Michael Hall, the director of the International Crisis Group's (ICG) Central Asia Project, speculates on the reasons behind Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev's stepped-up collaboration with Tashkent.

"From the very beginning of his rule, Bakiev and the Kyrgyz government in general have been under quite a strong pressure from the Uzbek side," Hall says. "I believe Kyrgyzstan counted on more assistance from Western countries [after its March 2005 revolution]. And I believe they were disappointed with what they've seen. Bakiev and his government feel they have no other option: Uzbekistan is next door. Uzbeks can create lots of problems for the Kyrgyz in many spheres -- for instance, in the energy sector."

Hall says Bakiev has found an area where he can benefit from cooperation with Tashkent: counterterrorism -- by which both sides mean acting against the banned Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, among others.

Hall suggested that Bakiev feels safe with the policy -- keeping Karimov pleased and also limiting Hizb ut-Tahrir's influence. That influence appears to have been growing, not only in Kyrgyzstan's ethnic-Uzbek south, but also in the north of the country.

The Uzbek security service has been active in Kyrgyzstan's south for years, with occasional reports of abductions and forced repatriations with the silent consent of Kyrgyz officials.

Hall says that Uzbeks now appear to have "carte blanche" to conduct operations on Kyrgyz soil.

Official Tashkent was quick to react to Kamoluddin's killing through an official website, highlighting his alleged ties to Islamist radicals.

The website published a long article just hours after the news broke of Kamoluddin's death. The article alleged links to Nazarov and "friendly" ties with IMU leaders. It also alleged that Nazarov and Kamoluddin were "the main organizers, inspirers, and ideologues" of "bandits" who planned terrorist acts in Uzbekistan.

Nazarov dismissed the allegations and said he had never met Kamoluddin in person.

Kamoluddin was known for allowing Islamic radicals from Hizb ut-Tahrir to pray at his mosque, although he was critical of the group's ideology. He also criticized the Central Asian governments' religions policies.

Muhammad Solih, the exiled leader of Uzbek opposition party Erk (Freedom), calls Kamoluddin a victim of the Karimov regime's pursuit of religious opponents.

"It is an extension of the 15-year state terror of the Karimov regime across the borders," Solih says. "Karimov has not been adequately punished for his terror conducted inside the country. Unfortunately, the world community has not raised its voice and has not responded adequately to this terror. Karimov -- inspired by this -- started extending his terror to foreign lands."

Some in Kyrgyzstan have warned Bakiev against cooperation with Karimov.

Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu says cooperation with Uzbek regime is harming Kyrgyzstan's international image and affecting its democratic development.

"I fear Kyrgyzstan is gradually becoming like Uzbekistan," Bakir-uulu says. "First they fought with the political opposition and weakened it. Now they have turned against religious figures. It was the same in Uzbekistan: First they eliminated the political opposition, then [they] started eliminating religious figures."

It is remains to be seen how Tashkent and Bishkek might benefit from eliminating Kamoluddin in the longer term. He was a prominent religious figure with moderate stance.

The International Crisis Group's Hall predicts that Kamoluddin's death could radicalize some of the imam's followers. (Gulnoza Saidazimova)

TIMES GET TOUGHER FOR NGOS. WASHINGTON, August 11, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Facing official restrictions on meaningful participation in political affairs, some Iranians have come to view nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as a way to get involved and help themselves and others. But hard-liners associated with Iran's president have expressed misgivings about NGOs.

The most recent expression of official distrust was the government's ban in early August of a human rights group led by Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi.

There are thousands of such entities currently operating in Iran, with estimates ranging from 8,000 to 20,000. They include charities, as well as organizations that deal with youth affairs, environmental issues, women, human rights, and vulnerable groups.

The former administration of reformist President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) encouraged the creation of NGOs and earmarked funding for their establishment. The main goal of the reformists was political development.

And the development of civil-society entities like NGOs was seen as an essential part of this process. Even as his second term in office ended, Khatami revealed his continuing confidence in NGOs by registering a group that would focus on the "dialogue among civilizations," the motto of his presidency.

Not everyone shares this enthusiasm for NGOs.

Some Iranian conservatives regard them as suspicious Western-style institutions that are inappropriate for the Islamic republic. The hard-line Islamic Coalition Party's Hamid Reza Taraqi called it "impossible to deal with the people's demands by setting up NGOs," "Etemad" reported on July 28, 2005. Taraqi offered that such groups "are based on the Western way of thinking and models that are not in tune with [Iran's] cultural structure and civilizations."

Taraqi also criticized the Khatami administration for allocating funds for NGOs. He predicted that President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's administration would adopt a different approach.

"Instead of promoting such formations and Western models," Taraqi said, Ahmadinejad "will try to make use of the mosque and religious order to pursue public demands." He suggested that such institutions "are more commensurate with the indigenous culture."

Taraqi's prediction appeared prescient when the Ahmadinejad administration submitted its budget to the parliament. The amount of money allocated to religious institutions, seminaries, and outreach entities was increased. In some cases, the budget increases surpassed 100 percent, "Etemad" reported on February 15.

The initial impression might be that this change in emphasis reflects the conservative tendencies of the president and his associates, and some legislators objected to these developments.

It is noteworthy that such a shift -- and an accompanying reallocation of resources -- is not peculiar to the Ahmadinejad administration. Other Iranian executives have done the same, and these moves could merely reflect Ahmadinejad's effort to distance himself from the policies of his predecessor. Moreover, shifting funds to mosque-based organizations could be a way of working with those civil-society institutions that are most familiar to the president's political base among the country's more traditional classes.

However, the changes in funding reportedly have had the greatest effect on NGOs working on politically sensitive issues like women's rights.

Legislation regulating NGOs also presents obstacles. Laws are "overcomplicated and cumbersome," according to attorney Negar Katirai. Writing about the Iranian legal environment for NGOs in "The International Journal Of Not-For-Profit Law," Katirai said the activities of a large number of decision-making centers are not coordinated. Registration and regulation is often inconsistent.

The NGO community and the Interior Ministry met in November 2003 and eventually developed a revised law on NGOs. Katirai noted that the law was reworked several times before its eventual rejection by the legislature. But some of its components were incorporated in "Executive Regulations Concerning the Formation and Activities of Nongovernmental Organizations" of June 2005.

In addition, the country's restrictive media environment makes it difficult to disseminate information about civil-society activities and needs.

But any efforts to eliminate NGOs would likely meet with stubborn resistance. Many of them have helped many Iranians assert greater control over their lives. And they are institutions built on a culture of self-help and mutual assistance. (Bill Samii)

TATARSTAN CLINIC IS BOLD EXCEPTION IN HIV BATTLE. KAZAN, August 10, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Every day in Russia, hundreds of thousands of women go out onto the streets to work as prostitutes. For most, health care and other forms of support is nonexistent. But Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, has launched a unique campaign to protect commercial sex workers against the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Irina, 33, has been injecting heroin for the past six years.

When her husband died earlier this year, Irina found herself unable to pay for her addiction. That's when she turned to prostitution.

It's not an easy life. But Irina is luckier than many commercial sex workers in Russia.

She is able to receive regular medical screening from the Simona clinic in Kazan, one of the only support centers for prostitutes in the country.

Arriving at Simona for a routine test for sexually transmitted diseases, she is met by a female doctor who asks about her health and her work.

The questions are frank, but not judgmental. Irina answers openly. How long has she been involved in commercial sex? Four months. Does she take drugs? Yes. Does she have hepatitis? Yes.

The Simona center opened in the Tatar capital in January. Run jointly by local authorities and nongovernmental organizations, it is the only one of its kind in Russia.

Irina's tests, like all medical services offered at this clinic, are free. Free condoms are also available.

The center does not provide drug treatment for HIV-positive clients, but it does help direct patients to find the drugs they need. The clinic also carries out prevention work and trains health specialists to work with prostitutes.

Simona's venereologist, Albina Zaripova, says "around 80 percent" of prostitutes in Tatarstan are infected with at least one sexually transmitted disease. "Most of them are drug addicts and have hepatitis as well," she adds. "One out of four is HIV-positive."

By treating this high-risk group, Kazan hopes to curb the spread of sexually transmitted diseases -- in particular HIV/AIDS -- into the mainstream population.

The Kazan center doesn't wait for prostitutes to drop in. It reaches out to them in the street, distributes flyers throughout the city, and tries to persuade escort services to send their sex workers in for regular health checks.

The clinic has been quick to gain the trust of sex workers -- today, it receives an average of eight patients a day.

Like many of Kazan's sex workers, Irina says she now sees the center as a source of comfort. "I like it here. The people, the doctors, are very nice, very kind. They support me morally. I want to give up drugs, so they're also helping me with that," she says.

"It's actually a pleasure to come here. At the hospital I used to go to, they treated me like a dog. It was dirty, there were cockroaches everywhere, the doctors were bad," she adds.

Russia has one of the fastest-growing HIV infection rates in the world. The country's federal AIDS center estimates Russia has as many as 1.5 million HIV carriers.

And though fighting HIV/AIDS has been labeled a "national priority," response to the crisis remains sluggish.

Russia's budget allocation for HIV/AIDS is 20 times higher than last year. But activists -- many of whom will be attending the 16th annual International AIDS Conference, which begins in Toronto on August 13 -- say embarrassment and hostility regarding the issue continue to present a barrier.

Staff at Simona work hard to lower such barriers. The clinic owes much of its popularity to the fact that it does not attempt to talk these women into quitting the sex business.

Svetlana Kochetkova, a manager at Simona, stresses that its job is not to combat prostitution itself, but its consequences. "Our task is not to prevent the spread of prostitution, although this is also important. Our work focuses on dealing with what has already happened," Kochetkova says.

"I don't have any prejudices against women working in the sex business. We just accept the situation as it is. If a person has chosen this path, it is her right, it is her choice. Our job is to offer help and support.

The much-needed moral support and human warmth that the sex workers find at the clinic, however, can ultimately help these women find an alternative to prostitution.

Alfia Novikova, the clinic's administrator, refers to the women who come to Simona as "society's outcasts." But for her, she adds, they are "like daughters who have veered from the correct path."

"Most of them are very young, some of the girls are 16 or 17," Novikova says. "Recently I spoke to a girl, she's 17. We sat here and discussed where she could go and study, what profession she wanted to pursue. We discuss things like that, like a mother and a daughter would do."

Irina also has bright ambitions. If she succeeds at giving up drugs and gets a clean bill of health, she says she hopes to marry her new boyfriend, a taxi driver whom she has known for over 10 years.

Simona, too, has big plans for the future. The staff there hopes its success will inspire other regions to set up, with their help, similar structures in other Russian cities. (Albina Zaynulla and Claire Bigg)

INFLUENTIAL ISLAMIC POLITICIAN REMEMBERED. PRAGUE, August 10, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The leader of Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), Said Abdullo Nuri, was buried today in the capital, Dushanbe. Nuri died on August 9 after a long bout with cancer. Nuri led the United Tajik Opposition during the 1992-97 Tajik Civil War and then headed the National Reconciliation Commission that helped guide the country to peace.

Several thousand people attended Nuri's funeral in Dushanbe. Nuri was among the best-known figures in Tajikistan, and his burial attracted leading figures from the former opposition and the government.

IRP Deputy Chairman Muhiddin Kabiri told RFE/RL's Tajik Service today that Nuri's death creates a void that will not easily be filled.

"I must say that Nuri is an irreplaceable personality," Kabiri said. "He led his own school [of thought] in Tajikistan and in the region, which consisted of creating peace, unity, and forgiveness and forgetting [grievances]. The community of Tajikistan did not have this before -- the country had not experienced this sort of thing before. But it showed that Islam is a peace-loving and forgiving religion, and I hope that this is his legacy in Tajikistan."

Nuri was prominent in the decade that followed independence, when he initially emerged to lead the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) -- a coalition of groups opposed to rule by post-Soviet apparatchiks. He fled the country during the civil war but continued to run the UTO from exile in Afghanistan and Iran.

Dodajon Ataullo, the editor-in-chief of the Tajik opposition newspaper "Charoghi Ruz" (Light of Day), continued to publish the newspaper during the civil war -- when it was banned -- printing it in Russia and smuggling into Tajikistan.

"His death is very heavy on me, very painful for me," Ataullo told RFE/RL's Tajik Service from his Russian exile. "During his illness, I was always with him [in spirit]. I remember his face, his features, his soulful eyes. I recognize him not only as one of the biggest politicians, but [also] as one of the major personalities and most beloved figures in Tajikistan's history in the 20th century. That is how I view him."

Nuri signed the Tajik National Peace Accord on behalf of the UTO in 1997, ending a bloody civil war that cost as many as 100,000 people their lives.

The chairman of the Tajik parliament spoke today at Nuri's funeral on behalf of the government and President Imomali Rakhmonov, who is currently in India. Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloyev praised Nuri as a "remarkable person" who helped bring peace to Tajikistan.

"His personal qualities and political charisma raised his authority among the citizens of Tajikistan and the members of the Islamic Renaissance Party," Ubaidulloyev said. "The president of the republic highly values [Nuri's] role, his activities, and appreciates and calls attention to his deeds. Today we say goodbye to a famous politician, and we respect his role in establishing peace and unity in Tajikistan. We remember his great and historic part and his spiritual deeds."

Soviet authorities jailed Nuri in 1973 for distributing Islamic literature. One year later, he helped organize an Islamic youth group called Islamic Revival (Nahzati Islomi) that never met with official favor. In the run-up to the civil war, Nuri was the editor-in-chief of a newspaper called "Minbari Islom."

"Abdullo Nuri founded Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party. After the outbreak of the civil war, regrettably, he was forced into exile," prominent Uzbek Islamic scholar Muhammad Sodiq told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. "But during his activities, he understood that war and armed confrontation were not good and that everything must be resolved through peaceful means. He held talks with the government about establishing peace in Tajikistan. He returned home and turned to peaceful activity. That made everyone happy."

Nuri's Islamic Renaissance Party remains Central Asia's only officially registered Islamic political party. (RFE/RL's Tajik Service, Uzbek Service, and correspondent Gulnoza Saidazimova contributed to this report.)