Prague, 18 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Earlier this week, the Kazakh Supreme Court banned seven Islamic groups on the grounds that they have connections to terrorism.
Now, Hizb ut-Tahrir is likely to be added to that list. Prosecutor-General Rashid Tusupbekov made the request to the city court of the capital, Astana, on 16 March.
Saulebek Zhamkenuly, press secretary for the Prosecutor-General's Office, said: "It is very probable that Hizb ut-Tahrir has connections with the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and other extremist groups. Therefore, under the Kazakh law banning extremism, we have every reason to outlaw Hizb ut-Tahrir's activities on Kazakh territory."
Hizb ut-Tahrir has already been banned in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, as well as in Russia.
Hizb ut-Tahrir, or Party of Liberation, was established in the 1950s in the Middle East but has only been known in Central Asia since the mid-1990s. Its goal is the establishment of an Islamic state, or caliphate, centered in the Ferghana Valley -- a region that extends across Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
Beibut Saparaly, a cleric at the Astana-based Kaganat religious education center, said Hizb ut-Tahrir finds many supporters -- including youth -- in Kazakhstan. "The idea to create a caliphate is supported by many youth," Saparaly said. "Some years ago, we heard that [Hizb ut-Tahrir] had support in [the southern city of] Shymkent and in [northern] Pavlodar. But lately, particularly after Qurban-Ayt [the Islamic holiday in January], we learned that [Hizb ut-Tahrir] leaflets had been distributed in all mosques in the southern capital of Almaty."
Hizb ut-Tahrir has already been banned in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, as well as in Russia. Those governments also regard it as an extremist organization.
Representatives of Hizb ut-Tahrir claim they do not engage in political violence, but intend only to instruct and convince Muslims of the need to establish a caliphate.
But Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets also denounce capitalism, criticize the United States for hegemonism, and call not only for the removal of the existing governments in the region but for the expulsion of local Jewish communities.
Hizb ut-Tahrir accuses Uzbek President Islam Karimov -- who enjoys good relations with Israel -- of being a Jew.
Some observers believe Astana's decision to outlaw Hizb ut-Tahrir is a sign of political compromise with Tashkent. Twice this year, Karimov has called on Kazakh officials to crack down on the group.
Uzbek authorities blame Hizb ut-Tahrir for carrying out a series of bombings last spring and summer that killed more than 50 people. Karimov claimed on Uzbek television on 31 July that "Hizb ut-Tahrir made the biggest contribution to that terror."
At last year's trial in Uzbekistan, the defendants said they had received military training at a terrorist camp on Kazakh soil. Officials in Astana first denied the possibility of the existence of such a camp. Later, they said some defendants apparently had spent time in the southern Shymkent Oblast of Kazakhstan. While they say they did not find any militants operating in the southern region, they acknowledged that some may have slipped over the porous border.
Saulebek Zhamkenuly of the Kazakh Prosecutor-General's Office says Hizb ut-Tahrir has lately extended its areas of activity to include northern provinces, as well as the country's two capitals. He said the number of legal cases against Hizb ut-Tahrir members tripled in 2004 compared with the year before. "In 2004, there were 180 incidents of distributing leaflets calling to overthrow the constitutional regime in the country," he said. "Law enforcement agencies launched 111 investigations on this."
The request to outlaw Hizb ut-Tahrir in Kazakhstan comes as 15 people are on trial in the southern Taraz Oblast. The defendants -- accused of plotting last year's attacks in Uzbekistan -- are alleged to be members of Jamoat Mujahedin, or Community of Holy Warriors, an Islamic group with alleged links to Hizb ut-Tahrir.
The Kazakh Supreme Court this week banned Jamoat Mujahedin and six other organizations for what they consider to be their ties to terrorism. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev also recently signed a controversial antiextremism bill.
Critics say the moves represent a crackdown on dissent under the pretext of fighting extremism and terrorism. They argue that the list of terrorist organization includes groups with little activity in Kazakhstan -- such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Lashkar-e Taibaand -- and that pose no threat to the country's security.
Kazakh officials call the move a preventive measure. "It doesn't mean all these [banned] organizations are active in Kazakhstan," Zhamenkuly said. "The decision to ban them is a preventive measure. These organizations are considered as terrorist in the Russian Federation, the United States, Turkey, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan."
Government critics say Nazarbaev has begun to play the extremism card ahead of a presidential poll due to be held in December 2006.
Yevgenii Zhovtis, the head of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, said: "Ahead of presidential elections, the situation worsens catastrophically. Under the pretext of the fight against terrorism and extremism, the crackdown [on dissent] is clearly strengthening." He added that he believes Hizb ut-Tahrir poses little threat to Kazakhstan's security.
(Merhat Sharipzhan, director of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, contributed to this report.)