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Kazakh 'Salafis' Face Deportation From Czech Republic

Eleven-year-old Eleugali-Zharylkasyn Nurgaliev plays outside the dormitory in Brno. He and his family face imminent deportation.
Eleven-year-old Eleugali-Zharylkasyn Nurgaliev plays outside the dormitory in Brno. He and his family face imminent deportation.
BRNO, Czech Republic (RFE/RL) -- Children play in the snow outside the Christian hostel where they live in the Czech city of Brno.

It's home to Eleugali-Zharylgasyn, or Ali as he likes to be known, and his family from western Kazakhstan.

When asked how long he's been here, Ali says, "Three years." He says he goes to school and can speak Czech, but he hasn't forgotten how to speak Kazakh.

But Ali is about to leave Brno.

His family claimed political asylum, but their application has been turned down three times -- "three negatives" in bureaucratic terms.

"When our younger son Hamid was born, within 30 days the Czech authorities had issued his first 'negative.' And right after that he got the second one," says Ali's mother, Gulfara Konyrova.

"The Czech authorities explain it by saying that a newborn child has not experienced any persecution in Kazakhstan."

'Pure Faith'

The Nurgaliev family, like some 200 other Kazakh asylum seekers, now face deportation.

But they say they face persecution back home as members of a community called Taza Din, or "pure faith."

As its name suggests, its adherents believe in returning to the early, "pure" roots of Islam.

Those beliefs are similar to a conservative strain of Islam called Salafism, a movement that was banned in Tajikistan last month on national security grounds.

And though they themselves don't describe themselves as Salafi, that's how they are seen by the Kazakh authorities.

They say their nontraditional practices -- such as studying together and gathering for prayers away from official mosques -- have brought them unwelcome attention from the Kazakh authorities, including harassment and even jail.

The authorities in Kazakhstan "are very afraid of the spread of the ideas of radical Islam. I don't mean Islam as an religion but political Islam," says Yevgeny Zhovtis, the head of Kazakhstan's International Bureau For Human Rights.

Zhovtis says that while "Salafis" are not banned, they are not "in line with the DUMK," the government-affiliated Spiritual Association of Muslims of Kazakhstan.

"And so the authorities have tried to get them under control," he says. "How do they do it? Through intelligence work, or pressure, fear."

Falling Between The Cracks

The group has received little attention outside Kazakhstan, where reports on curbs on religious freedom tend to focus on non-Muslim groups.

In one verdict last month, the Czech Higher Administrative Court rejected one Kazakh family's appeal against their asylum claim being turned down.

The court cited a UN refugee agency report from 2006 that said no independent Muslims in Kazakhstan -- with the exception of the Hizb ut-Tahrir group -- were subject to persecution or pressure.

And in its report last year on religious freedom in Kazakhstan, the U.S. State Department has only one mention of Salafis -- the conviction of an alleged Salafi jihadist group on terrorism charges, and activists' concerns they were persecuted for their religious beliefs.

But rights experts say reports like that aren't giving the full picture.

"For a number of years they've had trumped-up criminal cases brought against them, there's been intimidation and so on," says Moscow rights activist Vitaly Ponomaryov, who has interviewed Taza Din members in western Kazakhstan and has written extensive reports on their travails.

"And as a result members of this community decided they couldn't stay unless they wanted to abandon their religious beliefs, that they would have to emigrate in order to keep to their religious beliefs," he adds.

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service has asked the Czech Interior Ministry for comment but so far has had no response.

The UN refugee agency's office in Prague declined comment, saying it was unaware of the case.

For now, the Nurgalievs have moved to a new "home" -- an asylum seekers' center near the Polish border.

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this article

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