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Kazakh Universities Make Lists Of Muslim Students

Images like these, taken from a YouTube video and showing a Kazakh national alongside rebels in Syria, have raised alarm bells in Kazakhstan.
Images like these, taken from a YouTube video and showing a Kazakh national alongside rebels in Syria, have raised alarm bells in Kazakhstan.
After a video surfaced in October showing a group of purported Kazakh jihadists on their way to fight in Syria, the Kazakh government has become even more vigilant about preventing that country's young people from becoming radicalized.

Those fears have apparently permeated down into the academic realm, where, according to RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, universities in the country's main city, Almaty, are making lists of Muslim students.

A student at the Satbayev Kazakh National Technical University told RFE/RL that university representatives came to his dormitory to compile a list of students who perform the namaz, the traditional Muslim prayers.

"I was included in the list of students who pray. They asked questions [such as] ‘who in your family prays?'" said the student, who wished to remain anonymous.

RFE/RL also spoke to students at the Al-Farabi Kazakh National University and the Kazakh National Agrarian University Almaty, who said that similar lists were being compiled at their schools.

"Management was told to 'gather' [the list], but for what reason, I do not know," said a member of the administrative staff at the Kazakh National Agrarian University Almaty who did not want to be identified. In similar inquiries to universities, staff members confirmed to RFE/RL that the lists were being made; but none of those interviewed could offer a reason.

The 20-minute video that set the authorities on edge surfaced in October and purports to show a Kazakh "family" of 150 people preparing for jihad in Syria. RFE/RL's Kazakh Service has since identified a number of the people appearing in the video, after talking to their relatives.

Kazakhstan has a spotty record on religious freedom. In a 2009 report, Forum 18, a religious rights watchdog, noted a laundry list of violations:

[C]ensorship of religious literature; state-sponsored encouragement of religious intolerance through state programs and the media; legal restrictions on freedom of religion or belief; raids, interrogations, threats and fines affecting both registered and unregistered religious communities and individuals; unfair trials; the jailing of a few particularly disfavored religious believers; restrictions on the social and charitable work of religious communities; close police and National Security Committee (KNB) secret police surveillance of religious communities; and attempts to deprive religious communities of their property.

In October, Kazakhstan approved a State Program to Counter Religious Extremism and Terrorism for 2013-17, which tightened the state's grip on religious groups and the teaching of religion in schools. The state-controlled Spiritual Board of the Muslims of Kazakhstan has launched a program to promote traditional Islam in what it hopes will be an antidote to the lure of Salafism.

While lawyer Kaysar Kantarbaev told RFE/RL that compiling the lists was a rights violation that infringes on the constitutional guarantee of freedom of worship, sustained opposition is likely to fall on deaf ears with a compliant state-friendly clergy and a government so concerned about extremism.

Nurlan Nasyrov, an academic in Almaty, said that "drawing up such a list was the right thing to do."

"Judging from the current situation in the country, making a list of students who pray is a measure of precaution," Nasyrov said. It was necessary, he said, to prevent students turning to extremism. "You also need to increase the number of lectures on religion for students."

In recent weeks in the capital, Astana, lectures on "religious trends" were held in the city's colleges and universities. And earlier this month, meetings were held at 15 universities across Almaty that, according to the Spiritual Board, were intended to "protect young people from destructive religious movements, [and] nurture in them a sense of patriotism, humanity, love for the nation, and the promotion of the spiritual values of Islam."

-- RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

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