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Clampdowns & labour camp punishment for Tabligh Jamaat in Kazakhstan

umm Abdillah, Radio Islam Programming, 2014.03.24 | 3 Jumadal Ukhra 1436 H



Four members of the Tabligh Jamaat movement in southeastern Kazakhstan were sentenced in January 2015 to 20-months’ imprisonment each. Participation in the Tabligh Jamaat is banned in Kazakhstan. Like a similar December 2014 Tabligh Jamaat–related criminal trial, this trial was largely held in secret.


Bakyt Nurmanbetov, Aykhan Kurmangaliyev, Sagyndyk Tatubayev and Kairat Esmukhambetov – were sentenced on 14 January to 20-months’ imprisonment each. A fifth brother was sentenced to 18 months. The 20 months’ imprisonment will be meted out in a labour camp.


Another Tabligh Jamaat member Mamurzhan Turashov, a 41-year-old father of five, was given a three-year prison term on 2 December 2014 in the South Kazakhstan Region. He was punished under a criminal code article that banned the creation or leadership of a banned group. Neither the court, the prosecutor, the Judicial Expertise Institute who conducted “expert analyses” of religious books seized from him, or even his defense lawyer were willing to make public the verdict or the “expert analyses”. All were also unwilling to tell Forum 18, a Norwegian-Danish-Swedish Christian initiative, what Turashov had done wrong, apart from Tabligh Jamaat membership.


Religion in Kazakhstan


The majority Kazakhstan‘s citizens are ethnic Kazakh Muslims of the Hanafi school. They constitute about 64% of the population. Less than 25% of the population of Kazakhstan is Russian Orthodox. Less than 1% are Shi’a. The Jewish community is estimated at less than 1 percent of the population.


Why is the Tabligh Jamaat banned?


To date the Tabligh Jamaat is prohibited in Iran, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. India is also considering banning them.


In February 2013, without prior public announcement, Astana’s Saryarka District Court granted Astana City Prosecutor’s Office suit to have the Tabligh Jamaat banned throughout Kazakhstan as “extremist”. The prosecutor claimed – without making any evidence public – that the group’s “real aim” was the seizure of territory and creation of a caliphate, “including in Kazakhstan”, which “presumes a violent change to the constitutional order”. The ban was backed in court by the KNB secret police and the Interior Ministry. The government’s then Agency of Religious Affairs was happy to leave the decision to the Court.


Following the lead of neighbouring Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan is also debating banning the activities of Tablighi Jamaat, a non-political movement which aims to bring Muslims towards a deeper embrace of basic Islamic religious practices.


According to Dr. Bakhtiyar Babadjanov, professor of religious studies and chief research fellow at the Oriental Studies Institute under the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan, (sic) “Tablighi Jamaat shares many common features with Hizb ut-Tahrir. For example, in both organisations members are united in small, local groups, facilitating strict discipline and subordination to the leader. Moreover, both organisations adhere to the Sunni branch of Islam and expect a similar level of active time commitment from its members. But, unlike Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jamaat does not try to establish a caliphate as soon as possible; Tablighi Jamaat members consider Islamisation to be a long-term process. The organization, unlike Hizb ut-Tahrir, also tries to avoid open conflicts with authorities.” [Excerpt from The Tablighi Jamaat: A Soft Islamization from the Ferghana Valley to Russia’s Turkic Regions?]


Christianity preaching monitored too


Fines against individuals for being converted to Christianity have also increased. Operational fines for foreign missionaries without state permission have totaled more than $118,000.  119 individuals have been fined, some of them on multiple occasions. The average of the fines has been equivalent to approximately two months’ average salary.


On March 1, 2010 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of the Interior introduced new visa regulations that require a foreigner who works for religious organisations to obtain a missionary visa. Missionary visas only permit a person to stay in the country for a maximum of six months per 12-month period. The new procedures require the RIC (Religious Issues Committee, a subdivision within the Ministry of Justice) to vet applicants, and their visa applications must be accompanied by an RIC-issued letter of approval. Missionary visa applicants must obtain RIC clearance every time they apply for visas.


What now? We all know Secular governments are no guarantee of religious freedom


Some argue that the countries of post-Soviet Central Asia are “experimenting with secular governments and free markets” and this could serve as a “template” for political development and religious tolerance in the broader Muslim world.


However this premise is flawed, as argued by Kara Downey, a PhD candidate at Stanford University. Among the points she makes:


Central Asian leaders’ insistence on secular government and vocal opposition to “extremism” is not an indication of a liberal commitment to religious moderation; rather, it is part of a broader campaign of repression against any forms of assembly or expression outside of state control.


Leaders of these states justify their laws not on the grounds of religious tolerance, but by arguing that they are under threat from Islamic extremists. However, these governments’ tendencies to label all opponents “extremists” (not to mention obtain confessions using torture) and to conflate religiosity with a propensity for violence make it difficult to assess the true extent of militant beliefs. In both official statements and popular conversations, men who grow beards and women who wear the veil are derided as “Wahhabis” and accused of being dangerous.


Practices in these countries that have sparked concern include banning religious apparel in public places; banning children from mosques; creating labyrinthine registration requirements that make it nearly impossible for religious groups to operate legally; and harassing and imprisoning those that the regime labels “extremists.” Not surprisingly, around a third of Muslim survey respondents indicated that they did not feel free to practice their faith.


Further, we all know religious devotion does not imply support for violence. Polling data also indicates low levels of support for religious violence in both Central Asia and the broader Muslim world. Religiosity does not even imply lack of support for secular democracy.


May Allah make it easy for our brothers and sisters who have to suppress their Islamic beliefs and Muslim identity. Ameen.

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