Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have in close succession come up with a new punishment for people suspected of involvement with terrorist organizations. If official accounts are anything to go by, however, the authoritarian governments are also trying their hand at less harsh measures to attack the intensely hyped specter of Islamic terror.
Uzbek news website Anons.uz has reported that President Islam Karimov on August 10 signed off on amendments to the law detailing when somebody can be stripped of their citizenship.
Under the revised law, the penalty will now apply if a given person “has caused substantial harm to the interests of society and the state by engaging in activities in the interests of a foreign state or by committing offenses against peace and security.” Crimes against peace and stability are interpreted in Uzbekistan as acts that include incitement to conflict and terrorism, or any other activity related to terrorism and mass murder.
The U.S. Department of Defense-funded regional military propaganda unit Central Asia Online, meanwhile, reports on the purported good cop part of Uzbekistan’s anti-terrorism campaign.
The National Security Council, a body affiliated to the presidential administration, is spearheading a program aimed at “debunking extremist ideology, supporting traditional Islam” and “promoting harmony among members of different faiths.”
That such a unabashedly approving report should appear in a service funded by the U.S. taxpayer is a stark illustration of the profoundly confused nature of Washington’s stance on Uzbekistan.
The U.S. State Department 2014 human rights report concludes in its remarks on Uzbekistan that the most significant human rights problems include “widespread restrictions on religious freedom, including harassment of religious minority group members and continued imprisonment of believers of all faiths.”
Anecdotal evidence suggests that Muslims themselves are easily the most consistently and regularly oppressed believers in Uzbekistan. That sits poorly alongside earnest claims that the Uzbek government wishes to support traditional Islam.
Central Asia Online reports in its article on an initiative to recruit filmmakers to depict stories of victims of recruitment at the hands of Islamic extremists. The piece singles out work by director Rustam Sagdiyev for particular approval.
Sagdiyev’s most recent film, “Traitor,” is a semi-fictional account of the bloody unrest in the Ferghana Valley city of Andijan in 2005, when government troops ruthlessly cracked down on a mass uprising.
Although it is not specified in the film that the events being depicted are modeled on those in Andijan, anybody familiar with the story will immediately recognize the parallels. Except that in the official telling, Andijan was not an expression of popular frustration in any way, but the outcome of Islamist plotters aided by foreign governments. (“Foreign government” usually implies the United States in post-Soviet conspiracy lore — an additional layer of perverseness in the fact that Central Asia Online should be reporting so glowingly about “Traitor”).
Tajikistan has gone down similar routes in combating the feared phenomenon of Muslims being recruited to fight with terrorist organizations in the Middle East, namely Islamic State.
Tajikistan’s Khovar state news agency reported on August 8 that President Emomali Rahmon has approved changes to the Constitution that will allow for the automatic revocation of citizenship from anybody suspected of fighting in terrorist organizations overseas.
Tajikistan’s Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzod has said that around 600 Tajik citizens are believed to be fighting in the ranks of the Taliban, the (now defunct) Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Islamic State group, Russian state-run news agency TASS reported. Estimates on the number Tajik engaged in terrorist activity abroad change with fair regularity.
While punishing some, Dushanbe is also trying to show it has a forgiving side by exempting “disappointed” Islamic State veterans from criminal liability.
Interfax news agency cited an Interior Ministry statement on August 10 as saying 36 Tajik citizens who returned home from Syria had been spared punishment after displaying satisfactory contrition.
The Interior Ministry said it believes the group, which includes many women who accompanied their husbands and boyfriends on the trip, "went to Syria by mistake or under the influence of fraud,” Interfax reported.