EVERYONE'S A SUSPECT IN TURKMENISTAN  The president looks for foreign spies, 
while his own country is under total surveillance.  By IWPR staff in London

KYRGYZSTAN'S UNDIPLOMATIC POLICY SHIFT  Expulsion of US diplomats seen as a 
shift towards Moscow and away from democracy.  By Taalaibek Amanov in Bishkek

on Islamic groups following killings of police and soldiers in the south.  By 
Taalaibek Amanov in Bishkek

leading figures publicly lent their support to a foreign faith group?  By Astra 
Sadybakasova and Nurgul Omyralieva in Bishkek

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The president looks for foreign spies, while his own country is under total 

By IWPR staff in London

The recent arrest of a number of human rights activists was surrounded by lurid 
stories of treachery and espionage, video cameras hidden in spectacles, and 
secret trysts with subversive foreigners.

It is all very reminiscent of the Soviet Union in the late Thirties, when 
Stalin staged show trials to demonstrate that repression was a justifiable 
weapon against foreign-inspired subversives.

But the artificial hysteria created in the state media has highlighted real 
evidence of espionage - that of one man against a whole nation.

President Saparmurat Niazov, who is generally known as Turkmenbashi, has 
constructed a web of secret policemen, informers and spies to allow him to keep 
tabs on anyone who might, one day, disagree with him. 

That includes watching out for anything from opposition activity to rude emails 
about the president, and using the information gathered for show trials of 
"enemies of the people".

In the latest round of arrests, seven people associated with the Turkmenistan 
Helsinki Foundation, a human rights organisation, were detained between June 16 
and 19. 

Four of them - human rights activist Elena Ovezova, and journalist Ogulsapar 
Muradova's daughters Sona and Maral and son Berdy - were released on July 1, a 
day after the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders urged the G8 
leaders to put pressure on the Turkmen government. 

Muradova herself and Annakurban Amanklychev, both journalists, and human rights 
activist Sapardurdy Hajiev, are still in detention. According to Amnesty 
International, they are being held incommunicado and are at risk of torture. 

At a government meeting, the authorities built up a case against the alleged 
spies. They were said to have helped British and French journalists film scenes 
such as the demolition of homes, which the authorities say damages 
Turkmenistan's reputation, but which would not normally be regarded as 

Stranger still, the government says the suspects were assisted by a French 
diplomat and a staff member of the OSCE office in Ashgabat. These charges - 
rejected by both the French and the OSCE - show an unusual level of hostility 
towards the outside world. Although the Turkmen president has pursued a policy 
of isolationism, he has not in the past sought confrontation with western 

At the government meeting where the activities of the alleged spy ring were 
detailed, the National Security Committee, the former KGB, inadvertently 
revealed the extent of its own surveillance of Turkmen journalists and civil 
society activists. 

The watchful eye of the secret police is all too familiar to local reporters, 
and to anyone who has even the most innocent contact with the outside world. 
Phone calls, emails and internet access are all monitored carefully by the 
security service. Anyone who has travelled abroad is regarded with particular 

One Ashgabat-based journalist who asked to remain anonymous said even putting 
together a brief article can be an ordeal. 

"There is simply no escape from surveillance. If you gather information by 
telephone, the conversation is suddenly cut off, and if you dial a second time 
the line goes dead at the most interesting point, and you realise that contact 
is impossible. To gather a single figure or fact, you have to travel to the 
other end of town," he said.

Even a trip abroad is enough to put you on the list of possible dissenters. 

Ashgabat has just hosted an international conference of English-language 
teachers from south and southeast Asia, but many schoolteachers from across 
Turkmenistan were quietly barred from attending.

"I have visited the United States, and I received an invitation to the 
international teachers' conference, but unfortunately I didn't go," said one 
teacher from the east of the country. "The headmaster said he advised me not to 
go, so I couldn't disobey him. Or rather I could have done, but then I would 
have had to hand in my resignation."

Surveillance extends to the use of internet, a key link with the world beyond 
Turkmenistan and its strange state media, which spend much of the time ritually 
praising the "Great Turkmenbashi", the popular term at the moment.

There used to be a number of internet providers in Turkmenistan, but the 
communications ministry removed their licenses and made the state-run 
Turkmentelecom the monopoly service provider. Internet clubs and cafes were 
then forced to close one after another. 

Now public access to the web exists only at five resource centres run with the 
support of foreign organisations. Staff there commonly monitor usage by 
visitors, and stop them accessing banned websites. 

"I recently opened the centrasia.ru site when an employee came up to me and 
demanded I close it," said one disappointed user.

An employee of the Turkmen communications ministry said the government wanted 
to create an "information vacuum". He said the ministry had been required by 
the National Security Committee to set up a special office which trawls through 
the internet and decides which sites are acceptable and which are not.

The list of undesirable sites includes opposition organisations in exile and 
uncensored information about Turkmenistan carried by Russian news sites, but it 
is always expanding. One young woman told how she was hoping to apply to a 
European university to do a master's degree there, but found its site was 

It is not only media and civil society activists who are under suspicion - 
servants of the regime seem to be distrusted at least as much.

Ministers, regional governors, city mayors and civil servants all have their 
phones tapped. 

This appears to be official policy, as the president often refers to 
surveillance transcripts at cabinet meetings. At these sessions, extracts of 
which are often carried by official broadcasters, Turkmenbashi exerts control 
through public humiliation, and backs up his remarks by asking subordinates why 
they have made certain phone calls, and then gives details of the conversation. 

When a minister is heading for disgrace and arrest, the cabinet meeting serves 
as a courtroom that finds him or her guilty before any judicial trial has 

A senior official at provincial level described how he and his colleagues live 
in fear of an invitation to meet the president.

"When we're invited to the presidential palace for a meeting, we say goodbye to 
our families as if we are leaving them forever, because when we go through the 
arches of the magnificent shining palace, we aren't sure we will return home 
safely," he said. 

"The agenda isn't announced beforehand. Turkmenbashi holds trials directly in 
cabinet. The meetings are shown on national television, so the entire nation 
knows what is going on. The officials who are singled out by the president are 
taken away in handcuffs to pre-trial holding cells. The relatives usually 
aren't informed of where the prisoners are being held."

Provincial governors exercise a fair amount of power in their regions, but they 
have to watch out. The security ministry is constantly listening and watching, 
and will have infiltrated their administrations or recruited members of their 

One former governor could hardly hide his relief when his superiors in Ashgabat 
shifted him to another position.

"I'm very glad I was able to step down from the post of governor. I felt I was 
constantly being watched. I had to control myself all the time, who I talked to 
and what about, who I visited - or rather whose invitations I had to turn 
down," he said.

"Many of my friends were probably surprised at my behaviour, but it was 
impossible to admit it at the time. Now I can say I wouldn't wish that job on 
anyone until the political regime in this country changes."

The latest arrests have heightened the general sense of unease, and if 
Turkmenbashi intended them to show his people that everyone is being watched, 
it seems he has succeeded.


Expulsion of US diplomats seen as a shift towards Moscow and away from 

By Taalaibek Amanov in Bishkek

The expulsion of two American diplomats has created bewilderment in Kyrgyzstan, 
a country that has maintained good relations with both the United States and 
Russia for many years. But analysts suggest the move reflects a general trend 
towards aligning the country with its former Soviet allies, and away from the 

Kyrgyzstan's foreign ministry issued a statement on July 12 saying the decision 
to expel the US diplomats was made on the basis of reliable evidence from the 
intelligence agency which indicated that the two had interfered in the 
country's domestic affairs in a manner incompatible with their status and with 
international law.

The previous day, when news of the expulsions was already in the air, the US 
embassy in Bishkek issued a formal denial, saying it was "disturbed" by the 

"Allegations that these official representatives have engaged in inappropriate 
activities are simply not true," said the statement. 

The embassy noted that the two diplomats were said to have had "inappropriate 
contact" with leaders of Kyrgyz non-government organisations, NGOs, but said 
the mission would not now refrain from engaging with non-government as well as 
government actors.

"This can be seen as an attempt to intimidate embassies and silence the voice 
of civil society. The United States will continue to maintain contact with all 
sectors of Kyrgyz society, including government officials, opposition, and 
leaders of non-governmental and community organisations," said the statement.

An anonymous source in the National Security Service confirmed to IWPR that the 
agency believed it had "strong evidence" against the US officials. 

"If this were not the case, we would not have caused this uproar," said the 
source. "The US embassy has reacted quite sensitively to these facts, as it's 
grown used to treating us as an under-developed country and ignoring our 
domestic interests."

The row has come as a surprise to many, since Kyrgyzstan has steered a careful 
diplomatic course between the US and Russia over the 15 years it has been 
independent. The policy was set by President Askar Akaev, who was in power 
throughout those years until he was ousted in the popular revolution of March 

It seemed initially that Akaev's successor, Kurmanbek Bakiev, would not shift 
significantly from that course, as he was brought to power in a wave of 
pro-democracy protests similar to those seen earlier in Ukraine and Georgia, 
where the mood was positive towards the West and much less so towards Moscow. 

But Bakiev soon indicated that he was seeking Russian backing, perhaps to 
demonstrate that his revolutionary administration was no threat to the Central 
Asian region, where Moscow's influence remains strong. 

Last summer, Bakiev pressed the US to set a date for leaving the military 
airbase that Akaev had sanctioned to help the international "war on terror" 
coalition conduct operations in Afghanistan. The government later backtracked 
and simply demanded a lot more money in rent and other payments. 

When Akaev was president, US and other international support kept the NGO 
sector in Kyrgyzstan more vibrant and active than anywhere else in Central 
Asia, and civil society groups were a major force in the protest movement that 
brought the current government to power. 

Unsurprisingly, Kyrgyz NGOs reacted with outrage and concern at the idea that 
having contact with the US embassy was in some way suspicious.

"This is an ill-considered act by the authorities. It does serious damage to 
Kyrgyzstan's international relationships. Our country will lose out badly from 
this scandal," Tolekan Ismailova, head of the Civil Society Against Corruption 
group, told IWPR. 

Asiya Sasykbaeva, who heads the Interbilim organisation, said, "All NGOs 
contact the embassies of various countries, and no one can forbid us from doing 
this, as we live in a free country. One gets the impression that the 
authorities are trying to intimidate civil society representatives to make us 
less critical of the leadership."

Edil Baisalov, the president of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, 
added, "This smacks of the Cold War and is clear proof that the current 
authorities are trying to build an authoritarian regime in our country."

Sasykbaeva's and Baisalov's group were among a number of NGOs that put out a 
joint statement on July 14 demanding that the authorities make public the 
accusations made against the two American diplomats, since no facts or evidence 
had been offered so far. They said the government was engaged in a "campaign to 
discredit the non-government sector, a barefaced attempt to portray us as fifth 

The two main officials concerned with human rights sided with the NGOs. 

Tursunbek Akunov, who chairs the Kyrgyz president's commission for human 
rights, told IWPR, "This is a short-sighted act by the Kyrgyz foreign ministry 
which threatens to disgrace our country among the international community. For 
15 years, the US government has provided substantial material and moral support 
to the development of democracy in Kyrgyzstan. American diplomats have never 
done anything bad to Kyrgyzstan, and they supported the revolution of March 24 
last year."

Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir Uulu said, "Contacts with NGO leaders are not 
sufficient reason to expel diplomats from the country. If there is evidence 
that an NGO was preparing a coup or had openly received money for political 
actions, and this is proven, then it would be understandable."

Commentators interviewed by IWPR suggested that the Bakiev administration was 
using the expulsions both to enhance its relationship with Moscow and to curb 
western support for NGOs which are now seen as troublesome. The overall 
outcome, they said, was an ill-advised lurch away from the US.

"This act was carried out with the knowledge of the Kyrgyzstan president, who 
finds it difficult to navigate between the US, China and Russia, and will 
probably now choose a close union with the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation 
members," said opposition deputy Melis Eshimkanov.

"The reason given for expelling the diplomats - inappropriate contacts with NGO 
leaders - shows that this regime is going to have new rules which are far 
removed from democracy."

Political analyst Nur Omarov said the move was a "grave foreign policy 

"The Kyrgyzstan leadership should have used other means - a warning or note - 
but not immediate expulsion of diplomats. This is the first time this has 
happened in Kyrgyz diplomacy," he said. 

"It is a sure signal that the leadership is not ready to continue developing 
the democratic reforms to which they themselves committed after March 2005. 
This is an unfortunate decision which will undermine the regime's standing at 
home and abroad." 

The shift in foreign policy is likely to become more apparent over coming 
months, but in the very short term, one irritant in Kyrgyz-US relations has 
been smoothed out. The two governments issued a statement on July 14 saying 
they had finally reached agreement on the continued used of the airbase, with 
the US planning to provide Kyrgyzstan with 150 million US dollars in total 
assistance and compensation over the next year.

Although the talks had been protracted, the diplomatic incident does not seem 
to have reflected a breakdown in negotiations.

If the initial US statement on the expulsions said "it is difficult to see how 
the expulsion of US diplomats without grounds would serve the long-term 
interest of Kyrgyzstan", the joint document on the airbase deal concluded by 
underlining the strength of Kyrgyz-US relations. "The decision... should be 
viewed in the context of the larger, robust bilateral relationship," it said.

There was no talk in the statement of when the US-led coalition might leave the 

Taalaibek Amanov is an independent journalist in Bishkek.


Plans for new restrictions on Islamic groups following killings of police and 
soldiers in the south.

By Taalaibek Amanov in Bishkek

The Kyrgyz authorities are planning a series of measures to curb the activities 
of radical Muslim organisations after blaming the outlawed Islamic group 
Hizb-ut-Tahrir for a spate of violent incidents in the south of the country.

Hizb-ut-Tahrir professes to use non-violent means to achieve its goal of a 
"caliphate" or Islamic state, but Kyrgyzstan and other countries in the region 
allege that its members have been responsible for a string of fatal shootings 
and bombings in recent years.

Most recently, the group has been linked to two clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan. 
On July 14, the 24.kg news agency reported that security forces confronted a 
group of five Kalashnikov-wielding militants in the city of Jalalabad, killing 
all of them. 

The five were reported to be part of a larger group behind the July 9 killing 
of a traffic policeman, who was shot at point blank range, in Jalalabad, and 
the injuring of two policemen and a civilian in a shootout in the same area the 
following day.

Fifteen people were arrested after these shootings, and interior ministry 
spokeswoman Aida Bakirova said at least three of them were Hizb-ut-Tahrir 

These incidents came as 300 soldiers continued an operation in the Batken 
region mounted after a suspected Hizb-ut-Tahrir attack on Kyrgyz and Tajik 
frontier posts on May 12, which left six Kyrgyz and three Tajik soldiers dead.  

In their sweep of the border region, the soldiers are said to have found 
substantial evidence connecting those involved in July 9 shootings with the May 
attacks, including guns, ammunition, Hizb-ut-Tahrir literature, compact discs 
and audiotapes.

The authorities say six men arrested and charged with involvement in the 
earlier attacks are active members of the outlawed movement. " [An] 
investigation was able to gather indisputable evidence that all the people 
charged are members..." said the prosecutor for the Batken region, Ryskul 

"During the investigation and interrogations, all six admitted they were guilty 
and did not hide that they were followers of radical Islam. Their goal was to 
commit a series of terrorist acts on the territory of the Kyrgyzstan and 

In the immediate aftermath of the May attacks, there was much speculation about 
the identity of the culprits. Hizb-ut- Tahrir was suspected along with the 
militant Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, but some suggested that the raid 
was the work of common criminals, possibly drug smugglers. 

Prosecutor Baktybaev said it was now clear that Hizb-ut-Tahrir was no longer 
the "peace-loving organisation" of the early Nineties when it first appeared 
and that followers were involved with other extremist Islamic groups in the 

"There is a direct link between members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the IMU," he said.

Nurnek Tokoev, an officer in the Kyrgyz National Security Service, said support 
for Hizb-ut-Tahrir was growing, and warned that Islamic militancy threatened 
the state.

"[It] has greater number of supporters in Kyrgyzstan than any political party 
registered in our country; according to unofficial statistics there are already 
around 10,000 of them. Furthermore, they are very secretive, which makes it 
difficult for special services to detect them," he said.

On July 12 - before the latest clash - senior Kyrgyz official Adakhan Madumarov 
said the state planned to introduce a number of measures to curb the activities 
of radical Muslim organisations, including tightening controls on outside 
funding and restrictions on visits by foreign clerics.

"Our country is a paradise for religion. So in the interests of security of the 
citizens of Kyrgyzstan, it is time to start controlling the visits of religious 
figures - who come to our country in great numbers - and control what they 
preach. The state is obliged to know about this," he said. 

Kanat Tyukeev, an independent researcher at the Peaceful Asia centre, said the 
time had come for the authorities to do more to stop the spread of religious 

"Religious organisations use extremism to achieve their goals. For Kyrgyzstan 
and Central Asia, this is the main source of danger. Ignoring this problem is 
the height of carelessness.

"Our country is too small to withstand the growing activity of the extremist 
groups Hizb-ut Tahrir and IMU... conducting subversive activity in the Fergana 

Any sign of militancy in southern Kyrgyzstan rattles the government, and 
Hizb-ut- Tahrir and the IMU make obvious suspects, even though the former 
publicly disavows violence and the IMU has not repeated the guerrilla raids of 
1999-2001 since its forces were scattered along with its Taleban allies when 
the US-led Coalition attacked northern Afghanistan in late 2001. 

As a result, not everyone agrees there is a coordinated Islamic insurgency 
waiting to happen. 

Kyrgyzstan's human rights ombudsman, Tursunbay Bakir Uuly told IWPR, "When 
armchair analysts say the main threat to Kyrgyzstan comes from the 
dissemination of Hizb-ut-Tahrir ideas or religious extremism, I don't think 
they're aware of the realities. If they'd engaged closely with Hizb-ut-Tahrir 
members or negotiated with IMU leaders as I've done... they wouldn't suggest 
these two organisations are the same. They are two opposing trends that hate 
each other and accuse one another of not being real Muslims.

"Going on about Hizb-ut-Tahrir and other organisations just gives them extra 

Taalaibek Amanov is an independent journalist in Bishkek.


Why have so many leading figures publicly lent their support to a foreign faith 

By Astra Sadybakasova and Nurgul Omyralieva in Bishkek

The appearance of leading Kyrgyz and public figures at a welcoming ceremony for 
the Unification Church - better known as the Moonies - has left many observers 
shocked at what they see as a breach of the separation of church from state.

Critics say foreign faith groups with a missionary agenda are seeking friends 
in high places to allow them to operate freely in the country. 

The scandal began when Hak Ja Han, the wife of the Unification Church's 
founder, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, arrived in Kyrgyzstan on June 18, and was 
feted by leading politicians and academics at a formal ceremony shown on 
national television.

The Reverend and Mrs Moon stand at the top of the worldwide following of the 
Unification Church, whose stated aim is to unite all Christian faiths.

The visit to Kyrgyz trip was part of a world tour which Mrs Moon said she was 
making in support of peace and family values, both major themes in the church's 
world view.  

At the ceremony, certificates conferring the honorary title of "ambassador of 
peace" were handed out to a district government chief in Bishkek, the head of 
the Kyrgyz committee of UNESCO, and four university and college rectors. 

The reaction that followed was swift, and highly critical of the decision by 
officials to publicly align themselves with the Unification Church. 

The Forum of Young Politicians, a non-government association of young civil 
society leaders, led the attack, issuing a statement addressed to the Kyrgyz 
president and prime minister on June 22 saying the participating officials had 
contravened both the constitution and the law on public service, which require 
the secular institutions of state to remain separate from religion. 

"It can't be ruled out that this event was held with the cognisance of the 
country's leadership - if not with its [explicit] approval, then with silent 
assent," said Alisher Mamasaliev, a member of the youth forum's coordinating 
council. "Had it been otherwise, the Moonies would not have been given the 
[state-owned] philharmonic hall. 

He concluded by saying the officials concerned should face sanctions, including 

Mamasaliev said later that after making these critical remarks, he received 
several anonymous threatening phone calls. "This means that influential people 
in Kyrgyzstan are behind Moon's sect," he said.

Separately, Deputy Education Minister Kanybek Osmonaliev said it was wrong of 
rectors from leading universities to take part in the meeting with Mrs Moon. He 
said the ministry would not allow university staff to be actively involved with 
religious groups. 

"We do not support this action, because it goes against our basic legislation 
and the country's constitution," he said. "As soon as we receive official 
documentation, we will be discussing the matter with each rector on a 
one-to-one basis."

The reaction reflects a widespread concern that Kyrgyzstan is vulnerable to 
foreign proselytising groups who have found many converts here, as in other 
former Soviet states, among those left impoverished in the years since 
independence in 1991. Kyrgyzstan  has seen an influx of such groups, mainly 
Christian, since independence. 

The two long established religious communities - Muslims and Orthodox 
Christianity have been unhappy with the number of converts to these outside 
groups, since they generally do not try to recruit among each other's 

According to political observer Dmitry Orlov, "Both the authorities and society 
are weak, so [groups] like Moon's have a lot of influence. At one point, the 
international institutions insisted that a provision on freedom of conscience 
should be incorporated into Kyrgyzstan's constitution. It's this provision that 
has undermined the authority of the [Orthodox] church and the mosque by 
creating a sphere in which various faith groups can operate."

Given the Unification Church's worldwide reach, substantial financial resources 
and record of seeking political support in other countries, critics fear it 
could quickly gain a foothold through political connections in Kyrgyzstan.

The Unification Church has been courting Kyrgyz officials for some time, 
apparently with some success since when the Reverend Moon visited Bishkek in 
October 2005, he was given the use of the Alaa Archa state residence to meet 
his followers.

The chairman of the Kyrgyzstan state commission for human rights Tursunbek Akun 
was made an "ambassador of peace" by the Unification Church on a visit to South 

Following the latest ceremony, Akun denied being involved in the Unification 
Church, saying that as a human rights advocate, he shared the anti-war views of 
the Universal Peace Federation, an organisation affilated with Moon's church.

Kanybek Mamataliev, who works at the government department which deals with 
religious affairs, said the Unification Church "tries to award all kinds of 
important-sounding titles... [to] anyone who holds any power or who is of 
public or political importance".

He concluded, "At this point, all the doors are open to Moon in this country." 

Journalist Dmitry Orlov says recruiting high-ranking figures through the award 
of titles is a standard tactic for the Unification Church. This gives the group 
"protection" in each country where it wants to operate, he said. 

The church's members in Kyrgyzstan say they do only good works.

In Bishkek, about 200 young followers live in one multi-storey building. Their 
leader Alexander Fokin insists the group is not a "sect" - a term used 
pejoratively in Kyrgyzstan - and that it works to help young people gain work 
and life skills. 

"Young people are drawn to us themselves, and we meet them halfway," said 

Kyrgyzstan's official Muslim clerical establishment has not commented on the 
furore, but Father Nikolai of the Bishkek Orthodox Church said he had turned 
down an invitation to join the meeting. 

"I was supposed to receive the title of ambassador of peace, but I ignored the 
invitation because the Orthodox Church has nothing in common with Moon's sect. 
They are a secular organisation, and pursue exclusively self-interested aims."

Astra Sadybakasova is a correspondent for the newspaper Argumenty i Fakty v 
Kyrgyzstane. Nurgul Omyralieva is an IWPR trainee.

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