Kyrgyzstan taking steps to protect youth from extremist recruiters

By Kanat Altynbayev


Children ride a swing during Nawruz celebrations on the outskirts of Bishkek on March 21, 2014. The threat of extremism among children is brewing in Kyrgyzstan, warn observers. [Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP]

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz educators and religious leaders are raising the alarm over children who are potentially vulnerable to an extremist interpretation of Islam.

Young people are particularly vulnerable and impressionable, said Jamal Frontbek-Kyzy, head of the Bishkek-based Mutakallim, a non-governmental Muslim women's organisation, reported December 6.

Children from dysfunctional and single-parent families are especially at risk, she said.

The threat comes from the Salafists, who claim to be observers of "pure" Islam, Isfandiyar Abdullayev, a mullah from a Bishkek prayer room, told Caravanserai.


Students of School No. 24 in Bishkek listen to a lecture on the history of religious culture on September 20, 2017. Kyrgyzstan's Law on Religion includes measures to protect children from radical interpretations of Islam. [File]

Some strict followers of Salafism espouse violent "jihad" against people and governments they deem to be enemies of Islam.

"Many Kyrgyz children have left for Syria, usually with their parents," Abdullayev said. "In recent years, our human rights activists have been working hard to bring these children back to Kyrgyzstan."

Strengthening anti-extremism measures

Kyrgyz authorities have been working to counter extremism and strengthen oversight of religious organisations over the past few years.

By June 2018, Kyrgyzstan had registered 3,257 religious organisations, according to the State Commission for Religious Affairs (GKDR). More than 20 have been banned by courts for extremism.

In September, Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security and the Interior Ministry's 10th Main Department, whose mission is to fight extremism, announced the shutdown of at least 16 websites spreading extremist material.

As part of the crackdown, intelligence agencies have detained dozens of active members of banned radical groups accused of attempting to recruit new members.

Officials also are tightening the nation's laws on religion, which provide, among other things, measures to protect children from extremist influence.

Trying to proselytise among children under 16 years of age is prohibited by law, GKDR Director Zayirbek Ergeshov said in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Kyrgyz service published in June.

"We received many complaints from parents and religious organisations, who have complained that 'strangers are sweeping up their children on the street and, spreading religious propaganda, are taking them away somewhere'," he said in June. "Therefore, we decided that not only the parents but also the state has to intervene."

The latest amendments to the law, submitted for public discussion in the summer, prohibit Kyrgyz minors from attending religious institutions, including mosques, without their parents, Ergeshov said. Parliament has not yet decided on those amendments.

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It is very questionable. 1. Religion studies can only make things worse, because many people (including teachers) see no difference between religious studies and theology. 2. Banning extremist websites is like cutting water with scissors. Nowadays a huge number of domestic researchers, let alone others, say that blocking off websites has little effect since it's easy to make two, three, ten more similar sites. The problem of radicalisation stems from ignorance. What's the point of discussing education if we lack schools in our country, but mosques are a dime a dozen? Moreover, a large number of incompetent teachers exacerbate the problem. After all, the authorities themselves spread ignorance and obscurantism at least by turning away from the Russian language - the language of education in Central Asia.