Terrorism

Kyrgyz analysts say systematic approach needed to deradicalise convicts

By Munara Borombayeva

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Men cross the street in Bishkek on March 22. As of March, Kyrgyzstan had 204 convicted extremists and terrorists, according to the state penal service. [Melisovskiy]

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyzstan needs a more systematic approach to the deradicalisation process in prisons, say analysts.

As of March 2020, the country has 204 convicted extremists and terrorists, according to a statement from the state penal service, known as GSIN.

Among supporters of extremist and terrorist groups, 21 convicts in 2019 and nine convicts in 2020 officially renounced their membership in these groups thanks to educational and preventive work, added GSIN.

Despite those successes, Kyrgyzstan has not developed a systematic approach for deradicalising convicted extremists and terrorists, according to Kadyr Malikov of Bishkek, a theologian and professor.

Although international and non-governmental organisations, as well as independent analysts, conduct research on deradicalisation, a shortage of trained specialists means this work has not been carried out properly, he said.

"To give an example, there is the private women's foundation, Mutakallim, that has specialised female teachers working with female prisoners, but they do not teach women convicted of radicalism," said Malikov.

"The Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kyrgyzstan (DUMK) has a dawah [outreach] department that works directly with prisons, but it lacks technical capabilities and literature, above all," he said.

Access issues

"It is best if they are independent personnel with profound knowledge in the interpretation of the Koran, versed in the ideology and history of extremist groups, and understand the convicts' psychology," he said, referring to personnel trying to deradicalise inmates.

Meanwhile, the DUMK has had trouble gaining access to the prisoners most in need of deradicalisation work.

"Since 2003, there has been an agreement between the DUMK and GSIN, under which experienced theologians visit prisons and conduct discussions with prisoners," said Bilal haji Saipiyev, a DUMK imam who travels to prisons.

"For two to three hours, a mullah talks about Sharia and the prisoners respond positively. They say that such discussions benefit them," he said.

Earlier authorities placed no restrictions on DUMK representatives, except for a bar on visiting the temporary detention centre that holds suspects under investigation, according to Saipiyev. They even had access to prisoners serving life sentences.

"But in the last three years, we have been unable to visit precisely those convicted of terrorism and extremism since a separate prison has been built for them," said Saipiyev. "They are held separately, and [the authorities] don't let us in to see them."

"The DUMK plans to negotiate with GSIN and gain access to the convicts, because in matters of deradicalisation, obtaining the correct knowledge is necessary," he said.

It is necessary to have a plan for deradicalisation along with a strategy detailing who will carry it out and how, said Mametbek Myrzabayev of Bishkek, a religious scholar and director of the Institute of Islamic Studies.

"In the news we often learn that someone convicted previously of terrorism or extremism has again been detained, because no one conducted deradicalisation work with him," Myrzabayev said.

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