There were reports of gun battles where police killed a number of escaped Muslim prisoners who had been jailed for religious extremism and terrorism. There were also reports of arrests of individuals police suspected of supporting extremist organizations. Jehovah’s Witnesses were subjected to beatings and put on trial for illegal religious activity. The authorities maintained bans on approximately 20 “religiously oriented” groups they considered to be extremist. Some minority religious groups continued to face difficulties in registering, but unregistered groups said they were able to hold religious services without government interference.
In October international media reported police, in the course of a week-long manhunt in and around Bishkek, had killed three individuals characterized as Muslim extremists who had been jailed for religious extremism as well as terrorism, but had escaped prison after killing several guards. Other Muslim escapees were recaptured. A number of civilians were reportedly killed in gun battles between the police and the escapees.
In August police from the Ministry of the Interior reportedly broke up a prayer meeting of 50 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Osh, physically mistreating up to six of those present and arresting 10, after threatening to shoot an unspecified number of the worshipers. The police charged Nurlan Usupbaev, the leader of the service, with illegal religious activity. Usupbaev was severely beaten. A Canadian lawyer defending Usupbaev stated police officers filmed victims, their attorneys, and witnesses both inside and outside the courthouse during the trial, and followed them on the street, which he said was an attempt at intimidation. The Osh City Court dismissed the case against Usupbaev. In September the Osh city prosecutor appealed the case to the Osh Regional Court. In October the Regional Court upheld the lower court ruling and refused to re-open the case against Usupbaev.
Usupbaev and other victims filed a complaint with the Osh city prosecutor’s office against the police involved in the mistreatment. The prosecutor's office refused to initiate criminal proceedings, however, citing a “lack of facts and circumstances” to support a case against the officers.
On February 9, officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs detained Rashod Kamalov, an ethnic-Uzbek imam of the Al-Sarahsi Mosque in the town of Kara Suu. Kamalov’s attorneys said police found literature connected to the banned religious organization Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) in his possession. Police alleged 10 residents of Kara Suu filed complaints saying Kamalov convinced their children to join the battle for Da’esh in Syria. According to Kamalov’s attorney, only one of the 10 residents testified in support of the prosecution at trial. The others denied Kamalov had convinced their children to fight in Syria. Police also stated they had video evidence of Kamalov giving a sermon calling for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate.
Kamalov’s attorneys stated the arrest was part of a wave of arrests of members of HT and other banned religious organizations. Kamalov’s attorneys said none of the material reportedly found in his possession contained extremist messages. Kamalov’s trial began on July 23 and on October 7 the Kara-Suu District Court found Kamalov guilty of fomenting religious discord, and of possessing and disseminating extremist materials. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment. His lawyers appealed the sentence, but on November 24, the Osh Regional Court upheld the verdict, while also finding Kamalov guilty of abuse of authority, a charge the Kara Suu District Court had dismissed. The Osh Regional Court increased Kamalov’s prison term to 10 years.
On September 10, police detained 20-year-old Abdully Nurmatov, an ethnic Uzbek residing in Kara-Suu, for allegedly “liking” posts supportive of Imam Kamalov on Odnoklassniki.ru, a social media platform. According to a leading human rights lawyer, police searched his home on September 10, and then released him on September 11 to house arrest during the period of the investigation. Nurmatov’s attorney, Husunbai Saliyev, reported his client was bruised and beaten upon his release. Nurmatov’s father said his son was beaten until he was unconscious.
Law enforcement authorities stated they recorded 294 extremist crimes during the year. They opened criminal cases for 124 of these crimes and arrested 239 people. Police identified and arrested several women for disseminating extremist materials, participating in religious extremist activities, or recruiting youth to extremist organizations. The arrests were publicized in some press outlets, but as of year-end, no further information was available.
Human rights activists and attorneys said the increase in HT arrests which began in 2014 continued. Authorities “registered” 1,846 people they classified as religious extremists and of these they classified 1,347 as HT. Registration meant the police picked up potential suspects for questioning in advance of a possible decision to arrest them. Often police registered people as extremists without a subsequent arrest, but registration kept their names in police files. Police charged 40 HT members and sentenced 23 to prison terms.
The government continued to restrict the activities of Muslim groups it considered threats to security. Authorities maintained bans on approximately 20 “religiously oriented” groups, including al-Qaida, the Taliban, the Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkistan, the Kurdish Peoples’ Congress, the Organization for the Release of Eastern Turkistan, HT , the Union of Islamic Jihad, the Islamic Party of Turkistan, the Unification (Mun San Men) Church, Takfir Jihadist, Jaysh al-Mahdi, Jund al-Khilafah, Ansarullah, At-Takfir Val Hidjra, Akromiya, Da’esh, Djabhat An Nusra, Katibat al-Imam al-Buhari, Jannat Oshiqlari, and the Church of Scientology. Authorities also banned all materials or activities connected to A.A. Tihomirov aka Said Buryatsky,
The government considered membership in HT as well as any activity on behalf of the group as illegal. Law enforcement officials classified 1,847 persons as active members of religious extremist organizations in Bishkek. According to MOI’s report, 1,386 persons in Bishkek were HT members out of approximately 3,000 HT members and 20,000 supporters in the entire country. The report also stated there were 158 Salafis in Bishkek. There were106 individuals accused of affiliation with extremist or terrorist organizations who continued to serve prison sentences.
Of the total number of registered members of religious extremist organizations, 23 percent were reportedly women. Sixty-two percent of members of extremist groups registered by MOI were residents of the south and 74 percent of crimes of an extremist nature as determined by the MOI occurred in the south. HT members were mostly active in the south, where 70 percent of the arrests of HT members occurred. The authorities also observed HT activity in Talas and Chui Provinces.
Attorneys handling HT cases stated members of the State Committee on National Security (GKNB) arrived at a home of a suspected extremist falsely claiming to have a search warrant, entered the home, located or “planted” printed material promoting HT, and arrested the suspect. Law enforcement officials reported they seized over 7,000 texts they characterized as extremist.
In December President Atambaev conducted a year-end press conference in which he answered several questions on religious extremism and terrorism. He supported stripping the citizenship of individuals who went abroad to fight on behalf of religious extremist organizations. Atambaev criticized religious leaders who he said “preyed” on people’s ignorance of the Quran.
In July Prime Minister Temir Sariev proposed building separate prison facilities for those imprisoned for religious extremism. The government did not provide religious materials to prisoners charged with affiliation with banned religious groups, according to NGOs, but the government allowed them to practice their religion and conduct prayers in prison.
The authorities reported 2,600 mosques; 81 Islamic high schools; 68 Muslim foundations, centers, and unions; more than 380 Christian organizations and unions; 26 foreign Protestant organizations; one Jewish community; one Buddhist community; and 12 Bahai Faith communities as registered – a similar number to previous years.
Religious groups said the registration process with the SCRA was cumbersome, taking anywhere from a month to several years to complete. Unregistered groups said they held regular religious services without government interference. In particular, they said the authorities did not act against groups which had been registered in the past, such as the Russian Orthodox Church, if their annual application for reregistration was pending.
Although the government did not list the Ahmadiyya Muslim community as a banned organization, the SCRA continued to deny it reregistration. The Ahmadiyya community had initially registered in 2002.
Local courts did not enforce a September 2014 Constitutional Chamber ruling declaring unconstitutional the section of the religion law requiring a group to have 200 adult citizen members before a registration application could be approved. Jehovah’s Witness leaders reported authorities continued to deny registration to groups if they did not have 200 members in each region. They said this created an impossible situation because without the required minimum number of members, groups could not register, and without registration they could not meet and recruit members to fulfill the minimum registration requirement.
There was no specific procedure for hiring or evaluating the experts performing the examination of religious literature which groups wanted to distribute. According to religious studies academics, the experts were employees of the SCRA or religious scholars with whom the agency contracted. Attorneys stated the SCRA experts were biased in favor of prosecutors, and were not formal “experts” under the criminal procedure code.
According to representatives of religious groups, refusing either to serve or to pay a fee to opt out of military service could subject an objector to hardship because military service was a prerequisite for employment in the government and with many private employers.