Staunton, October 21 – Over the last five years, the number of Kyrgyz citizens convicted of extremism and terrorism has risen 300 percent, and there are now about 600 of them behind bars, more than half of them serving life sentences. But the others will be released, and the challenge of deradicalizing them and preventing them from spreading their views is growing.
According to Bishkek journalist Bolot Isayev, however, the prospects for success are small. There is no money, no comprehensive plan and few specialists; and the record of Kazakhstan is suggestive: There, only one prisoner in five convicted of extremism reforms in prison (cabar.asia/ru/za-pyat-let-v-kyrgyzstane-v-tri-raza-vyroslo-kolichestvo-osuzhdennyh-za-ekstremizm-i-terrorizm/).
Since 2003, the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Kyrgyzstan has had an arrangement allowing its representatives to visit prisons and talk with those convicted of extremism and terrorism in hopes of changing their views, Isayev says. But experts like Kadyr Malikov doubt this works because the imams are viewed by prisoners as agents of the state.
Even prisoners who appear to change their views often continue to propagandize their old views among others behind bars and revert to their own views and actions upon their release, the Islamic theologian says. If independent mullahs were allowed to visit prisons, they might prove more effective, Malikov says.
Indira Aslanova, a specialist on religion in Kyrgystan, says there is another problem: the authorities treat those found guilty of terrorism and those found guilty of extremism as being in the same category and treat them alike when in fact they are very different and must be dealt with differently as well.
Because of its failure to re-educate Islamists in prison, Bishkek since 2015 has isolated them from other prisoners in special facilities. It has justified that action both to limit the Islamists ability to spread their ideas and to protect them from ordinary criminals who often treat Islamists brutally.