U.S. citizen Umar Farooq has been detained in southern Kyrgyzstan and the office of a nongovernmental organization he had been in touch with was raided.
A press release from Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for National Security (SCNS) on March 27 said Farooq was detained March 25 after police in the southern city of Osh stopped him for a routine document check.
Police took him into custody after determining he was collecting information about the religious situation in southern Kyrgyzstan and had material on his computer and memory sticks of a “religious extremist and terrorist character.”
Authorities have reportedly opened a criminal case against Farooq on charges of publicly calling for the overthrow of the government and inciting interracial, ethnic, or religious hatred, with calls to violence.
Authorities said Farooq had material that came from a “recently detained leader of the radical extremist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir and other members of the group.”
Farooq arrived in Osh on March 11 and was reportedly conducting interviews for an article on interethnic violence between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010.
Agents from the SCNS also raided the office of the nongovernmental organization Bir Duyno in Osh on March 27.
Employees at the organization’s Osh office said SCNS agents took away laptop computers, memory sticks, and computer discs.
Bir Duyno employees said SCNS agents did not give any reason for the raid.
Shorukh Saipov, an Osh correspondent for Kyrgyzstan’s Kloop.kg website, said the raid might be connected to Farooq.
Farooq met recently with Bir Duyno representatives and reportedly received copies of material he needed for his work from Bir Duyno employee Valeryana Vakhitova.
Bir Duyno’s head in Osh, Husanbay Saliev, said his home was also searched, as was the apartment of Vakhitova.
Saliev and Vakhitova are well-known for their work defending Azimjon Askarov, who was jailed for allegedly participating in the June 2010 violence, and the influential imam of a mosque in Kara-Su, near Osh, Rashod Kamolov.
Kamolov was taken into custody for alleged ties to Hizb ut- Tahrir and is likely the “recently detained leader of the radical extremist organization” mentioned in the criminal case against Farooq.
The detention and raid come as Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev is in Brussels meeting with European Union officials who have expressed concern over proposed legislation in Kyrgyzstan that would require many NGOs to register as “foreign agents.”
A second draft bill would penalize people who publicly promote “nontraditional” sexual relationships, a term meaning members of the lesbian, bisexual, gay, or transgender communities.
Atambaev met with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and a European Commission official who spoke on condition of anonymity, telling RFE/RL that Juncker urged the Kyrgyz president not to sign the two controversial bills.
Ahead of Atambaev’s visit to Brussels, the New York-based Human Rights Watch urged EU leaders to press Atambaev to reject the legislation, which it says would violate the rights of gay people in Kyrgyzstan.