Kyrgyzstan Deports Human Rights Activist

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — Kyrgyzstan deported a foreign human rights activist investigating accusations of abuse against Muslims in the Central Asian state, campaigners said on Thursday.

The impoverished former Soviet republic has cracked down on Islamist groups it believes wants to overthrow the government in the mostly Muslim but officially secular country.

It has in the past detained and deported a number of rights activists.

In the latest case, Bakhrom Khamroyev, an activist with the Russian group Memorial, was detained in the southern city of Osh late on Wednesday and deported to Russia, Memorial said.

"They ... forcibly sent him from Osh to Moscow this morning," Vitaly Ponomarev, Memorial's director for Central Asia, told Reuters by telephone from Moscow, adding that no charges had been made against Khamroyev.

"They took his flash drive, his camera's memory card and [research] documents," he said. Memorial is a leading Russian human rights group that campaigns against abuses of power across the former Soviet Union.

Kyrgyz activists said earlier that he was detained by the State National Security Service, the successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB. The state security service declined to comment.

Kyrgyzstan is home to a U.S. air base used for operations in Afghanistan.

Last year, Kyrgyzstan jailed 32 people who took part in an anti-government protest in the town of Nookat, not far from Osh, on a Muslim holiday, charging them with religious extremism.

"The Kyrgyz government is out to stop research into abuses committed against so-called extremists in the region," Human Rights Watch quoted its Central Asia researcher Andrea Berg as saying.

"It is crystal clear that the two men were detained in retaliation for their work."

Southern Kyrgyzstan is home to a large number of Uzbeks, some of whom have fled Uzbekistan to its smaller Central Asian neighbor citing repression by its authoritarian government.

Local activists say that Uzbek agents operate in the region freely to root out possible dissent.

In 2007, Alisher Saipov, an ethnic Uzbek journalist with Kyrgyz citizenship and an outspoken critic of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, was shot dead in Osh by unknown assailants.