SHYMKENT, Kazakhstan (TCA) — An unregistered Uzbek opposition group says it has been prevented from holding a two-day congress in southern Kazakhstan, where it had planned to establish itself as a political party to challenge the leadership in its home country, RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service reported.
The Birdomlik (Unity) People’s Democratic Movement said it intended to hold the meeting at the Dostyq Hotel in the Kazakh city of Shymkent on November 15-16.
But Birdomlik leader Bahodir Hon Turkiston, who is also known as Bahodir Choriev, told RFE/RL that Uzbek authorities prevented more than 50 members of his movement from crossing the border into Kazakhstan on November 14.
Hotel officials told RFE/RL that a gathering had been scheduled for the facility but that it was canceled at the last moment.
Witnesses reported seeing dozens of police officers near the hotel in the morning on November 15.
Choriev also said he and some 10 other members of the movement were traveling by car from Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, to Shymkent when unknown individuals stopped them and forced them to leave Kazakhstan for neighboring Kyrgyzstan.
“Until yesterday, there were no problems with the plan. The individuals who stopped us brought us to the Kyrgyz border and we left Kazakhstan. I think that was done on Uzbekistan’s request,” Choriev said.
Officials from the Kazakh National Security Service in a statement sent to RFE/RL said that its forces were not involved in any action against the group.
Choriev said his movement’s congress is now being held via the Telegram online messaging system from the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.
The agenda of the original meeting included changes to Birdomlik’s status to turn the movement into a political party and the election of new leadership.
Choriev, who has been known for his opposition political activities, had to leave Uzbekistan with his family in June 2004, fearing for their safety.
In 2005, Choriev and his family were granted political asylum in the United States.
He returned to Uzbekistan in 2009 to continue his political activities.
Uzbek police arrested him on arrival but released him later following an international outcry.
Uzbekistan is led by President Shavkat Mirziyoev, who took the helm from the late Islam Karimov in 2016.
Mirziyoev has sought to open up Central Asia’s most populous country and move away from Karimov’s oppressive policies.
While praising many of the efforts, rights groups have continued to express concerns about free speech, censorship, and prosecutions of journalists in the country.
The Birdomlik movement’s first founding congress was held in April 2014 in the U.S. city of St. Louis, Missouri.