Uzbek President Islam Karimov recently signed into law an amendment to the country’s citizenship law that allows the state to revoke citizenship for Uzbeks who cause harm to the interests of the country, commit crimes against peace and security or engage in activities that benefit a foreign country.
According to Trend, under Uzbekistan’s criminal code, crimes against peace and security include “propaganda of war, aggression, violation of the laws or customs of war, genocide, mercenary activities, admission, recruitment into military service, security forces service, police, military courts and other similar bodies of foreign countries, terrorism, incitement of national, racial or religious hatred.”
Tajikistan’s president Emomali Rahmon also recently signed into law similar amendments, allowing the state to dissolve a Tajiks citizenship if they travel abroad to join a terrorist organization or foreign group.
These new laws are targeted at Central Asians who have joined ISIS–to both distance the state from them (essentially say “These are not our people”) as well as prevent such individuals from returning. Estimates vary (sometimes wildly) for how many Central Asians have traveled to Syria and Iraq. The Tajik Interior Ministry now says 519 Tajik citizens are fighting with ISIS, and 150 have been killed.
Such laws, however, stipulating the circumstances under which a person may lose citizenship are not necessarily that shocking. Other countries already have similar statutes that provide for the loss of citizenship if an individual serves in a foreign military engaged in hostilities with the country or joins the government of a foreign country. In June Australia debated revoking citizenship for dual citizens who have joined ISIS and in September 2014 Ted Cruz, a U.S. Senator (and presidential hopeful) introduced a bill to strip citizenship from those who have supported a terrorist organization but it stalled quickly.
In the Central Asian context there is some room for concern. The new amendments could also be used to deny re-entry to members of opposition parties (or their families) and others seen as dissidents by the government. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have both engaged in arbitrary arrests and trumped-up charges to silence government opponents–conflating dissent with inciting national hatred or extremism. It is not a trivial concern that laws intended to keep terrorists out may also be used to keep political opposition out.
In addition, opponents of similar bills in the U.S. and Australia have noted that returned and repentant citizens may be the best suited to demystify the allure of ISIS for potential recruits. Tajikistan has taken a lenient path with some, exempting 36 Tajiks who joined ISIS and then repented and returned to Tajikistan from criminal liability–many of which are women who went to Syria with their husbands and returned after their husbands were killed. Other returned Tajik fighters have spoken publically about their experience in an attempt to dissuade others from going in the first place.