KAZAKHSTAN: Schoolchildren told prayer "causes death" and suicide bombers
Teachers north of the capital Astana are putting pressure on children not to attend Protestant prayer meetings, telling children that prayer "can even cause death," Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Children who attend prayer meetings are kept behind after school for "educational talks" in which they have been told that they are being turned into "shahids and zombies". (The Islamic term "shahid" is frequently used in former Soviet countries to describe suicide bombers.) Parents have been ordered by teachers not to take their children to prayer meetings. The head of the regional Education Department has confirmed to Forum 18 that she ordered "educational work" with children who attend prayer meetings, and also that the national Education Ministry orders officials "at every meeting" to stop children going to church. Religious believers in Kazakhstan link these ongoing actions of the Education Ministry with current parliamentary moves to seriously restrict the religious freedom of all faiths.
Almost all the Protestant parents in Krasnoyarka have been told by teachers not to take their children to prayer meetings. Tsai believes that the teachers' actions have been carried out on the orders of higher authority. "The authorities dislike our church. In April this year, when we applied for state registration, as part of the process the authorities told church members to state not only their place of work, but also which political parties they supported, but also their hobbies and even their zodiac sign." Being asked to name their zodiac sign is offensive to Christians, who do not believe in horoscopes.
Olga Mozhayeva, head of the Education Department of Tselinograd district, which includes Krasnoyarka, admitted to Forum 18 in Astana on 19 May, that she had ordered "educational work" with children who attend Protestant prayer meetings. "We have received reports that the Protestants have been working actively with children, and have also been engaged in charitable work. They are distributing expensive presents, which people cannot afford, only to families whose children attend church," Mozhayeva claimed. She produced no evidence for her claims.
According to Mozhayeva, the headteacher of Krasnoyarka school has been told to offer more out-of-school clubs to dissuade schoolchildren from going to church. However, Mozhayeva categorically denied that she had told the head to engage in atheist propaganda. "That was on the personal initiative of the Krasnoyarka teachers," she insisted to Forum 18. "If the teachers really did tell the schoolchildren such nonsense about believers, they will be punished. We will launch an investigation."
Mozhayeva confirmed earlier information that the national Ministry of Education and Science has told teachers to try to stop schoolchildren from attending churches. "There has been no official order. But we are told this at every meeting," she told Forum 18. "We cannot prevent a schoolchild from attending church. But we do have the authority to set up out-of-school clubs meeting a range of interests, so that a child will have neither the time nor the desire to attend church."
The Ministry of Education and Science has earlier issued a written instruction to headteachers "not to permit teachers or pupils to visit religious associations and confessions," forced schoolchildren in central Kazakhstan to answer a questionnaire about their religious beliefs and whether they attend a place of worship, banned under-18s from going to places of worship or Sunday School, as well as ordering compulsory "educational work" with children who disobey the ban. This is illegal under Kazakh law and was thought then to be part of a wider increase in state action against religious activity in Kazakhstan (see F18News 20 January 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=494 ).
Aleksandr Klyushev, head of the Association of Religious Organisations of Kazakhstan, linked the problems in schools with current parliamentary moves to restrict religious freedom for all faiths (see F18News 3 May 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=561). "We can interpret the education ministry initiatives as part of a deliberate policy by the state to restrict believers' rights," he told Forum 18 in Astana on 19 May.
For a personal commentary on current legal moves to seriously restrict religious freedom in Kazakhstan under the guise of "national security", see F18News http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=564
For more background, see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=249
A printer-friendly map of Kazakhstan is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=kazakh
18 May 2005
Wide-ranging national security amendments now in parliament will negatively affect many groups – including the media, NGOs, business people and religious communities – but religious believers will suffer the most, argues Aleksandr Klyushev, chairman of the Association of Religious Organisations of Kazakhstan (AROK), in this personal commentary for Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org. If adopted, these amendments will cause unjustified suffering to law-abiding believers, who could be punished for peacefully practising their faith. He believes that this will cause national security to suffer, both by alienating citizens from the state and also by enabling incompetent law-enforcement personnel to claim successes in combating illegal but harmless religious organisations, instead of effectively policing real criminal and terrorist threats to Kazakh society. He calls on the international community to influence the Kazakh government not to adopt the amendments.
13 May 2005
"The ban on the activity of unregistered religious associations and the draconian amendments to the administrative code significantly limit believers' rights," Aleksandr Klyushev, of the Association of Religious Organisations of Kazakhstan (AROK) told Forum 18 News Service after 12 May Majilis parliamentary approval of sweeping "national security" amendments to eleven laws. The parliamentary debate had been expected on 18 May, but was suddenly brought forward. Klyushev said to Forum 18 that "deputies discovered that the discussion of the draft would take place on 11 May only on the day of the session. I believe this was done deliberately to prevent deputies from preparing for the consideration of the draft and from submitting amendments." Communist party deputy Yerasyl Abylkasymov told Forum 18 that "in the time of Genghis Khan such ideological saboteurs were hung, drawn and quartered. Alas it is now unfortunately not possible to do this and so we have to defend ourselves by means of laws." Having been approved by the Majilis, the lower house of parliament, the amendments now go to the upper house, the Senate, for approval.
3 May 2005
KAZAKHSTAN: Parliament considers restrictions on freedom tomorrow; Baptist heavily fined and church activities banned
Kazakhstan's parliament will possibly tomorrow (Wednesday) consider sweeping new restrictions on religious freedom, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Concurrently, a Baptist leader has been given a heavy fine for leading an unregistered religious community, and his church's activities have been banned. Law Professor Roman Podoprigora commented to Forum 18 that "the religion law does not require registration. This unjust demand is not in any law." Public Prosecutor Galim Kojekenov claimed to Forum 18 that "this is not persecution – we have freedom of conscience here." Planned restrictions on freedom include criminalising unregistered religious activity, banning unapproved "missionary" activity, requiring state approval for religious literature and dress, and widening officials' powers to ban religious communities. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has commented that this will "result in non-compliance with a wide range of OSCE commitments regarding human rights, democracy and the rule of law," and raise "serious concerns, particularly with regard to freedom of association, freedom of religion or belief, as well as freedom of opinion and expression."