KAZAKHSTAN: Only Hare Krishna commune in CIS to be confiscated
The long running struggle of Kazakhstan's Hare Krishna community to retain a farm they own – their only commune in the former Soviet Union - has intensified, Forum 18 News Service has learnt, as Almaty regional court has ordered the farm to be confiscated without compensation. "We will contest this decision in the Kazakhstan Supreme Court of Supervision. The situation is critical. Under the law the court bailiffs can come to us at any moment and begin to take the land from us," Rati Manjari (Yekaterina Levitskaya), of the Society for Krishna Consciousness, told Forum 18. The commune has long been the target of state attempts to close it down, which the community thinks may be motivated by state intolerance of Hare Krishna devotees and greed for material gain. Other religious minorities in Kazakhstan – such as Protestants – are also experiencing state intolerance of religious freedom.
The latest reason claimed by the state for confiscating the land is an accusation of forgery, allegedly committed by the former owners – not the current Hare Krishna owners - when the land was bought by the community in 1999. The state alleges that the former owners changed the registered use recorded in the sale contract from 'peasant farm' to 'subsidiary farm'. Under Kazakh law, only the district administration head (akim) has the right to change the registered use of land. The 47.7 hectare [118 acre] farm is the only Hare Krishna commune in the former Soviet Union, and has long been the target of state attempts to close it down (see eg. F18News 14 October 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=671).
However, Kazakhstan's case against the Hare Krishna devotees breaks the country's own laws. When the current legal action was initiated in May 2005, twice the time within which legal action should be taken (3 years) had already elapsed. Despite this major flaw in the state's case, the Almaty regional court ignored this objection.
"The state is trying to reduce the whole action to a mundane economic dispute. However, it is obvious that the rights of dozens of Kazakh citizens belonging to a religious minority are being crudely violated. In all the court documents the religious adherence of the respondents is emphasised, which is a crude violation of their constitutional rights", Levitskaya of the Hare Krishnas told Forum 18.
She believes the local authorities are annoyed that a Hare Krishna commune is in Kazakhstan. "Some officials in Astana [the capital] have said to me bluntly 'What do you expect - you are the only religious minority association that owns such a large piece of land," Levitskaya told Forum 18. She also thinks that material gain may be motivating Kazakh officials. "It really is a very good and large piece of land. We have put a lot of effort into improving it. It would be very advantageous to acquire such a property." Forum 18 has itself documented state intolerance of the Hare Krishna devotees and their commune's religious freedom (see F18News 14 October 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=671).
Kazakh officials are reluctant to discuss the case with Forum 18. "It is too soon to say this case is closed. The Hare Krishnas can contest the decision of the regional court. I have been following this case very closely and I talk regularly with the Hare Krishnas. But until the court proceedings are concluded I cannot make any comment," Galaskar Syrybaev, the state Religious Affairs Representative for Almaty region, told Forum 18 on 18 April.
Other religious minorities in Kazakhstan – such as Protestants – are also experiencing increasing state intolerance of religious freedom (see F18News 1 March 2006 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=735). (END)
For a personal commentary on how attacking religious freedom damages national security in Kazakhstan, 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=701.
A printer-friendly map of Kazakhstan is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=kazakh
13 April 2006
Veteran Soviet-era Baptist prisoner Yakov Skornyakov, who is now 79, again faces prosecution for leading an unregistered religious community. Kadyraly Ospanov, public prosecutor of the town of Taraz in southern Kazakhstan, defended the administrative case he launched against Pastor Skornyakov on 30 March. "Kazakhstan's laws categorically lay down the requirement for a religious community to register and prevent a religious community from operating without registration," Ospanov told Forum 18 News Service. "I am simply obliged to ensure that the law is observed." He promised not to imprison Skornyakov because of his age. In the latest of a rising number of Baptist prosecutions, Pastor Abram Pankrats and Valter Zeman were each fined 400 US dollars on 27 March for leading and hosting the unregistered Baptist church in a village in Jambul region. "He serves the Lord and this requires no registration," the court decision quoted Pankrats as declaring.
3 April 2006
Shortly after her failed appeal against her seven year jail sentence for illegally crossing the border - charges her supporters reject - Hare Krishna devotee Cheper Annaniyazova was transferred from the women's prison in the capital Ashgabad to the women's labour camp in Dashoguz in northern Turkmenistan, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Work in the labour camp is reported to be hard, while bribery to escape the worst work is rampant. Even acquiring a decent place to sleep requires bribes. Annaniyazova's state of health and situation in the labour camp remains unknown. Meanwhile, the Russian Orthodox church in Dashoguz, the only Orthodox place of worship in northern Turkmenistan, still cannot complete construction of a new church begun some years ago. Officials are questioning the parish's right to use the land, while the church's registration application has been denied.
22 March 2006
Tajikistan's parliament is to debate a proposed Law on Religion which, if passed, would be the most repressive of all the Central Asian religion laws. The draft was prepared by the state Committee for Religious Affairs. Muslim, Russian Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant and Jehovah's Witness leaders have all told Forum 18 News Service of their deep concerns over many aspects of the draft Law. Amongst the violations of international human rights standards that the Law proposes are: a ban on unregistered religious activity; the highest threshold in the CIS for numbers of citizens to register a religious community; restricting the numbers of mosques; banning evangelism or proselytism; banning the teaching of religion to all children under 7; state control over who can teach religion within religious communities and their education; state control of organising Muslim pilgrimages to Mecca; and a ban on foreigners – such as Catholic priests – leading religious communities.