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29 September 2011

KAZAKHSTAN: Two repressive new laws sent to President for signature

Two new laws seriously restricting freedom of religion or belief were passed by Kazakhstan's Senate, the upper house of Parliament, today (29 September). Both laws now only need President Nursultan Nazarbaev's signature to become law. Previous similar laws were rejected by the Constitutional Council as "unconstitutional", and were also heavily criticised by an Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Legal Opinion for breaking the country's human rights commitments. Both the current laws have been in preparation for many months, have been rushed through Parliament with great speed, and are now with the President for signature. Commenting on the previous OSCE Legal Opinion, Zhanna Onlasheva of the state Agency of Religious Affairs, who drafted the laws, told Forum 18 News Service that "We set out our position to the OSCE that we didn't agree with their view. We stuck to our position". The laws were passed as the Military Affairs Directorate of Almaty's Turksib District wrote to local religious communities, ordering them to "provide information on citizens on record as followers of non-traditional religions and radical religious views" - without being able to define what these are - and a Protestant was fined for praying for someone else's health.

27 September 2011

KAZAKHSTAN: "A new wave of persecution has begun once more"

Unless Viktor Gutyar succeeds in his appeal, he expects the administrative fine of nearly ten months' minimum wage for leading an unregistered religious community to be docked from his wages as a coalminer. He was not even present when his church in Satpaev in central Kazakhstan was raided on Sunday morning, 11 September. His was one of five Baptist congregations raided in Karaganda Region in September, including a Harvest Festival in Zhezkazgan attended by 150 people raided by police and riot police on Sunday 25 September. "A new wave of persecution," is how one Baptist described it. "They refuse to register in accordance with our Religion Law, so it's their problem," Mereke Myrzabekova of Zhezkazgan's Internal Policy Department told Forum 18. She admitted they would not have been raided had they been watching football or drinking vodka together "because that's not religion". Shymkent's Ahmadi Muslim community has lost its latest appeal against a ban on using their mosque. "All we want is for our mosque to be allowed to reopen," one Ahmadi told Forum 18. And two Jehovah's Witnesses in Kyzylorda failed to overturn punishments – a seven-day jail term and a fine - for holding a religious meeting in a private home.

23 September 2011

KAZAKHSTAN: Parliamentary adoption of restrictive laws imminent?

Two laws imposing severe restrictions on freedom of religion or belief could possibly be adopted by Kazakhstan's Senate, the upper house of Parliament, as early as next Thursday (29 September). Both laws passed through the Majilis, the lower house, in one day and reached a Senate committee the same day. One observer described the speed of passage to Forum 18 News Service as "unprecedented", and a Majilis press spokesperson was unable to say whether any laws had ever had a quicker passage. An official of the government's Agency of Religious Affairs confirmed to Forum 18 that the two laws would be considered at the Senate's plenary session on 29 September, but would not say if they would complete their passage within one session. Human rights defenders and some religious communities have already told Forum 18 of their deep concern at many of the provisions, which violate Kazakhstan's international human rights commitments. The first proposed law, a new Religion Law, would among other restrictions impose a complex four-tier registration system, ban unregistered religious activity, and impose compulsory censorship. The second proposed law amends nine legal provisions, and its changes to Article 375 of the Code of Administrative Offences and to the Law on the Rights of the Child could have a more far-reaching impact on freedom of religion or belief.

21 September 2011

KAZAKHSTAN: Two repressive laws heading through Parliament at "unprecedented" speed

Within hours today (21 September) two controversial new laws which – if adopted by the Senate and signed into law by Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev – will impose severe restrictions on people exercising their freedom of religion moved decisively towards adoption. The Lower House of Parliament, the Majilis, approved them this morning. In the afternoon the two laws were given their initial presentation to the Social and Cultural Development Committee of the Senate, the Upper House. Forum 18 News Service has learned that privately many Majilis deputies were angry at provisions of the laws and the speed which the government is pushing the laws through Parliament, but no-one voted against either law. In discussion of both laws – a proposed new Religion Law and a separate law amending other laws affecting freedom of religion or belief - the fundamental incompatibility of both laws and current state actions with Kazakhstan's international human rights commitments do not appear to have been publicly discussed.

20 September 2011

KAZAKHSTAN: "To prepare the public for a discriminatory new law"

Officials of Kazakhstan's Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA), the state-backed Muslim Board, "anti-sect" personnel, and local administrations have held public meetings praising the so-called "traditional religions" and attacking so-called "non-traditional religions". The ruling Nur Otan political party has also held similar meetings. ARA regional departments and local administrations across Kazakhstan have also demanded that members of religious minorities provide detailed information on their activities – sometimes on a weekly basis. Former state religious affairs officials, who wished to remain unnamed, have told Forum 18 News Service that religious communities should not be divided into categories such as "traditional" and "non-traditional". One commented that "the word 'non-traditional' gives the public a negative image". An Ahmadi Muslim, who wished to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 that they thought that the campaign is to "prepare the public for a discriminatory new Law". Protestants have also suggested that this is the motivation. Tomorrow (21 September) Forum 18 understands that the first reading of two laws restricting freedom of religion or belief is due to take place in the country's Parliament.

16 September 2011

KAZAKHSTAN: "They are not real Imams"

Officials of Kazakhstan's Agency for Religious Affairs (ARA), the Muslim Board, and regional government officials have re-started demands that independent legally registered mosques join the government-supported Muslim Board, Forum 18 News Service has learned. These moves come as the authorities have been pressuring allegedly "non-traditional" religious groups in a public campaign, and the Majilis is considering draft laws imposing further restrictions on freedom of religion or belief and other human rights. The current National Security Law bans interference by the state in religious communities. One imam who still faces telephone demands "almost every day several times" that his mosque give up its independence, Nurmuhamed Ahmedyanov, observed that if officials at a meeting "were genuinely interested in us, and if they were good Muslims, they would not rush us or try to make us break our fast, or be so rude". Another Imam, Meyram Ibrayev, faced like his colleague with threats that their mosques will not be re-registered after – not if - the new Religion Law is adopted stated that "if in future they refuse to re-register us, I will sue them in court". Karaganda regional ARA Director Serik Tlekbayev claimed to Forum 18 that "they are not real Imams".

6 September 2011

KAZAKHSTAN: New proposed legal restrictions on religion reach Parliament

The proposed new Religion Law which reached Parliament yesterday (5 September), if adopted in its current form, would impose a complex four-tier registration system, ban unregistered religious activity, impose compulsory religious censorship and require all new places of worship to have specific authorisation from the capital and the local administration. A second proposed Law imposing changes in the area of religion in nine other Laws would also amend the controversial Administrative Code Article 375, widening the range of "violations of the Religion Law" it punishes. The texts – seen by Forum 18 News Service – have been approved by Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Karim Masimov, but have not yet been published.

2 September 2011

KAZAKHSTAN: New Religion Law to "bring order to our house"

Human rights defenders and members of religious communities the government does not like have already expressed concern to Forum 18 News Service over the proposed amendments to make the Religion Law harsher. President Nursultan Nazarbaev told Parliament on 1 September that the amendments are to be adopted "in the current session", which concludes in June 2012. He complained of unregistered communities which the state does not control, insisting: "We must bring order to our house." The head of the government's Agency of Religious Affairs, Kairat Lama Sharif, told the media the amendments his Agency has prepared (which have not been made public) will soon go to Parliament. Once adopted, the Law will require re-registration. "We are not expecting anything good from these new developments," one Protestant told Forum 18. Ninel Fokina of the Almaty Helsinki Committee told Forum 18 she fears the new amendments will be "essentially the same text" as the restrictive previous amendments declared unconstitutional by Kazakhstan's Constitutional Council in 2009. The OSCE told Forum 18 the Kazakh government has not asked for its assistance.

1 September 2011

KAZAKHSTAN: Expelled for preaching in own church

After legal residence in Kazakhstan for 15 years, marriage to a Kazakh citizen and a two-year-old daughter, Russian citizen Leonid Pan was in mid-August denied his application to renew his residence permit because he volunteers to preach in his local Protestant church, according to documentation seen by Forum 18 News Service. The local Internal Policy Department had already refused permission for him to become leader of the church. "How can the Migration Police, without having a Court order, demand that Leonid leave the country?" church members complained to Forum 18. The KNB secret police denied to Forum 18 it was involved in the expulsion. Meanwhile, another Baptist was in August fined nearly five months' official minimum wage for holding an unregistered worship service. State restrictions on religious communities are likely to increase with the new Religion Law amendments, due to be considered in the new session of Parliament which opened today (1 September).

28 July 2011

KAZAKHSTAN: "One nation – one religion"?

Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev has called for increased surveillance of religious communities. Earlier, the head of the new state Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) stated that the country had chosen "one nation – one religion" and that the ARA will "prepare a concept on the 'Development of moderate Islam in Kazakhstan'". This may echo Muslim Board calls to "restrict permitted Islam to the Hanafi school". Local people have told Forum 18 that the ARA is also expected to work on legislation further restricting freedom of religion or belief in the country. Yesterday (27 July), a ban on Shymkent's Ahmadi Muslim Community's right to use its mosque was upheld, but the community can continue to use the building until an appeal is decided. "The authorities are not just going against us", an Ahmadi commented. Changes have also been made to the Criminal and Administrative Codes, whose overall impact is – a legal expert stated - to "give more freedom to state agencies to interfere with freedom of religion or belief and go unpunished". "Who will now protect us from 'law-enforcement' agencies breaking the law?" a Kazakh religious believer, who wished to remain unnamed, asked Forum 18.

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