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6 November 2009

KYRGYZSTAN: Why is new Religious Education Law being hurried?

State religious affairs officials failed to invite all religious communities to a 21 October roundtable in the capital Bishkek to discuss the controversial proposed new Religious Education Law, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. At a 29 October conference, where the draft Law was briefly discussed, Kanatbek Murzakhalilov, Deputy Head of the State Commission for Religious Affairs, gave religious communities one week to submit comments. Murzakhalilov refused to tell Forum 18 why discussion is being rushed or why his agency is refusing to allow the publication of the legal review of the draft by the OSCE requested by his agency and received in late October. Several directors of medreses (Muslim secondary schools) across Kyrgyzstan were afraid to comment to Forum 18 on the draft Law for fear of reprisals from the authorities.

7 September 2009

KYRGYZSTAN: New Law to introduce sweeping controls on religious education?

The draft text of a proposed new Law on Religious Education and Educational Institutions seen by Forum 18 News Service would impose sweeping controls on who can open religious educational institutions, would ban all but approved and licensed institutions and ban individuals from seeking religious education abroad without state approval. Yet Kanybek Osmonaliev, Head of the State Agency for Religious Affairs, and his deputy, Kanatbek Murzakhalilov, adamantly denied that if adopted it would restrict religious education. "The Law will not be restrictive but promote orderliness in the sphere of religious education," Osmonaliev told Forum 18. Two Muslim leaders declined to comment on the draft, or on Osmonaliev's claims that there are "too many" Islamic schools in Kyrgyzstan and the number needs to be reduced. Baptists, Lutherans, Ahmadiyya Muslims and Baha'is expressed concerns over the draft Law's provisions.

21 August 2009

KYRGYZSTAN: Property obstacles used to stop registrations

Some religious communities in Kyrgyzstan are facing problems in registering as they cannot get a certificate from the State Agency for Architecture and Buildings, Forum 18 News Service has been told. In some cases religious communities are told that, on the instructions of the State Agency for Religious Affairs, their building must be 1,000 metres [1,090 yards] away from any school building, and 10,000 metres [10,900 yards] away from any mosque. In another case, an organisation was asked to build an electricity substation to obtain a certificate. Officials have evaded answering Forum 18's questions about these problems. Problems in registering are also facing religious organisations which are not communities. An example of this is the Bible Society, which is facing demands that it must register as a religious organisation. The Religion Law requires all religious organisations to have no less than 200 members, yet as Valentina An, Chair of the Bible Society, explained to Forum 18 "we have only 3 employees."

19 August 2009

KYRGYZSTAN: What will new "Coordinating Council on the Struggle Against Religious Extremism" do?

Kyrgyzstan has established a state Coordinating Council on the Struggle against Religious Extremism, Forum 18 News Service notes. The execution of Council decisions will be obligatory for the different parts of the government, but officials are unclear when asked by Forum 18 what they mean by religious extremism and what the Council will do. It will be led by the State Agency for Religious Affairs, the Interior Ministry and the NSS secret police, and will have members from other parts of the government, the Muslim Board, and the Russian Orthodox Church. Civil society and religious organisations have reacted with concern, Raya Kadyrova of the Foundation for Tolerance International pointing out that "unfortunately our laws give a very wide definition of religious radicalism and extremism." She suggested that the Collective Security Treaty Organisation might be a reason for the Council. The Jehovah's Witnesses said they needed to wait and see what it would do. They noted that some officials have previously described them as "a destructive movement," but "hoped" the Council would not listen to such opinions. One Protestant asked why there was a need for the Council, given the other responsible state organisations.

13 August 2009

KYRGYZSTAN: "Don't meet for worship"

Unregistered communities of Protestant Christians, Hare Krishna devotees and Ahmadiya Muslims in many parts of Kyrgyzstan have been ordered by the authorities to stop meeting for worship, Forum 18 News Service has found. In some cases, communities have been told that state registration in the capital Bishkek does not allow religious activity elsewhere. One Protestant church in the north-west told Forum 18 that they had been unsuccessfully trying for two years to register, but that they "would not be registered unless they had 200 signatures. How can we collect 200 signatures if we are not allowed to function normally?" Asked what would happen to religious communities who have fewer than 200 members, and so cannot be registered, an official of the State Agency for Religious Affairs told Forum 18 that "there is a Law, and we will deal with them accordingly." An employee of the State Agency recently told a person known to Forum 18, who wished to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals, that after the July presidential elections there would be "a massive campaign against religious groups meeting illegally."

28 May 2009

KYRGYZSTAN: Crackdown follows new Religion Law

Since the entry into force of Kyrgyzstan's new Religion Law in January, officials of the Prosecutor's Office, Police, National Security Service secret police, local Executive Authorities and the State Agency for Religious Affairs have checked up on many religious communities, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Jehovah's Witnesses in Maili-Suu faced raids and summonses in April. "The Police told our members that in the light of the new Law they have no rights to distribute or to keep any religious literature at their homes," their lawyer Mikhail Kokhanovsky told Forum 18. Police told Forum 18 they had to confiscate the literature to check if it is "legally permitted". Officials have checked up on whether Protestant churches have been involved in sharing their faith and whether children are involved in religious activity. One foreign Protestant was forced to leave the country in early May. Bishkek's Hare Krishna community – which has been told a "secret instruction" bans it from registering – fears it will never be able to gain legal status.

27 May 2009

KYRGYZSTAN: Will restrictive provisions of new Religion Law be removed?

Officials have claimed to Forum 18 News Service that they have formed a Commission of government and religious representatives to resolve three controversial provisions of the restrictive new Religion Law signed by President Kurmanbek Bakiev in January 2009. Kanatbek Murzakhalilov of the State Agency for Religious Affairs identified the three provisions as restrictions on sharing faith and distributing religious literature, and the high threshold of members required before religious communities can register and thus function legally. However, he refused to give a timetable for any decisions or to say if these restrictive provisions will be removed. He said only afterwards would regulations enacting the Law be prepared. Kyrgyzstan's Lutherans, Seventh-day Adventists, Baptists, Pentecostals and other Protestants are expected to lodge a joint challenge to the new Law in Kyrgyzstan's Constitutional Court on 4 June. Aleksandr Shumilin, Chair of Kyrgyzstan's Baptist Union, told Forum 18 this is because the Law is "very anti-democratic".

13 January 2009

KYRGYZSTAN: President's signing of restrictive Religion Law condemned

Kyrgyzstan's President, Kurmanbek Bakiev, has signed the restrictive new Religion Law, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Tursunbek Akun, the country's Human Rights Ombudsperson, told Forum 18 that "this Law is not in accord with international human rights standards," as it "imposes a range of restrictions that will prevent small religious communities from developing." Human rights defender Aziza Abdirasulova, of the Kylym Shamy (Candle of the Century) Centre for Human Rights Protection agreed, stating that "the new Law contradicts international human rights standards – and it is not the only Law now being signed that does so," she told Forum 18. She complained that civil society and smaller religious communities had been "left on the sidelines" in the Law's drafting. Also condemning the new Law were religious communities including Seventh-day Adventists, Baptists, Baha'is and Hare Krishna devotees. Jens Eschenbaecher, Spokesperson for the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), told Forum 18 from Warsaw on 13 January that: "It appears that the law as signed by the President still contains many of the problematic features that were highlighted in the legal opinion which was prepared by the ODIHR and the Venice Commission."

9 January 2009

KAZAKHSTAN: Repressive actions continue, repressive law sent for review

President Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan has sent a repressive new law severely limiting freedom of religion or belief for review by the country's Constitutional Council, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Meanwhile, the government continues to repress the exercise of freedom of thought, conscience and belief. A Baptist has this month had his main source of income confiscated and been fired from his job, because he led worship without state permission. Speaking of his former employer, who fired him after being visited by court officials, Pastor Aleksandr Kerker said that "he is not to blame though – he was afraid." Hare Krishna devotees have been detained by police in Almaty for handing out religious literature. Officer candidates and other students at the Kazakh Air Force's main training establishment have been warned against "religious extremism" and "religious groups non-traditional for Kazakhstan". They were also shown a film claiming that the Hare Krishna faith incites devotees to commit murder.

6 November 2008

KYRGYZSTAN: Restrictive Religion Law passes Parliament unanimously

Kyrgyzstan's proposed new Religion Law has been adopted unanimously by the country's parliament today (6 November), Forum 18 News Service has found. The Law will go to President Kurmanbek Bakiev around 15 November, who then has at least a month to sign it or return it to Parliament. The Law as passed states that 200 people will be needed to register a religious organisation, contrary to assurances that Deputy Zainiddin Kurmanov, the main author of the Law, gave a visiting delegation from the European Parliament. Deputies significantly harshened this part of the Law, by voting unanimously that the identity of all 200 founders must now also be confirmed by local keneshes (elected local administrations). "How can we gather 200 people to sign official papers for the State Agency for Religious Affairs, and then get them to go to local keneshes with their passports to be identified?" the Baha'i community complained. "People are usually reserved about signing official papers." Christian leaders are also very concerned about the new Law. No changes were made to bring the Law into line with either Kyrgyzstan's international human rights commitments, or the Kyrgyz Constitution.

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