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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.

5 November 2008

KYRGYZSTAN: Restrictive Law due for final parliamentary vote on Thursday

Kyrgyzstan's restrictive new Religion Law is due to be voted on for the second and final time tomorrow (6 November), Forum 18 News Service has learnt. If the draft Law – whose exact text is unavailable for public discussion - is passed, it will go to President Kurmanbek Bakiev for signature. One human rights defender pointed out that, as the draft Law openly breaks the Kyrgyz Constitution, this would be a very strong ground for the Law to be turned down. Provisions that have caused concern to religious communities and human rights defenders include: a ban on children being involved in religious organisations; a ban on "aggressive action aimed at proselytism"; a ban on the distribution of religious literature, print, audio-video religious materials; and de facto compulsory re-registration of all registered religious organisations. Representatives of various religious communities have complained to Forum 18 about both numerous provisions and the secrecy surrounding the whole legislative process. The Law breaks Kyrgyzstan's international human rights commitments and has been strongly criticised by an OSCE / Venice Commission legislative review.

16 October 2008

KYRGYZSTAN: Secrecy surrounds Religion Law before final parliamentary reading

Kyrgyzstan's Parliament has passed without discussion the first reading of a restrictive draft Religion Law, which may, according to some, pass its final reading on 21 October. However, others have told Forum 18 News Service that the second and final reading will be later. It is unclear what is in the current text, as officials refuse to release the latest version. Deputy Zainidin Kurmanov told Forum 18 that the latest text is on the parliamentary website, but other deputies state that they do not know what is in the draft Law. Kurmanov revealed that the draft Law includes: a ban on unregistered religious activity; a threshold of 200 adult citizens to gain state registration; a ban on "proselytism"; a definition of a "sect"; and a ban on the free distribution of literature. Kurmanov claimed he did not understand objections as "only criminals should be afraid of law and order." Protestant, Jehovah's Witness and Baha'i religious minorities have all expressed concern at the secrecy surrounding the Law, the lack of public consultation, and the restrictions thought to be in the first reading text. A joint Venice Commission / OSCE legal review of a July text of the Law is also highly critical of it. Officials claim to be organising a roundtable, but religious communities say they have not been invited to it.

2 October 2008

KYRGYZSTAN: Restrictive proposed new Religion Law to parliament this month

Kyrgyzstan's proposed new Religion Law – which ruling party deputies say will make it more difficult for religious communities to gain legal status and for people to share their faith – is set to reach the full Parliament in the second half of October, Kanybek Osmonaliev, Chair of the State Agency for Religious Affairs, told Forum 18 News Service. "There are many inadequacies in the current law," a parliamentary press officer told Forum 18. "Religious organisations function freely without any control. This law will bring control." Osmonaliev has expressed concern over the "abnormality" of a rising number of people changing faith, especially young ethnic Kyrgyz joining Christian churches. He complained of "illegal" activity by "various destructive, totalitarian groups and reactionary sects", among whom he included the Hare Krishna and Mormon communities. Fr Igor Dronov of the Russian Orthodox Church told Forum 18 of his support for the proposed new Law. "The earlier Law was too liberal and led to the spiritual destruction of the country. Thank God the state is starting to act."

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