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."
Unregistered religious organisations and communities in Kyrgyzstan are banned under the restrictive new Religion Law. The restrictive Religion Law demands in Article 10.2 that registration applications must include a: "Document confirming the location (legal address) of the religious organisation to be established at the geographic place (a sales-purchase agreement for the premises, a lease agreement, an agreement on providing premises free of charge, an official letter, etc.)" However, several religious communities – who do not wish to be named – have told Forum 18 News Service that they are having problems in establishing that they use a building in order to apply for registration.
Some religious communities are having no problems in establishing that they use a building. The Jehovah's Witnesses, for example, own the buildings they use for worship. However, Vladimir Gavrilovski told Forum 18 on 21 August that "we used to have problems when we were refused permission to rent public buildings." Similarly, the Baha'i Community "at the moment has no problem" with using their own building, they told Forum 18 on 21 August.
State Agency for Architecture and Buildings certificate needed
However, this is not the case for some other communities. A particular problem is Article 16 of the Religion Law, which states that buildings can be used "in the order established in Kyrgyz law". This is taken by the State Agency for Religious Affairs (SARA) to mean that the State Agency for Architecture and Buildings must issue a certificate permitting usage of a building.
The SARA and the State Agency for Architecture and Buildings "play mutual protection," a lawyer from the capital Bishkek, who is helping some religious organisations to register and wishes to remain anonymous, told Forum 18 on 21 August. In a recent case known to the lawyer, when the State Agency for Architecture and Buildings was asked for a certificate establishing that a religious community used a building, the State Agency replied with a letter from the SARA demanding that the building be 1,000 metres [1,090 yards] away from any school building, and 10,000 metres [10,900 yards] away from any mosque. The lawyer claimed that "SARA requires organisations to produce a certificate from the State Agency for Architecture and Buildings, and then asks the same Agency to obstruct the granting of this certificate."
The lawyer also stated that the State Agency for Architecture and Buildings also asks religious communities and organisations to produce certificates itself from the Water, Natural Gas and Power Supply Administrations, as well as the Fire Brigade," the lawyer explained. The Power Supply Administration in one case asked an organisation to build a power substation, the lawyer said. "It's exceedingly expensive for any organisation to build it, and the officials are trying to use religious organisations to do work for them."
Forum 18 has been told by several Kyrgyz sources of these demands being made by the State Agency for Architecture and Buildings. Some sources have pointed out that the large number of mosques makes this condition very difficult or impossible to fulfil.
The lawyer from Bishkek said the Religion Law does not regulate whether or not state-owned buildings may be used for religious purposes, but he said that "there is an official instruction to public institutions not to rent their premises for religious purposes." Private owners, who in the past have rented premises to religious organisations, are "now afraid" to rent them out. "Officials from the SARA and Prosecutor's Office demand that they have permission from the State Agency for Architecture and Buildings, which in most cases they do not have."
Officials evade answering questions
Nurlan (who did not give his last name), assistant to Onushbek Tursunbayev, Head of the State Agency for Architecture and Buildings, said that religious organisations only need supplementary documentation from municipal administrations only if they are building a new building. "For buildings which are already in use, we give permission without any supplementary documents," he told Forum 18 on 21 August. Asked what Law regulated whether or not state-owned buildings may be used for religious purposes, he said he did not know. "For renting privately-owned halls, no permission from us is necessary unless it is a new building," he said.
Asked if the Power Supply Administration's demand to build a power substation was lawful, Nurlan replied that "I am a new person in this job, and I do not know." Similarly he evaded answering if it was lawful for SARA to demand that a religious building be a long distance from a school or mosque.
Yusupjan Kadyrhojayev of the State Agency for Religious Affairs told Forum 18 on 21 August that "we only ask for two documents from religious organisations – one is the contract of purchase or of rent, and the other is permission from the State Agency for Architecture and Buildings," Kadyrhojayev of SARA told Forum 18. When Forum 18 started asking about property problems faced by religious communities, he put the phone down.
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 (see F18News 13 August 2009 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1336).
Religious societies which are not communities
Problems in registering are also facing religious organisations which are not communities. An example of this is the Bible Society. The Religion Law requires all religious organisations to have no less than 200 members (see F18News 27 May 2009 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1301). Yet as Valentina An, the Chair of Kyrgyzstan's Bible Society, explained to Forum 18 on 19 August: "we have only 3 employees. We don't understand why we have to register as a religious organisation, as we do not fit the Law's definition of involving ourselves in religious worship, propagation or education. We only translate and produce Bibles."
The Bible Society was registered as a branch of the Kazakhstan Bible Society, and previously had to re-register it every year as a foreign mission in Kyrgyzstan.
"The Bible Society is involved in religious activity, because they produce and distribute religious literature. Therefore they must also be registered as religious organisation," Kadyrhojayev of the State Agency for Religious Affairs told Forum 18. He maintained that "they are not a printing-press, they are religious believers, and are a type of religious organisation. The law is the same for everybody. There are Muslim religious societies too, which face the same requirement," told Forum 18 on 19 August. He refused to discuss the issue further, or name the Muslim organisations he had in mind.
The Law also imposes severe restrictions on religious literature distribution (see F18News 27 May 2009 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1301). It also imposes censorship, stating that "Religious organisations and missions can import religious literature and other printed, audio, and video materials into the Kyrgyz Republic only after passing examination by a state religious expert."
"At the moment we are continuing our activity, but have been asked by the State Agency for Religious Affairs to bring our activity in compliance with the Law," An of the Bible Society told Forum 18. "We are uncertain of our future," she said. (END)
For background information see Forum 18's Kyrgyzstan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=222.
More reports on freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Kyrgyzstan can be found at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?query=&religion=all&country=30.
A survey of the religious freedom decline in the eastern part of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) area is at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=806, and of religious intolerance in Central Asia is at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=815.
A printer-friendly map of Kyrgyzstan is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=kyrgyz.
19 August 2009
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
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
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.