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The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
The right to join together and express one’s belief

KAZAKHSTAN: "Harsh" Religion Law changes to reach parliament soon?

A draft Amending Law (seen by Forum 18) amending nine Codes and Laws on the exercise of freedom of religion or belief would, if adopted in its current form, impose new restrictions on the exercise of freedom of religion or belief. The head of the NSC secret police, Yermek Sagimbayev, has told deputies of the non-freely-elected parliament: "The initiative on the need to harshen legislation in the area of regulating religious activity has more than once been discussed at a government level."

KAZAKHSTAN: Prisoners of conscience refused conditional early release

At least 3 of the 8 current known prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief have had applications for conditional early release rejected on grounds their families regard as arbitrary. In June, a Kyzylorda court rejected Dadash Mazhenov's request, apparently citing his unpaid fees for the "expert analyses" used to convict him. "These fees were just an excuse," his family told Forum 18. The Head of Labour Camp No. 68, Kaiyrbek Ilyasov, refused to discuss why Mazhenov was refused conditional early release.

KAZAKHSTAN: Still jailed despite 2021 UN "immediate" release call

In September 2021, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for 9 Muslims jailed for participating in an online religious discussion group to be "immediately" freed and compensated for their imprisonment. Two years on, none has been freed or compensated. The General Prosecutor's Office, the Religious Affairs Committee, the Foreign Ministry and the government-controlled National Human Rights Centre all failed to explain why. Officials say they regard such UN opinions as "recommendations which they are not obliged to implement", says human rights defender Yevgeny Zhovtis.

KAZAKHSTAN: Prisoners of conscience still in jail, others under multiple long-term punishments

3 Muslim prisoners of conscience remain jailed 2 years after the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for their release "immediately". 5 other Muslim men are in jail for exercising freedom of religion or belief. Also: 6 former prisoners of conscience are serving the rest of their sentences at home under restrictions; 5 other former prisoners of conscience have bans on unspecified or specified activities; 31 others who have completed jail terms or restricted freedom sentences still have bank account access blocked.

KAZAKHSTAN: Fined, as "he had no basis for conducting a religious event"

Zakirzhan Rozmetov was fined for leading evening prayers during Ramadan in a Shymkent mosque stripped of registration in 2021. "Rozmetov broke the law – he had no basis for conducting a religious event," said Alzhan Tuyakbayev, head of Shymkent's Religious Affairs Department. Courts fined other individuals up to one month's average wage in the first half of 2023 for prayer rooms in a cafe, roadside restaurant and shopping centre. Astana Police "anti-extremism" officers inspected "illegal" prayer rooms in a technohub, IT centre and concert organisation, leading to fines.

KAZAKHSTAN: Parish ousted from church after 31 years

The Holy Apostles Peter and Paul Orthodox parish in Oktyabrskoye held its last Sunday service on 28 May in the church where it has worshipped since December 1991. On 2 June, court executors and police ousted the parish, handing the building to the Russian Orthodox diocese. "This was done on a legal basis," officials told Forum 18. The parish moved from the Moscow Patriarchate to the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in 1997. Official documents appear to attest that the parish owned the church, not the Moscow Patriarchate Diocese.

KAZAKHSTAN: 143 administrative prosecutions in 2022

More than a third of the 143 known administrative prosecutions in 2022 punished individuals for posting religious texts and recordings on social media accounts without state permission. In one case a journalist was initially fined – changed to a verbal warning – for posting her interview with a state-approved imam. Many individuals were punished for offering religious literature for sale without state permission, either in shops or online. Two individuals were punished for having religious books, although this is not an offence. In two cases, courts ordered religious literature destroyed.

KAZAKHSTAN: Religious censorship at border

For the first known time since February 2020, courts in 2022 fined six individuals several weeks' average wages for trying to import religious literature. Border guards seized the books at Shymkent Airport, Turkistan Airport and at a border crossing from Uzbekistan. A Shymkent Airport border guard insisted that his service had not imposed the two literature seizures at the airport and subsequent fines. "We didn't confiscate any books, we just took them away and handed them on to the police to be examined," he said.

KAZAKHSTAN: "Incomprehensible" bank account blocking

Kazakhstan maintains public lists of individuals and organisations allegedly connected to "terrorism or extremism", and secret "high-risk" or "suspicious" organisation lists circulated to banks. Both lists lead to blocking and denial of bank accounts and numerous other problems. "We've written more than 10 letters to various state agencies," Protestant Pastor Pyotr Shelepanov of New Life Church in Talgar told Forum 18. "But we've had no real answer." His Church describes the denial of a bank account as "incomprehensible".

KAZAKHSTAN: 75 Tabligh Jamaat adherents criminally convicted since 2015

Secret police raided the homes of Sarsen Netekov and Nurlan Atalykov, seizing 150 religious books and accusing them of membership of the banned Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat. In March, an Atyrau court handed them one-year restricted freedom terms, bringing to 75 the number of alleged Tabligh Jamaat members known to have been criminally convicted since 2015. It also ordered the books destroyed. Asked why officers raided the men's homes and seized religious literature, the secret police in Atyrau responded: "We don't give out such information."

KAZAKHSTAN: "This is not a state campaign against the Church"?

Protestants say secret police encouraged a former church member to lodge a suit against New Life Church – now in court in Pavlodar - claiming back pay and compensation for moral damages for volunteer work in a rehabilitation centre. "This is not a state campaign against the Church," a local religious affairs official claimed, though the individual met officials and a state-backed anti-"sect" centre. Jehovah's Witnesses are appealing a decision awarding large "compensation" to two former members. An assessment of their literature, claiming it caused psychiatric harm, listed a work by Andrei Snezhnevsky, leader of Soviet-era psychiatric abuse.

KAZAKHSTAN: Seven years' jail for online Muslim posts

Muslim Anatoli Zernichenko was jailed for seven years, for posting on social media Muslim texts which prosecutors without evidence claimed promoted terrorism. Zernichenko has appealed, but no hearing date is set. The case started with the secret police hunting through his social media accounts, and the jailing rests on textual "expert analyses". Yevgeny Zhovtis of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law says this is "exactly what the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur for Protecting Human Rights while Countering Terrorism raised concerns about". There are now 10 known prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief.