1 December 2006
Kazakhstan routinely denies that its attacks on and demolition of a Hare Krishna commune are religious freedom issues. Yet this is contradicted by the presence of a state religious affairs official, Ryskul Zhunisbayeva, at the latest court hearing, Forum 18 News Service notes. Questioned what her role was, Zhunisbayeva immediately screamed that this has "nothing to do with religion." Lawyers working with the community have withdrawn from the case. "You don't understand us – you have no family," one lawyer told a devotee, who commented that "Probably they're scared." Also, two Baptists' appeal against large fines for religious activity without state registration has been rejected. As the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe's (OSCE) Advisory Panel on religious freedom states that it is it is "deeply concerned" by Kazakhstan's actions, the country's bid – to be decided next week - to chair the OSCE in 2009 is attracting increasing opposition. This should only happen "if Kazakhstan takes immediate verifiable steps to implement its OSCE human rights pledges, including on freedom of religion or belief," the US Commission on International Religious Freedom has stated.
24 November 2006
With almost a quarter of the Hare Krishna-owned homes in their Sri Vrindavan Dham commune on the outskirts of Almaty already destroyed, community members are afraid that the rest of the 66 homes – including their temple – could be next. "The community is in shock, but they are determined to defend their homes and place of worship," community member Govinda Swami told Forum 18 News Service. He says destruction of the temple would be "devastating". Neighbouring houses owned by non-Krishna devotees have not been touched and sources have told Forum 18 that President Nursultan Nazarbayev's brother has designs on the property. Local administration chief Bagdad Akhmetayev refused to say why the homes were being destroyed when the court merely ordered the devotees' eviction, telling Forum 18 "I simply came to watch the demolition and I am not prepared to make any comment. Please ask the court bailiffs directly." The bailiffs refused to talk to Forum 18. Police prevented OSCE officials from reaching the village during the 21 November destruction.
21 November 2006
As Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev is in London seeking support for his bid to chair the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), state authorities began today (21 November) bulldozing the only Hare Krishna commune in the region, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The costs of the demolition are being imposed by the authorities on the Hare Krishna devotees and OPON riot police have sealed off the commune. "At present a bulldozer is knocking down one house," Hare Krishna devotee Anastasia told Forum 18 from the site as she watched the destruction, "while a further four are being knocked down by hand." Officials carrying out the destruction have refused to speak to Forum 18. The demolition contradicts earlier Kazakh official assurances that all actions in the authorities long-running attempt to take over the commune would be frozen. Religious freedom and other human rights in Kazakhstan have been for some years under increasing threat from President Nazarbayev's government.
17 November 2006
Hare Krishna devotees are increasingly sceptical that a state Commission, with the proclaimed aim of resolving a long-running dispute caused by the state's attempts to take over a Hare Krishna commune, will solve the issue, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Ludmila Danilenko, of the state Religious Affairs Committee, told Forum 18 that "the decision that the Commission has reached will be made public shortly." Some suggest that the Commission's real aim was to deflect criticism at the contrast between the state's attacks on religious freedom and its often repeated boasts that it supports religious tolerance. Sources, which preferred to be unnamed, have told Forum 18 of "persistent rumours" that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev's brother, Bulat Nazarbayev, wants to acquire the Krishna farm. Amanbek Mukhashev of the Religious Affairs Committee told Forum 18 that if the commune continues, "the situation could turn out badly for the Krishna followers."
15 November 2006
Shortly after speaking as an official guest at an event marking Kazakhstan's "Day of Spiritual Unity and Conciliation," a South Korean Pastor has been expelled for "missionary work without registration," Forum 18 News Service has been told. Pastor Kim U Sob has led the Love Presbyterian Church in the southern town of Kyzyl-Orda for the past eight years, and was visiting a church member. "The police suddenly burst into the house where he was staying and filmed everyone present," a church member who wished to remain unnamed told Forum 18. "The situation for believers' rights in Kazakhstan is starting to resemble the 1930s. Recently the police were literally on the pastor's heels." Pastor Kim was convicted of "missionary work without registration," and subsequently refused an extension to his visa, forcing him to leave the country. Kazakh law professor Roman Podoprigora told Forum 18 that "Kim U Sob has become a victim of the view typically taken by officials."
14 November 2006
Members of the Tabligh Jama'at international Islamic missionary organisation face increased fines across Kazakhstan for trying to give lectures in mosques without state registration, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Provisions in Kazakh law punish "missionary activity" without special permission. Also punishable is any activity by religious communities that do not have registration, with Baptists and other Protestants so far bearing the brunt of such fines. Secret police official Askar Amerkhanov denied to Forum 18 that the Kazakh authorities now regard Tabligh as extremist: "Tabligh's problem is that its supporters are preaching without having registered with the authorities." Tabligh supporter Murad Mynbaev told Forum 18 in Almaty that the group does not attribute its problems to the central Kazakh authorities but to local authorities "who in their ignorance think we are a political organisation".
24 October 2006
Changes to Kazakhstan's Anti-terrorism Law are being planned later in 2006 by the KNB secret police, officials have told Forum 18 News Service. "These changes are not going to affect believers," a senior KNB officer, Askar Amerkhanov, told Forum 18, supported by a Justice Ministry official from the Religious Affairs Committee. Human rights activists, such as Ninel Fokina of the Almaty Helsinki Committeee, as well as some religious communities are sceptical. Changes to the Religion Law are also being planned, to be presented in 2007, and it is possible that these may – despite official assurances to the contrary - ban sharing beliefs and missionary activity. "Fortunately for us, the KNB secret police sometimes let things slip, and then deny what they said. However, in our experience there have not yet been any cases where these 'slips of the tongue' have not been proved correct," Ninel Fokina told Forum 18.
2 October 2006
Facing continued fines for unregistered religious activity in Kazakhstan, Baptists who refuse on principle to register have insisted to Forum 18 News Service that they will not pay the fines. "We don't pay because we don't consider we're guilty. Kazakhstan's Constitution guarantees freedom of worship and says nothing about registration," Pastor Yaroslav Senyushkevich told Forum 18. Kazakh religious state registration procedures can be highly intrusive in their demands for information - including demands to know the political views of members. One legal scholar disputes that registration is in law compulsory. The latest two known fines for unregistered religious activity have been for amounts equivalent to just under twice the estimated average monthly salary. "The law is the law and we will keep on fining members of unregistered religious organisations," Lyudmila Danilenko of the Justice Ministry told Forum 18.
8 September 2006
On 12 September the Kazakh government will open a conference in Astana of world religious leaders aimed at portraying the country as a haven of religious tolerance. Yet two of the country's religious minorities which have long faced official harassment – a Hare Krishna commune near Almaty which the local authorities want to close down and Baptist churches which refuse on principle to register with the authorities and which have been heavily fined and "banned" – have complained to Forum 18 News Service of continuing problems. Maxim Varfolomeyev of the Hare Krishna community says a newly-established Religious Affairs Committee commission to look at the commune's problems – which held its first meeting on 7 September - might have been set up to give a "false demonstration" of the authorities' religious tolerance on the eve of the conference. Baptists have complained of raids and fines. "Despite the Constitution of Kazakhstan, the authorities continue to push their illegal demands for the compulsory registration of churches."
15 August 2006
Three strands of Christianity are officially recognised in China's north-western Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, Forum 18 News Service notes: the Three Self Patriotic Movement (Protestant), the Patriotic Catholic Association, and two state-registered Orthodox communities. The authorities in Xinjiang appear to be eager to isolate these communities, along with Xinjiang's Buddhists, from links with their fellow believers in other countries. Missionary activity that the authorities become aware of, especially by foreign missionaries, is swiftly halted. Orthodox believers have been advised by the authorities not to communicate with foreigners, Forum 18 has been told. No Orthodox priests are permitted to work in Xinjiang, and it does not appear likely that this will change soon, or that Orthodox men from Xinjiang will be permitted to study at a seminary abroad.
18 July 2006
In June 2006, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) held a "Tolerance Implementation Meeting on Promoting Inter-Cultural, Inter-Religious and Inter-Ethnic Understanding," in Kazakhstan. In a paper for the 11 June NGO Preparatory Conference, Igor Rotar of Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org looked at the reality of religious intolerance in Central Asia. This vital issue must be considered by examining the concrete reality of state policy that restricts the rights of believers of one or another confession, and religious intolerance in everyday life. It is sadly impossible to avoid the conclusion that many states in Central Asia deliberately pursue a policy which violates international religious freedom standards - despite the many fine-sounding statements made by these same states at OSCE and other conferences.
14 July 2006
A Pentecostal theological college is facing attempts by the authorities to close it, along with a media campaign against the college, and the dramatic increase in fines of unregistered Baptists has continued, Forum 18 News Service has found. These are the latest developments in Kazakhstan's crackdown on religious freedom. The Shymkent Prosecutor's Office is prosecuting the local Elim Seminary for not having an Education Ministry licence – even though the college immediately applied for a licence when this requirement was introduced in May. The Prosecutor, Erzhan Ezaliev, claimed to Forum 18 that "Personally I am neutral towards Protestants. But the law is the same for everybody." In 2005, the same Prosecutor's Office - without any legal grounds for its action - also tried to close the Seminary. Also, two Baptists, one a Pastor, have been fined for unregistered activity and breaking an order banning a church. The fines imposed are much greater than the previous norm.