Protestants fear restrictions with the new Kazakh law on religious freedom

» 09/05/2011 13:36
KAZAKHSTAN

The changes expected within a few months. The Constitutional Court has declared the previous Act illegal. The country says it wants to combat Islamic terrorism, but punishes any unauthorized activity and pursues the small Christian groups.

Astana (AsiaNews / Agencies) – Protestant communities and groups for the protection of rights are alarmed by amendments to the Law on religious freedom currently before Kazakhstan’s Parliament. Meanwhile, the authorities have expelled Leonid Pan, a Russian citizen residing in Kazakhstan for 15 years, after he became leader of a Protestant church.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev addressing Parliament on September 1, said that the amendment must be approved “by this session”, which ends in June 2012. In his speech he criticized the mosques that operate “without authorization” and concluded that “we need to restore order at home.” From the little information that has emerged, it is known that new rules for registration of religious communities will be introduced.

Lama Sharif, president of the State Agency for Religious Affairs (ARA) said on 1 September that under the new law all religious groups must apply for recognition again, even those who have already received it, noting that many of them received recognition before the independence of Kazakhstan in 1991. This raises concerns about the criteria to be used, because in June, Sharif said he wanted greater control of religious groups according to the “One nation, one religion” principal.

Protestant groups express concern to Forum 18 agency that in reality the law will propose once again “the same restrictive rules that the Constitutional Council of Kazakhstan had already declared unconstitutional in 2009 and before that in 2002.

F18 notes that the bill has not yet had any publicity or been subjected to public scrutiny and debate and that the government has not sought the opinion of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), who had already criticized the 2009 law, declaring it unconstitutional.

The Constitution declares that the country is open to all religions in a position of equality. But since 1991 all the amendments have been restrictive on the rights of groups and individuals in the name of “national security” and “Islamic terrorism”, even if it is unclear how they relate to small Protestant churches. In fact all “unauthorized” religious activities, even prayer meetings are now prohibited and punishable with fines

Meanwhile, the authorities of Arkalyk, in the northern region of Kostanai, have refused to renew the residence permit to Leonid Pan, a Russian citizen who has lived there for 15 years, with his wife Kazakh whom he married in 2005, and 2 year old daughter. On 29 August, the order came to leave the country. F18 denounces that the grounds for refusal are that in his application for renewal he gave unspecified “false information” and did not state he was “the leader of the religious group Grace Light of Love”.

On August 18 Gennady Tsyba, a follower of a small unregistered Baptist church in the western region of Aktobe in Martuk, was sentenced to pay 75,600 tenge (361 euros, which are about 5 months minimum salary) for “participation in unauthorized religious activities” after attending a Sunday service. The Baptist Churches refuses to apply for registration.

Meanwhile, the authorities of Arkalyk, in the northern region of Kostanai, have refused to renew the residence permit to Leonid Pan, a Russian citizen who has lived here for 15 years, with his wife married in 2005, Kazakh and 2 year old daughter. On 29 August, the order came to leave the country. F18 complaint that the refusal reasons that he gave in the application for renewal of “false news” on unspecified and not stated to be “the leader of the religious group Grace Light of Love”.
Gennady Tsyba, a follower of a small Baptist church is not recorded in the western region of Aktobe in Martuk, August 18 was sentenced to pay 75,600 tenge (361 euros, which are about 5 months the minimum monthly salary) for “participation in religious activities unauthorized “attended the Sunday service. The Baptist Churches refuse to apply for registration.

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