Kazakhstan (MNN) — Two new restrictive religion laws were signed into effect by Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev last week, raising the concern of human rights groups, Muslims, and Christians.
The first of the two laws replaces Kazakhstan's current Religion Law. According to Forum 18, this law will "among other restrictions impose a complex four-tier registration system, ban unregistered religious activity, impose compulsory religious censorship, and require both central and local government approval to build or open new places of worship."
Joel Griffith with Slavic Gospel Association says the law will force already registered churches to re-register. That's law one. "The second piece of legislation we're deeply troubled about, because there is potential for this to have severe impact on ministry to children."
The second law amends previous legal provisions, including a provision to prevent attracting children to participate in religious activity if the parents object. SGA is still uncertain as to what exactly this means or how it will be enforced, but believers are concerned about the upcoming Christmas season in particular, which will include several Christian children's programs. No one knows if Christian children's summer camps will be allowed either.
The president's signature on the laws was expected since many report that Nazarbayev himself pushed the laws into motion. Nevertheless, it remains a perplexing decision. These two laws directly violate some of the core human rights commitments of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, a group of which Kazakhstan is not only a member but was the chairman for a while, according to Griffith.
So call for change? Reuters suggests that "a suicide bombing in May and the arrest in August of a group accused of a terrorist plot raised fears of a surge in militancy, prompting Nazarbayev to call for the new law to help curb extremism." Griffith agrees that the governmental reasoning for the laws appears to be anti-extremism.
Nevertheless, Christians, which make up a small minority of the mostly-Muslim nation, will be the ones to suffer the laws' consequences. The crackdown on Christians has been tightening over the last decade, and although it has never remotely reached the severity of that in neighboring nations, Kazakhstan's new restrictions make it look more similar than ever to surrounding, oppressive "stan" nations.
Now that the laws have been signed, there's but one thing left to do.
"Above all, just pray for the protection of the evangelical churches there," says Griffith, "and pray for the protection of pastors and church-planting missionaries, as they basically are going to go ahead no matter what and proclaim the Gospel, no matter what the cost. They're just going to have to find maybe more discrete ways of doing it."