Kazakhstan (MNN) — Nobody has been really surprised at the increasing crackdowns over religious freedom issues in Kazakhstan.
Shortly after Tajikistan modified its religion laws, Kazakhstan adopted new religious legislation in 2011. Then, last year, the laws began to bite. This legislation has made the training of Christian leaders much more difficult and youth work now requires the permission of both parents. Compulsory censorship on religious materials is imposed. Training of Christian leaders has become much more complicated, and youth work now requires the permission of both parents.
Following Christ comes at a real price now. According to a report from Forum 18 News and International Christian Concern, the fines against individuals for exercising their religious beliefs without state permission have totaled more than $118,000. There have been 119 individuals who have been fined, some of them on multiple occasions. The average of the fines has been equivalent to approximately two months’ average salary.
Spokesman for the Slavic Gospel Association Joel Griffith says the shift is causing some consternation among believers. “It used to be [that] in Kazakhstan, you were relatively free to minister and proclaim the Gospel there. But as we’ve seen with the other Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan in recent years has really been cracking down on this.”
One of the more recent incidents involved a group of 16 police officers and journalists, led by the local religious affairs official who raided a Sunday worship service in West Kazakhstan on November 10. As a result of the arrests, “10 of the church members now are facing a court date, and they could get possible fines of one or two months’ average salary.”
Prosecutor’s Assistant Talap Usnadin defended the legality of the raid when interviewed by Forum 18. “They had no registration and no permission to meet.” Indicating that they weren’t targeting Christians alone, he pointed out the case of a Muslim in a village near where the raid took place, who turned his home into a mosque with an unapproved minaret. He has also been fined.
On another front, traditional Islam is on the rise throughout Central Asia. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan have been sending Muslim missionaries to Kazakhstan. The extremism that came with them forced the government to consider increasingly oppressive religion laws to control terrorism.
However, these laws are often used to limit, restrict, and even persecute Christians, who are sometimes regarded as members of a dangerous sect. The government’s response has recreated a scenario with which the older generation is familiar. Griffith explains, “The older saints that are there [are] going to remember what life was like under atheistic Communism and how they had to survive under Soviet oppression. The newer generation that’s coming up would have no memories of this and how to survive under such a thing.”
If it continues in this vein, outreach ministries will be disrupted. For those who are working alongside the Church in Kazakhstan, Griffith asks that you “pray that the Lord would grant us wisdom and discretion about equipping them to be able to proclaim the Gospel, and that we would have wisdom to do it discreetly.”
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