Kazakhstan considers oppressive religion law

By June 17, 2008

(MNN) — Kazakhstan's
full parliament was to begin consideration of a new restrictive religion law
on June 11, Slavic Gospel Association reports. 

Although the parliamentary Working Group responsible for the
legislation has some changes to it, it still violates international human
rights commitments. If adopted, it will
severely restrict the abilities of religious groups to obtain places of worship
or to evangelize people outside of their group. It will also restrict religious publishing.

All religious groups in Kazakhstan are required to register
with the government, according to Forum 18 News Service. To register, the new law requires religious
groups to present 50 signatures, rather than 10 as before. The first draft of the law required 5,000
signatures, but that requirement has been changed.  

Aleksandr Klyushev, head of the Association of Religious
Organizations of Kazakhstan (AROK), participated in the Working Group sessions
and describes the changes as "sneaky." 

"They put many distracting points in the draft to take
away our attention from the real pitfalls," he complained to Forum 18.
"All those ridiculous points — such as a requirement for cash register
machines and 5,000 members for registration — were 'the big things' many of us
were concentrating on. All those points were put there just so we would think
when the Working Group deleted them from the draft we had won." 

Christians who are not members of registered religious
groups may not preach or evangelize.  Unregistered
religious groups will not be allowed to own private property or rent public
property. They also will not be able to
register unless they have a legal address. 

If the bill passes, each religious group will have to
re-register within 18 months, whether or not it was registered before. Groups that fail the requirements to
re-register under the new law will be forced to give up their property. 

"If the new Law is adopted, it will seriously curtail the
activities of existing religious organizations and largely cut down the number
of them," Klyushev said.

Kamal Burkhanov, head of the Working Group, is

"Why should they want to share their faith with
Muslims, for instance?" he said. "They
think only they are smart and the Muslims are stupid. Do not worry. Religious
groups will be able to meet and pray to their God as much as they want."

The bill must go through three readings in the Majilis, or
lower house, before proceeding to the Senate, SGA reports. The Senate will discuss the bill for six
months before voting. If the bill
passes, it will proceed to President Nursultan Nazarbaev for a signature or a veto. He has been critical of "foreign
missionaries" in recent weeks. 

Punishments and fines for violating religion laws will be
increased under the new bill, and the power of the Religious Affairs Committee
will increase. 

"We think this is the State directly interfering in
Religion," said Ninel Fokina of the Almaty Helsinki Committee. She told
Forum 18 that the State Committee by definition is supposed to help religious organizations
to enjoy their rights, but we are now talking about the Committee prosecuting organizations. 

Kazakh media has been publishing propaganda against
religious groups, even listing them as terrorist organizations. "All of this has influenced lawmakers,
and now we are about to witness one of the most restrictive laws ever being
adopted," said Klushyev. 

"Protestants tell me that even the Roman
Empire feeding Christians to the lions could not stop their
faith," he told Forum 18. "Now Kazakh lawmakers think that by
putting a new law in place, they will be able to force us to stop

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