Kazakhstan delays implementation of new religion law

By January 16, 2009

Kazakhstan (MNN) — Yesterday, we told you about Kyrgyzstan's new restrictive religion law. Today we have some good news concerning a similar bill in Kazakhstan.

Joel Griffith with Slavic Gospel Association says the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbaev, didn't sign the bill. "Instead of signing it or vetoing it, he basically referred it to the country's Constitutional Council for review. So, that law hasn't gone into effect yet."

According to many Kazakh religious leaders, the restrictive new legislation contains many troubling provisions. In the view of Western observers, the law violates not only the country's constitution but also international obligations to which Kazakhstan is party.

Griffith says this may be a political move. "Kazakhstan is supposed to assume the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2010. And, of course, any member of the organization is supposed to adhere to basic human rights standards. Some think perhaps that might be possibly why he referred this to the constitutional court."

According to current law, the Council now has a month to rule on whether the draft law complies with the Kazakh Constitution. The review date has not yet been announced. While the president has the right to reduce this period to ten days if he thinks it is urgent, there was no indication that this was done.

Among other provisions, the bill calls for explicitly banning unregistered religious activity and would ban anyone from sharing his or her beliefs without both the written backing of a registered religious association as well as personal state registration as a missionary. In addition, it would require permission from both parents for children to attend any religious event. Political observers and even some religious leaders in Kazakhstan believe that Mr. Nazarbaev has taken this step for political reasons, as Kazakhstan is to assume the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2010.

Even without the new law, official pressure on evangelical churches and other religious groups has been increasing. Pastor Franz Tissen, president of the Kazakh Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, called this a crucial moment for the country. He asks believers everywhere to pray — a call echoed by SGA president Dr. Robert Provost. "Please continue to pray with us that this new law will not be approved by the Constitutional Council or the president. And please continue to lift up our brothers and sisters in Kazakhstan who face daily pressure for the sake of the Gospel and the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ."

SGA is an interdenominational mission which has been working in the former Soviet Union since 1934. SGA has served churches in Russia through pastor and lay leader training, sponsorship of national church planters, and provision of Christian literature. SGA represents the Russian UECB and is a sponsor of the Eurasian Federation of Evangelical Christians-Baptists.

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