Kazakhstan (MNN) — Two restrictive laws on religion–one that would replace the nation's current Religion Law altogether–could be signed by Kazakhstan's president any day now.
Joel Griffith with
Slavic Gospel Association reports that the law package "actually passed both houses of the Kazakh parliament, and it's awaiting the president's signature to become law." Griffith says, "It's also believed President Nursultan Nazarbayev is likely to sign it because from different media accounts we've seen and from insiders within Kazakhstan, he's been basically the one that was urging parliament to adopt some new laws that are tightening up restrictions on religions across the country."
Forum 18 News Service reports that the president mentioned the laws on September 1 in an address to parliament. Just weeks later, the laws had passed through parliament to the president's door step.
The haste with which the laws have been put through the system has caught attention–a good thing, since they may well prove to be extremely oppressive.
The first of the two laws replaces Kazakhstan's current Religion Law, even taking out the word "Freedom" in the law's name. According to Forum 18, if the new Religion Law were adopted, it would "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."
The new law defines the state as secular and unable to claim a religion. It requires that all religious communities re-apply for registration when the law is adopted. The new registration process is strenuous, but unregistered activity will be banned. Religious communities too small to register, unwilling to register, or unable to attain registration will be punished for any religious practice.
Griffith adds, "It appears to require missionaries to register once a year with the government agency that oversees religious activities. It would also provide for expulsion of missionaries who do what is called ‘threatening the constitutional order and public peace,' whatever that means."
Missionary activity, or "spreading a faith," by foreigners or even by locals must be registered. Forum 18 notes that "what constitutes ‘spreading a faith' or ‘missionary activity' is undefined. This could–to take one example–potentially make any conversation about religious matters by unregistered people an offense."
The second law amends previous legal provisions, including a provision to prevent attracting children to participating in religious activity if the parents object.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan has been one of the few "stan" countries to provide relative freedom of worship and religion for its citizens, says Griffith. But as Griffith has said in the past, the laws of central Asian countries have a tendency to rub off on each other.
"Just within the last five years, we've seen an enormous tightening of religious freedom in the central Asian nations," says Griffith. Kazakhstan has gotten worse over the last five years but has never reached anything like Tajikistan's all-out ban on children participating in religious activities. These new law proposals could be the beginning of that road for Kazakhstan.
When asked why these laws are necessary, Griffith speculates that parliament would say something about preventing extremism. Be that as it may, Christians will likely suffer the consequences.
"Pray for the churches in Kazakhstan, both registered and unregistered, because they're probably going to be bearing the brunt of a lot of these new restrictions if indeed the law is signed," says Griffith. Pray that they will continue to boldly proclaim Christ regardless.