Kyrgyzstan’s president signs restrictive religion law

By January 15, 2009

Kyrgyzstan (MNN) — Christians in Kyrgyzstan will face more oppression as the nation's president has signed a restrictive new Religion Law. According to Forum 18 News, President Kurmanbek Bakiev signed the bill January 12.

Joel Griffith with Slavic Gospel Association describes the new law. "There's a ban on aggressive action aimed at proselytism. There's a ban on the distribution of religious literature, print and audio and video religious materials, and de facto compulsory re-registration of all registered religious organizations."

200 adult citizens permanently living in Kyrgyzstan will now be required before a religious community can apply for state registration, compared to 10 in the current Law. It says 10 registered religious organizations will be needed to form a "religious association." The government says this provision will only be used for new religious communities and will not have retroactive force for communities that already have registration; they will continue to be allowed to function even if they now have fewer than 200 members.

Tursunbek Akun, Kyrgyzstan's Human Rights Ombudsperson, condemned the move. "This Law is not in accord with international human rights standards," he told Forum 18 from the capital Bishkek on 13 January. "The Law imposes a range of restrictions that will prevent small religious communities from developing." Akun pledged to work to have the new Law amended and said his office is already preparing a letter to President Bakiev.

Also condemning the new Law was a range of religious communities: Baptists and other evangelical groups.

According to Griffith, existing churches are at risk. "A lot of them are concerned that if they don't have the necessary 200 members to register a church, they won't have the right to function at all. And it would depend on how vigorously they intend to enforce this. It could have a really significant impact on evangelical churches."

One church leaders says, "We're not alone; all small religious communities will have to go underground."

A member of the Council of Churches Baptists — who refuse to register on principle with the authorities — said they are also worried by this new Law. "The authorities are likely to try to take measures against us, especially as we will continue to refuse registration," the church member told Forum 18 on 13 January. "But we rely on the Lord and will remain faithful to Him."

The controversial Law — which replaces the 1991 Religion Law — was approved by parliament on 6 November 2008 after politicians ignored complaints by human rights groups and religious communities. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe also expressed its concerns, as did the European Union and members of the European Parliament who visited Bishkek.

Griffith can only speculate why the bill was signed into law. "It is a Muslim majority religion, and under Islam they would try to crack down on it as much as they could and stop evangelical churches from having an influence on their society."

Pray that God would either overturn the new Religion law or that the government would not enforce it.

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