New bill tightens restrictions on religious freedoms in Kazakhstan

By September 15, 2011

Kazakhstan (MNN) — Kazakhstan's new Religion
Law is before Parliament now and has the backing of the President.

Forum 18 reports the revision went before the legislative body on September 5
and is now being considered. Joel Griffith with Slavic
Gospel Association
details some of the recent changes. "This would impose a pretty complicated
registration system. It would ban unregistered religious activity, it would
impose compulsory religious censorship of some kind, and it would also
apparently require both central and local government approval to either build
or even open a place of worship."

As it is written,
the law also represents a shift in the thinking from the administration. "There
seems to be a change in the attitude of the president himself, so we're going
to be watching very closely to see what the domino effects of this are." Griffith adds that "we tend to keep an
eye on trends that go from country to country and possibly span
cross-regions."

SGA has been tracking tighter restrictions in neighboring
Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Griffith says, "We
were hopeful because Kazakhstan typically tends to follow the Soviet Union.
They had typically allowed more freedom to evangelical churches than maybe some
of the other Central Asian Republics. But, now it appears that even Kazakhstan
is changing in that regard."

The president's backing of the new law is out in the open. "Kazakhstan's President Nazarbaev
reportedly told a joint session of Parliament that they were actually adopting
these harsh new restrictions to religion. Quoting the president, he said it was
necessary "to bring order to our house."

A second proposed Law widens the range of
"violations of the Religion Law" it punishes. They've been approved by the Prime Minister,
but Forum 18 sources say the text has not been published yet.

The impact would be felt differently between the two tiers of the
Church that exist in Kazakhstan. Griffith explains, "You have an unregistered Baptist church, or
evangelical bodies, that don't believe in the whole concept of registration with
the government so, they encounter quite a bit of pressure. Then you have the registered bodies that
receive a whole lot of bureaucratic difficulties and raids."

Complications of
the law would depend on how strictly it would be enforced, if it passes through
Parliament. There's an obvious
hindrance to evangelistic work. Griffith says, "You could
see an impact on missionary pastors that they would have it very hard to try to
register a new congregation or to build a new house of prayer."

Under the law, the difficulties in registering are likely to bring
a whole new world of troubles to SGA's partners, both politically and culturally.
"If you don't have your own church building or worship building, they look
on you with suspicion as if you're some
kind of a sect. You can see that that would have a negative impact."

It's not a
done deal yet. "This has to yet go
through the Parliament, and then the President would need to give his signature
to propagate this kind of legislation. It's our hope and prayer that enough
international pressure would be brought to bear that maybe these laws would not
be signed." No date has been
slated for a vote. Pray for God's intervention
and for boldness and wisdom for believers in Kazakhstan.  

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