KAZAKHSTAN: Education Ministry Withdraws Controversial Restrictions

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 16 January 2001

Following pressure from believers and human rights activists, Kazakhstan's Education and Science Ministry in the capital Astana has withdrawn certain provisions of the directives banning religious believers from activities in educational establishments. The change of heart was announced in a letter of 19 December to the heads of regional education departments signed by the first deputy education and science minister Erlan Aryn, of which Keston News Service has received a copy. M. Ishchanova, the Education Ministry official who drew up the 19 December letter, told Keston by telephone from Astana on 16 January that the earlier ban had been a `mistake', but declined to say who had introduced the ban or why.

Believers of a number of religious groups had been alerted to the ban on religious activity in educational establishments spelled out by the ministry last September, when V. M. Tszyn, an official of the education department in the former capital Almaty, sent an instruction to heads of professional schools and colleges in the city asking them to draw up a plan of measures to `preserve the principle of the secular nature of education'. Among the proposed measures were instructions to hold `recommendatory discussions' to explain the country's religion law, to ban `participants of religious associations, organisations and confessions' from visiting educational establishments, to instruct parents on the separation of secular and religious education, to ban humanitarian or other aid from religious organisations to educational establishments and to ban the rental of facilities in educational establishments to religious organisations. Similar letters appear to have been sent to heads of educational establishments in other regions of the country.

Believers objected in particular to the ban on visits by religious figures, the ban on humanitarian and other aid from religious organisations and the ban on renting facilities to religious groups, objections backed by the Almaty Centre of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which argued that this limited the rights of parents to bring up their children in accordance with their beliefs. The OSCE wrote to the Ministry of Education pointing out that these restrictions violated Kazakhstan's international human rights commitments.

In his December letter, Minister Aryn cancelled these three provisions of the instructions issued last September, although he failed to explain to regional education chiefs why they were withdrawn and made continued reference to an education ministry decree of 9 December 1999 `on organising work to prevent religious extremism'.

Ishchanova confirmed to Keston that clergy were now allowed to visit educational establishments, but were not allowed to conduct `propagandistic activity' there. She also confirmed that religious organisations could rent premises from educational establishments to hold services and meetings, provided children were not involved. Before Keston could clarify whether children could participate voluntarily in such activities she had put the phone down and it was impossible to reach her again. (END)