KAZAKHSTAN: Harsh Provisions in Draft Amendments to Religion Law.

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 19 February 2001

Rejected by the culture ministry and described by Ninel Fokina of the Almaty Helsinki Committee as the product of `legal incompetence', the October 2000 draft religion law (see separate KNS article) introduces terminology which is nevertheless adopted and elaborated upon in subsequent drafts. The October draft - believed to have been drawn up by the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Kazakhstan (SDMK) – also specifies compulsory registration (Kazakhstan's 1992 law on religion merely stated that registration was necessary in order to obtain legal personality status). Although some of the October draft's more outlandish measures - such as bans on private religious tuition and the public appearance of non-clergy in `cult attire' - are absent from the January and February drafts, their 40 extensive amendments do contain forceful provisions significantly in excess of, for example, Russia's 1997 religion law.

In addition to the October draft's legal definitions of terms such as `religious organisation', `confession' and `religion', the amendments to Article 1 of the 1992 law in the January and February drafts include the following:

`Religious sects - particular groups of an extremist disposition professing a creed of a nontraditional tendency.'

`Reactionary fundamentalism - a religious movement professing adherence to initial concepts and values of particular teachings and which demands that deviations forming in their development be forcibly overcome in order that the original position might be restored.'

`Religious extremism - adherence to a creed with extreme views and measures.'

`Missionary activity - activity with the aim of preaching and spreading any religious teaching by means of religious-educational, charitable or other activity.'

Other articles of the drafts build on this new terminology. According to Amendment 5 of the January and February drafts, `the activity of religious sects in the Republic of Kazakhstan is prohibited.' Amendment 16 states that `the preparation, preservation and distribution of literature, cine-, photo- and video-products and other materials containing ideas of religious extremism and reactionary fundamentalism are prohibited.' Under Amendment 6 of the February draft, `citizens of the Republic of Kazakhstan, foreign citizens and persons without citizenship may conduct missionary activity on the territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan only with the permission of the competent state organ' (in the January draft, `the state organ for relations with religious organisations').

The January draft introduces an amendment to the 1997 Criminal Code under which missionary activity conducted without permission is subject to punishment of between 100 and 500 times the monthly index (`mesyachny raschetny pokazatel'),or between two and five month's wages, or up to one year's corrective labour, or up to two months under arrest. The February draft increases this to two years' corrective labour, up to six months under arrest or deprivation of freedom for up to one year. The 1992 law already states that all religious organisations must conduct their activity on the basis of their own charter - Amendment 11 introduces the provision that this charter `is subject to registration'.

There are two further differences between the otherwise identical January and February drafts, both additions. A provision in Amendment 10 of the February draft repeats word-for-word that of Article 6 Point 5 of the October draft: `The activity of foreign religious organisations on the territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan as well as the appointment of leaders of religious organisations in the Republic by foreign religious centres must take place with the agreement of the corresponding state organs.' Amendment 11 states that `Islamic religious groups... must present a document confirming their affiliation with the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Kazakhstan.'

Any requirement that registration be made compulsory would violate Kazakhstan's international human rights commitments, as would a ban on missionary activity and a requirement for state involvement in the selection of leaders for any religious group.

How likely is the draft to reach parliament in its present form? Vladimir Leshevsky of the Association of Religious Organisations of Kazakhstan and Fokina both suggested to Keston that the drafts were a probe to gauge public and international reaction - according to Leshevsky, `to find out the maximum they can get away with'. Fokina, Leshevsky and Roman Dudnik of the Emmanuel Christian Society all thought that objections might result in the removal of some of the harsher provisions, such as the ban on `religious sects', but that compulsory registration and licences for missionary work would remain.

On 9 February Roman Podoprigora, a lawyer at Almaty's Adilet (`Justice') Law Institute, told Keston that in mid-January an official of the Committee for Relations with Religious Organisations confirmed to him that the January draft was in principle acceptable to the Committee but would be `actively revised'. Since the minor changes in the draft obtained by Keston merely harshen the provisions of the January draft, however, a radical revision appears unlikely before it is presented to parliament. Unable to give a prognosis - `someone in the presidential administration might push it through quickly and quietly, or the USA and the international community might stop it' - Podoprigora hinted that the immediacy of the threat from radical Islam might override other concerns. `The question is: which will the government fear more - the wrath of the USA or the independent activity of Islamic fighters?' (END)