KYRGYZSTAN: Will New Law Increase Control over Religious Activity?

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 20 February 2001

Unnerved by armed incursions by the terrorist Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan during the past two autumns, and with the Taliban active on the Afghan-Tajik border a mere 400 miles (640 kms) south-west of the capital Bishkek, the Kyrgyz authorities are planning to introduce a tough new law on religion as part of their armoury for dealing with the spread of radical Islam to the republic. The text of the latest draft obtained by Keston News Service, however, could have negative repercussions for all religious organisations in Kyrgyzstan (see separate KNS article).

Contacted by Keston in recent weeks, Baptist, Adventist, Pentecostal, Catholic and Orthodox representatives in Bishkek claimed to be unfamiliar with the text of the bill. On 12 February Genrikh Fot of Ray of Hope charitable Baptist mission in Bishkek told Keston that the Baptists had not taken part in its preparation and were happy with the current law of 1991. Speaking to Keston in Almaty on 8 February, Pentecostal Bishop of Kyrgyzstan Vladimir Mandych also said he was happy with the current law and was concerned that the new law was being drawn up `quietly, away from us'.

In Mandych's view, one of the aims of the authorities was to create two state religions - Islam and Orthodoxy. Secretary in Kyrgyzstan to Orthodox Bishop Vladimir (Ikim) of Tashkent and Central Asia, Father Valentin Prikhodko told Keston on 13 February that the Orthodox did not have any special rights, and even if they and the Muslims were treated with deference `the others aren't getting any less - in fact, they're growing faster than us.' However, head of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Kyrgyzstan, Kimsanbai Adzhi Abdrakmanov, appeared to be more in favour of protectionist measures when Keston spoke to him on 13 February: `The law needs to be changed so that pseudoreligions don't disturb right-believing people.'

It is unclear how extensively the proposed law would be implemented. A 1996 presidential decree already requires the registration of foreign religious workers - and by October 1999, according to state figures, 20 foreign missions and 603 foreign citizens had been registered. Although they are required to register, according to the US Department of State's Report on International Religious Freedom for 2000, a variety of missionaries and missionary groups `operate freely' in Kyrgyzstan: on 12 February the human dimension officer of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe centre in Bishkek, Marie-Carin von Gumppenberg, confirmed to Keston that this was the case.

According to Bishop Mandych, compulsory registration for all would be used `to filter out Moonies, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, satanists, New Age: we agree with that strictness but not if it restricts our rights.' Speaking to Keston on 14 February, assistant chairwoman of the SCRA, Natalya Shadrova, told Keston that the term `totalitarian destructive sects' was aimed at groups such as Scientology and the Unification Church of Rev. Moon, and would be given an official definition once the bill became law. The fact that it appeared in the bill at all, claimed Shadrova, was due to her insistence: `I don't want my New Apostolics, Catholics, Adventists and Baptists to suffer because of it.' In her view, the bill would be ready for consideration by the Zhogorku Kenesh (the Kyrgyz parliament) in March following a round table discussion of religious leaders and specialists later in February. (END)