KYRGYZSTAN: Restrictive Provisions in New Religion Bill.

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 20 February 2001

The current draft of the proposed religion bill under consideration in Kyrgyzstan - of which Keston News Service has received a copy - includes a number of highly restrictive provisions that violate the country's international human rights commitments, including those spelled out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the human dimension commitments of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. While Muslim and Orthodox leaders speak up for more `protectionist' measures against faster-growing minority faiths, leaders of these groups told Keston that they are happy with the current law, which dates back to 1991 (see separate KNS article).

Registration is compulsory under the proposed law: first with the State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA), and subsequently, if a religious organisation desires legal personality status, with the Ministry of Justice. Unregistered religious activity is explicitly banned, as is `propaganda encouraging people to join unregistered religious organisations, as well as the teaching of their beliefs: in public places, flats, the private homes of citizens or on the streets.'

Two forms of religious activity come in for special control – that which is deemed destructive and that which has links abroad.

Under Article 3 Part 8, `the propaganda and dissemination of religious trends of an extremist character and of totalitarian destructive sects which could harm the basis of constitutional order, the morals, health, rights and legal interests of the person or citizen, the defence capability of the country or the national security of the state is prohibited in the Kyrgyz Republic.' Under Article 5 Part 6, `the teaching of religious doctrines leading to the violation of national unity, to the development of religious fanaticism and extremism, either in a private or state capacity, is not permitted.'

The terms `totalitarian destructive sects' and `religious fanaticism and extremism' are nowhere defined in the draft. Conscientious objection, however, is clearly deemed a threat to state security - perhaps in view of the fact that the population is a mere 4.5 million (of whom almost half are younger than 15). According to Article 3 Part 5, `citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic are not exempt from military service on account of their convictions or religious beliefs.' Only clergy are permitted to take up alternative service.

There are numerous restrictions on foreign religious organisations. Foreign citizens conducting religious activity in the Kyrgyz republic must register with the SCRA and have an invitation from a religious organisation within the country. The activity of organisations propounding religious beliefs `heretofore unpractised in the Kyrgyz Republic is permitted in accordance with the law: as long as it bears no relation to totalitarian destructive sects or other religious sects of an extremist character'. Foreign citizens whose reason for being in Kyrgyzstan is not religious are prohibited from conducting religious activity, while those without Kyrgyz citizenship `may not head or lead religious organisations'.

The permission of the SCRA must be sought before a religious organisation can import religious literature, audio or video material, organise international religious forums or forge any kind of international contact, including travel abroad on pilgrimages. Permission from the Ministry of National Security must additionally be sought before a religious organisation can invite a foreign citizen to engage in religious activity. In addition to these two state bodies, the permission of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture must be obtained before a religious organisation can either send citizens abroad or receive foreign citizens for study purposes. (END)