KAZAKHSTAN: Hare Krishnas Encounter Increased Police Harassment.

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 22 February 2001

A Hare Krishna community, based at its 160 acre (65 hectare) farm 20 miles (32 kms) outside Kazakhstan's former capital Almaty, has experienced increased harassment from the local authorities since a decree of February 2000 from President Nursultan Nazarbayev launched a nationwide crackdown on religious communities of all faiths, involving checks by the police, KNB (former KGB) and prosecutor's offices, president of the farm Kripamoya Das told Keston News Service on 8 February.

In the most recent incident, according to Kripamoya Das, the community was fined 7,075 tenge (one month's minimum wage - approximately 50 US dollars) by the local public prosecutor's office a week before Keston's visit. The reason given, he said, was that the farm is not registered as a religious organisation, but as the private property of several of its members: `I was told that if we don't register as a religious community within two months they will bring legal charges against me personally.'

According to Govinda Swami, the American founder of the Almaty Hare Krishna community and coordinator of the Society for Krishna Consciousness in Central Asia, a spate of police checks took place last summer. At approximately 9 pm one evening in late June, he told Keston on 7 February, local police arrived at the community's farm and demanded to see everyone's documentation.

Returning the following evening with a 12-year-old girl, he said, the police officers announced that two Kazakh Hare Krishna devotees had been drunk in a local village the night before and raped her: `This is a far out thing - our people don't even drink.' The girl was then told to identify her assailants from among the men on the farm, of whom only one, Sharana, was ethnic Kazakh.

Sharana was then taken into custody from 1 to 2 July. According to Kripamoya Das, the police hinted that if the community gave them money the alleged incident would be forgotten - `they would hardly have said that if they seriously suspected that a crime had been committed' - upon which a devotee named Jaigopal replied that the community was poor. When he also threatened to take legal measures against the police, said Kripamoya Das, Sharana was released.

According to Govinda Swami, Karasai region police officers arrived at the farm several days later, made straight for the pumphouse, moved aside a brick, and - exclaiming `Here it is - we knew it was here!' - pulled out a bag presumed to contain heroin. Kripamoya Das told Keston that on this occasion the group included high-ranking officers and behaved more professionally, insisting that the community sign a protocol. However, he maintained, they also asked then president of the farm, Chala, for money, and the incident was again forgotten once Chala insisted that the community were poor vegetable growers.

These were not the first incidents of harassment by Karasai region police officers. On 28 July 2000 the community complained to Karasai region public prosecutor over what it claimed was the unlawful deportation of one of its members, Goranarayana, an ethnic Kazakh citizen of Uzbekistan.

Following a police identification check at the farm, according to the complaint, the head of Karasai region migration police department confiscated Goranarayana's passport on 9 June and fined him 725 tenge (5 US dollars) for violations of the passport regime. Kripamoya Das claims Goranarayana's documentation had been in order, and personal resentment had been behind the incident: `One officer said to him, "How can you be a Kazakh like me but a Hare Krishna? I can forgive you anything, but not that."' Although Goranarayana was subsequently deported from Kazakhstan, he said, he was later able to return once he received confirmation that the police action had been unlawful in a 1 September letter from senior justice advisor at Karasai region public prosecutor's office, T. Kurmanbayev.

If the head of the department for religious organisations within Almaty akimat, Vladimir Ivanov, is benign, what could lie behind the increase in harassment? Kripamoya Das believes the harassment at the farm last summer was motivated by avarice: `Planting drugs and accusing rape are typical ways of extorting money. That is the motive locally, although there might be other motives higher up which come into alignment with local motives to a greater or lesser extent.'

A 14 September 2000 unpublished, internal instruction addressed to district and town akims (governors) from the akim of Almaty region, Zamanbek Nurkadilov, gives some indication of the higher motive. `Since the political situation in states bordering Kazakhstan is becoming more complex as a result of the subversive activity of religious movements of an extremist nature,' Nurkadilov wrote, `I ask you to submit information on religious organisations of different confessions, religious institutions and missionary movements officially and unofficially operating on the territory of the region (city), as well as those not registered with the department of justice.' Special attention is drawn in the instruction to the personal responsibility of the akims `to take measures against those violating the procedure concerning the forms and legality of the activity of religious organisations.' (END)