KAZAKHSTAN: Restrictions on Missionary Activity Hamper Hare Krishnas.

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 22 February 2001

In addition to problems at its farm not far from Kazakhstan's former capital Almaty (see separate KNS article), the Almaty Hare Krishna community has also experienced obstructions to its preaching activity. In a 1 February message to Keston News Service, Govinda Swami, the American founder of the Almaty community and coordinator of the Society for Krishna Consciousness in Central Asia, stated that he and fellow US citizen Niranjana Swami were informed they could not preach when they arrived at a Sunday meeting in a rented hall in central Almaty in December 2000.

A 30 November letter to the president of the Hare Krishna community based in Almaty city, Krishna Balaram Das, from the public prosecutor's office of Turksib region of the city states that, since Govinda Swami and three other non-Kazakh citizens have missionary accreditation only for the Turksib area of the city, their preaching in other areas as well as other Kazakh cities is a violation of a 1997 government decree regulating missionary activity by foreign citizens. If this situation is not rectified, the letter warns, the Hare Krishna missionaries could suffer the `negative consequence' of having their accreditation removed.

Govinda Swami reports that the Kazakhstani Society for Krishna Consciousness is registered as a local Almaty organisation. Without national registration, he told Keston, its members encounter difficulties when distributing literature in other parts of the country (see KNS 22 January 2001).

On 7 February a member of the community at the farm, Chitta Hare Das, told Keston that he and four other devotees had been beaten while in police custody in Chimkent during the first half of August 2000. A woman who had spoken to them while they were distributing literature on the streets had lost her purse at some point during the day had made an official complaint against them to the police, he explained, and the five were accused of stealing, although ultimately no charges were brought and the group was released after 48 hours.

According to Govinda Swami, Hare Krishna devotees have not encountered any problems in Almaty city, where they broadcast two radio programmes a week on a private radio station and conduct an extensive food relief programme. Until the December 2000 incident, he claimed, he would receive a Kazakh visa, `register and be free to preach and conduct programmes without any restrictions.' Asked about the Hare Krishna community on 6 February, head of the department for religious organisations within Almaty akimat, Vladimir Ivanov, dismissed suggestions that they faced restrictions: `What's all the fuss about? There are only 72 of them.' Although not a member of a new religious movement - `I don't believe in anything, thank God' - he had high praise for them: `In non-traditional religions the people are better and their belief is stronger.' (END)