KYRGYZSTAN: New Decree Set to Tighten Religious Controls.

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 8 February 2002

As preparations continue for a new religion law which, a parliamentary aide told Keston News Service, could be approved by parliament as early as May, the Kyrgyz government has issued a decree tightening controls on publishing which seems set to increase control over religious organisations. The senior Muslim cleric in Jalal-abad region in southern Kyrgyzstan told Keston he feared the "audit" of religious organisations heralded by the decree would impact not only on "religious extremists", the professed target of the decree, but on ordinary believers as well.

The decree, "On several issues relating to publishing activity in the Kyrgyz Republic", was issued by the government on 14 January. The preamble to the decree states that its goal is to "put a stop to the subversive, ideological and propaganda work of various extremist religious centres and the activisation of their informational influence." In particular, the decree contains instructions to "carry out an inventory and make a register of typesetting, printing, duplicating and production equipment. The method of registration for the above-mentioned equipment is to be worked out and established in a prescribed manner. It is the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice to register the affiliates of private businesses that carry out publishing and printing activity on the territory of the Kyrgyz republic."

There are clauses in the decree that affect religious associations directly. "The state commission for religious affairs, under the auspices of the government of the Kyrgyz Republic, together with the Ministry of Justice of the Kyrgyz Republic, will carry out an audit of officially-registered religious movements and confessions and, together with the state administration agencies and local government agencies, will regulate the number of spiritual establishments constructed on the territory of the republic, and will undertake propaganda and explanatory work, through the media, about the unlawful activities of various types of religious movements."

The chairman of the government's commission for religious affairs, Omurzak Mamayusupov, told Keston by telephone on 6 February that this decree was not intended to tighten controls over believers. "We simply want to understand better the religious situation in the country." He cited the fact that of the estimated 2,000 mosques functioning in the country, only 931 are registered. "There is nothing prejudicial in the fact that we want to understand what religious organisations are operating in Kyrgyzstan today and to establish how many there are," Mamayusupov insisted.

A consultant at the parliamentary sub-committee for religious affairs, Sanobar Ahizbayeva, proved more frank. "This decree is primarily aimed against religious extremists," she told Keston by telephone on 6 February. "It is not the only step we have taken in this direction. We have also prepared a new draft law on religion which, we hope, will be approved by parliament as early as May of this year." Ahizbayeva reported that the new draft law, unlike the current law, provides for the mandatory registration of religious associations and increases controls over the activity of preachers. According to the draft law, preaching would be allowed only in religious establishments, and visiting foreign missionaries would have to go through a registration process.

Because most of what the government calls "religious extremists" are active in southern Kyrgyzstan, Keston decided to find out how representatives of religious and human rights organisations in that region felt about the new decree. "I believe this decree will have a minimal effect," Sheikh Sadikjan Kamaluddin, chairman of the Islamic Centre in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh told Keston by telephone. "After all, those who distribute leaflets calling for a caliphate to be established in Central Asia exist underground, and consequently this decree will not affect their existence."

"There is no question that there are indeed religious extremists in southern Kyrgyzstan. But to set a whole forest ablaze, you need only set fire to a single tree," mufti Dilmurat haji Orozov, head of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Jalal-abad region, told Keston by telephone on 6 February. "It seems to me that not only extremists but also ordinary believers will suffer from the repressive actions of the authorities. In my opinion it is unacceptable for a democratic government to undertake an 'audit of officially-registered religious movements and confessions'." Mufti Orozov told Keston that he had just returned from the United States, where he had been shown a report from the US State Department complaining that, among the Central Asian states, believers' rights are being restricted in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. "Unfortunately, I fear that if our government continues with the same religious policy, then our country will also be included in the next State Department report," he declared.

However, Valeri Uleyev, head of the Jalal-abad human rights organisation Justice, said that so far he had not detected any changes in the authorities' religious policy since the decree was issued. "It seems to me that our local authorities have simply not yet managed to get going on it," he told Keston by telephone on 6 February. "But I have no doubt that in time we will feel the impact of this decree, and that the controls over believers will tighten." (END)