KHAZAKSTAN: Constitutional Council Deems Changes to Religion Law 'Unconstitutional'.

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 8 April 2002

Kazakhstan's Constitutional Council has ruled that some of the controversial amendments to the country's religion law approved by both houses of parliament in January are "unconstitutional", Keston News Service has learned. Council member Kumarbek Umarkhanov told Keston today (8 April) by telephone from the Kazakh capital Astana that the Constitutional Council's decision has been sent to the government press and will be published "in the nearest future". Umarkhanov declined to specify which of the amended articles were found to be in violation of the constitution. It remains unclear what will now happen to the proposed amendments, which have had strong backing from senior levels of the political establishment.

Ever since the law - which President Nursultan Nazarbayev declared "urgent" in mid-January - was adopted by parliament, its progress has been shrouded in secrecy. Keston learned on 6 March that it had been sent to the Constitutional Council for it to give its expert opinion (see KNS 6 March 2002).

Were it to have been signed in present form, the law would have allowed unregistered religious groups to be banned, required all missionaries to be registered and denied legal registration to all Muslim organisations outside the framework of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan. In its survey of opinion among religious communities in January, Keston found that only the Spiritual Administration offered unequivocal support for the new law, while a range of faiths strongly criticised many of its provisions. Many provisions have also been criticised by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. (END)