KAZAKHSTAN: Krishna Devotees Threatened with Deportation

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 16 May 2002

In the latest in a series of incidents of pressure on a Hare Krishna commune in the Karasai district close to the former capital Almaty, fifteen foreign devotees who were trying to register their stay with the local police had their passports seized and now risk deportation, a member of Kazakhstan's Hare Krishna community, Dmitri Dolgikh, has complained to Keston News Service. However, the deputy head of the local police insisted to Keston that the fifteen devotees had violated the law on temporary residence. Since then the commune has been subjected to a thorough investigation by the procuracy and hostile media coverage.

Dolgikh reported that on 25 March the fifteen devotees - all citizens of other CIS countries who live on the farm - went to the town of Kaskelen (the regional centre of Karasai district) to extend their temporary registration in accordance with Kazakh law, which requires citizens from other CIS republics who are visiting Kazakhstan to register with the police. However, senior officials at the Karasai regional administration for internal affairs (RUVD) seized their passports. Moreover, RUVD officials threatened that they would hand their passports over to the court, initiate a legal case against them and expel them from Kazakhstan.

Members of the Karasai Hare Krishna community felt that the police actions were unlawful and have written a complaint to the Karasai public prosecutor. However, the passports remain at the police department.

The Hare Krishna commune has existed since early 1999, when three devotees bought and registered a farm there. Among the several dozen devotees living and working on the farm are not only Kazakh citizens but devotees from other CIS republics. The farm has long faced pressure from the local authorities (see KNS 22 February 2001).

Dolgikh told Keston by telephone on 13 May that in mid-April three devotees, who were Russian citizens, returned to Almaty from India and stayed on the farm. The day after their arrival they went to the Kaskelen RUVD to apply for temporary registration. There they were given a verbal refusal as, officials explained, the question of the fifteen passports was still being considered and no decision had been reached. They were asked to come back a few days later. But on returning they were told that still no decision had been reached. They were given no official papers to state that they had been refused registration or that they had applied for registration in accordance with the law. When they go again to be registered they may, quite legally, be fined for registering late (legally, a citizen must register within three days of his arrival).

"The Hare Krishnas who had their passports seized broke the law on the temporary registration of CIS citizens," the deputy head of the Karasai RUVD, police major Batarkhan Nazarbetov, told Keston by telephone on 13 May. "They had been living on the farm without registration and they only came to see us at the police department when they had been found out. It is not our intention to persecute Hare Krishna believers, but they must observe the law."

However, Dolgikh flatly rejects Nazarbetov's assertions. He said the fifteen devotees whose passports were taken had come to extend their temporary registration without any delay or infringement of the law. "But later the Kaskelen RUVD officials tried to accuse them of the fact that their registration had expired." He reported a similar attempt to deport an Uzbek citizen several years ago. "He also had his passport, with its still-valid registration, seized. The page it was on 'disappeared' later and he was prosecuted for living on the territory of Kazakhstan without registration. They even managed to put a stamp in his passport and deport him. Later, we appealed against their decision and overturned it."

Dolgikh claims that the district authorities are deliberately trying to drive out the Hare Krishna devotees. On 25 April the Karasai procuracy organised a thorough investigation of the farm, he noted, involving the main organisations for supervision and control, including the tax inspectorate, the immigration service, the fire brigade, the health and hygiene department. The procuracy invited journalists from two Almaty-based television companies - KTK and Shakhar - to cover the inspection. When the television crews appeared on the farm, the devotees demanded that they stop filming on private property. The public prosecutor's assistant said that they had been invited by the public prosecutor of Karasai district, and that the Hare Krishnas should not interfere.

In the evening of that same day two programmes were broadcast about events at the farm. The report shown on the news of the KTK channel was completely accurate, according to the Hare Krishna believers. But the report shown by the Shakhar channel "helped to heighten inter-faith conflicts and intolerance, and it also contained inaccurate information of a slanderous nature", Dolgikh maintained. The report about the Hare Krishna community was accompanied by the announcement: "We continue our broadcast with news about crime."

"Recently the number of religious movements has grown in Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, one comes across many of our own Kazakhs in them. One such sect is the Society for Krishna Consciousness, the leader of whom is a foreigner who has no connection with us. Of course, according to the law people have the right to choose their faith. The fact is that such movements sow hatred and discord between people. For example, there are people among them who have rejected their families, and yet no measures have so far been taken against them, and the laws of Kazakhstan prevent that from happening. Various religious organisations use this to their own ends. One such sect is the Society for Krishna Consciousness, which is operating unlawfully in Almaty region, Karasai district," the Shakhar programme asserted.

Concluding her report from the Hare Krishna farm, the Shakhar journalist Zhalgas Mustfayeva declared: "Our laws on religion are still incomplete. This law is being reviewed again, because the constitutional council uncovered several points of contradiction with Kazakh laws. Such slips throw the road wide open for extremist groups. This propaganda, which sows enmity between people, is more dangerous than terrorism, of which the whole world is now so much afraid. And so, instead of battling against a terrorism that is not apparent to Kazakhs, we must understand that the enemy within is more dangerous. It brings harm and enmity to international relations, and its concepts have nothing in common with national concepts. It's time we stopped it."

Only in April the Constitutional Council admitted that the new draft religion law, approved by both chambers of parliament, contradicted the constitution and severely limited the rights of those who adhered to religions that were non-traditional in Kazakhstan (see KNS 8 April 2002).

It is possible that the Shakhar television channel will continue to back politicians campaigning for tighter state control over the activity of religious communities. However, speaking to Keston, the journalist Mustafayeva maintained that in her report she only set out her own personal position. "Yes, I really do think that sects like the Hare Krishnas are more dangerous than terrorists and as a journalist, I know how to defend my point of view," she told Keston by telephone on 12 May.

One Almaty-based human rights activist said she was not surprised by the "misadventures" of the Hare Krishna community. "The law of inertia is asserting itself. Local officials are treating the new draft religion law as if it had already come into force, and some time must pass before they understand that this is not the case," the head of the Almaty Helsinki Committee, Ninel Fokina, told Keston by telephone on 13 May.

"The Hare Krishnas' problems demonstrate yet again that although the current Kazakh religion law conforms to international standards, unfortunately it is being applied far from consistently," the specialist on human rights at the OSCE mission in Almaty, Birgit Kainz, told Keston by telephone on 13 May. (END)