Tuesday 16 March

KAZAKH PROCURACY HARASSES JEHOVAH'S WITNESS COMMUNITIES



by Felix Corley, Keston News Service





In what is being regarded as a surprise move, the Kazakh procuracy

staged a series of raids on six Jehovah's Witness communities between

9 and 13 March. The ostensible aim of the raids was to verify that

the activity of the communities - all of which have state

registration - was in accordance with the law.



The most serious case took place in the town of Taraz on 11 March.

The local regional procurator, backed by a uniformed officer of the

security police (the KNB), raided the Kingdom Hall, the Jehovah's

Witness place of worship. They showed a Witness an instruction from

the General Procuracy which announced that they had been instructed

by the procuracy and the KNB to check up on the activity of

`Wahhabis, Jehovah's Witnesses, and sects similar to them'.



The two officials then demanded to see copies of correspondence

between local Jehovah's Witness communities and the group's

registered headquarters, the community's registration documentation,

and records of religious meetings. Two Jehovah's Witnesses, FARID

AKCHURIN and ANDREI NEDADAYEV, were verbally invited to the regional

procuracy offices.



Similar raids took place in Kaskalen and Yesik on 9 March, and in

Baltabai and Novoalekseyevka on 10 March. Procuracy officials had

summoned members of these communities and required them to write

statements about the aims of their communities' activities, methods

of confession, attitude to medical treatment, service in the army and

other subjects.



The Jehovah's Witnesses point out that these raids violated the

constitutional guarantee protecting social organisations from illegal

interference from the state and a 1995 presidential decree which

declared: `The procuracy does not interfere in the activity of

organisations'.



`One should note that this is the first case of illegal actions

against the Jehovah's Witnesses on the part of the authorities since

the proclamation by Kazakhstan of democratic principles,' the Kazakh

Jehovah's Witnesses said in a statement read out at a seminar on the

proposed new religion law held in Almaty on 13 March. `One would like

to believe that this is the last.'



However, the Jehovah's Witness representatives at the Almaty meeting

noted that they had received that morning news of a further raid on

one of their communities in Kazakhstan.



The Jehovah's Witnesses have had problems related to their members'

refusal to perform military service, and up to the mid-1990s there

was an average of about five Witnesses in prison at any one time for

refusing compulsory call-up. However, two years ago the group reached

an agreement with the government that young men would be given a

certificate by the St Petersburg Jehovah's Witness headquarters that

they were `religious ministers', thus exempting them from military

service. Since then, no Jehovah's Witnesses have faced charges for

refusing military service.



However, these raids and especially the interest in the Jehovah's

Witnesses' views on medicine (the group rejects blood transfusions),

military service and confession show a disturbing trend. Under the

controversial draft law on freedom of religious confession and

religious organisations drawn up by the Ministry of Information last

December (and since withdrawn), these were the type of subjects

religious groups would have had to reveal their views on at the time

of applying for registration, with the threat that registration might

be denied if the authorities did not like the responses. (END)