KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 1 February 2002.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

KAZAKHSTAN: CONTROVERSIAL RELIGION LAW GOES TO
PRESIDENT. On 31 January the upper house of the Kazakh parliament
approved without any changes at all the controversial new draft religion
law approved by the lower house on 17 January. The law now goes within
ten days to Kazakhstan's president Nursultan Nazarbayev for signature.
Once signed, it will allow unregistered religious groups to be banned,
require all missionaries to be registered and deny legal registration to all
Muslim organisations outside the framework of the Spiritual
Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan. In a telephone survey on 31
January of attitudes to the new law among various religious communities,
Keston News Service found that only the Spiritual Administration offered
unequivocal support for the new law. The Orthodox Church has concerns
about the requirements that leaders be chosen by local religious
communities, while other denominations had even wider concerns,
claiming that the new law turned them into "second-class religions". One
group of Baptist churches rejected entirely the provisions allowing the
government to ban unregistered religious communities.

KAZAKHSTAN: CONTROVERSIAL RELIGION LAW GOES TO
PRESIDENT

by Igor Rotar, Keston News Service

On 31 January the upper house of the Kazakh parliament, the senate,
approved without any changes at all the controversial new draft religion
law approved by the lower house on 17 January (see KNS 23 January
2002). The law now goes within ten days to Kazakhstan's president
Nursultan Nazarbayev for signature. One human rights activist, Ninel
Fokina of the Almaty Helsinki Committee, told Keston News Service on
1 February that she believes he will sign it "very quickly". Once signed, it
will allow unregistered religious groups to be banned, require all
missionaries to be registered and deny legal registration to all Muslim
organisations outside the framework of the Spiritual Administration of
Muslims of Kazakhstan. In a telephone survey on 31 January of attitudes
to the new law among various religious communities, Keston found that
only the Spiritual Administration offered unequivocal support for the new
law. The Orthodox Church has concerns about the requirements that
leaders be chosen by local religious communities, while other
denominations had even wider concerns, claiming that the new law turned
them into "second-class religions". One group of Baptist churches
rejected entirely the provisions allowing the government to ban
unregistered religious communities.

"This draft law was drawn up with the active participation of ourselves
and of representatives of the Orthodox Church," declared Dairabai
Ryskayev, head of the Spiritual Preaching Department at the Muslims'
Spiritual Administration. "And we are glad that our comments have been
incorporated into the new draft law. One of the chief merits of the new
draft law is that it awards fitting status to Kazakhstan's traditional
religions - Islam and Orthodoxy - and that it provides for a strict control
over the activity of representatives of non-traditional religions in our
country."

Ryskayev admitted to Keston that it was at the insistence of the Spiritual
Administration that a clause had been introduced into the draft law,
requiring that registration of Islamic religious associations should depend
on the recommendation of the Spiritual Administration, and that the
construction and/or opening of Islamic places of worship should only take
place with its permission. "The Hanafi school of law of the Sunni branch
of Islam has been widespread on Kazakh territory for more than 1,200
years," Ryskayev told Keston. "But today, preachers have arrived who are
trying to impose branches of Islam on us that are not traditional for our
country. Such a thing never happened even in Tsarist times, nor under
Soviet authority. And naturally, we will not allow this evil to spread in an
independent Kazakhstan."

Keston did not succeed in finding out the attitude to the new draft law of
Muslims who belong to branches of Islam that are not traditional for
Kazakhstan. Today, such people are considered to be breaking the law,
and so avoid speaking to journalists on the record. Significantly, however,
even Muslims who belong to Kazakhstan's traditional branch of Islam,
but who have no links with the Spiritual Administration, are less
enthusiastic about the new law. "I think that the new draft law is too
narrowly focused on prohibitive and repressive functions, and that can
only give rise to animosity," Ali haji Absheroni, chairman of the Al-
Medina society, told Keston from Almaty. "There must be a 'happy
medium'. I do believe that it is vital that mosques should be registered,
but it should not be the Spiritual Administration that decides whether or
not to register them, but a council of ulemas (theologians), which should
include people who hold the very widest spectrum of opinion."

Representatives of the Orthodox Church were much more restrained than
the Muslim clergy. Significantly, Father Sergi Goryunov, secretary to
Archbishop Aleksy of the diocese of Astana and Almaty, began by telling
Keston that he "did not know much about the new draft law, because it
had not been published in the press". Father Goryunov said that on the
whole he approved of the new draft, although he was not "in ecstasies"
about the fact that the number of people required to set up a religious
association had been raised from 10 (under the current law) to 50.
"Several of our parishes have fewer than 50 people, and we do not want
them to close down," he explained.

There is one clause in the new draft law, Article 7, that directly affects the
interests of the Orthodox Church: "The activity of foreign religious
associations on the territory of the republic of Kazakhstan, including the
appointment by these associations of leaders of religious centres in the
republic, must take place through religious centres in the republic, of
which there should be one for each faith, by agreement with the
appropriate state agencies of the republic of Kazakhstan". Formally, the
Russian Orthodox Church is a foreign religious association in
Kazakhstan, and consequently according to the draft law is dependent on
the Kazakh authorities. Nevertheless, Goryunov did not criticise this
clause, telling Keston that he did not foresee "any complications" arising
from it.

Such apparent lack of concern was not shared in the Moscow
Patriarchate, which has reportedly raised its concerns over Article 7
behind the scenes. One senior priest of the Moscow Patriarchate, while
declaring that the Orthodox Church "understands" the reasons for revising
the religion law, complained privately that Article 7 could restrict not
only the right of the Orthodox Church to choose its own leaders from
abroad (two of its three bishops in Kazakhstan were born outside the
republic), but of the Catholics and some Protestants. The priest suggested
amending the draft to specify that such appointments be made not
"through", but at least "with the agreement of" local religious bodies.

All the representatives of religions regarded as "non-traditional" who
spoke to Keston agreed that the new draft law could severely complicate
their lives and virtually turned them into "second-class religions".
According to the press-officer of the Hare Krishna society, Bashir Damir
Maratula, there was a whole range of clauses in the new draft law that
would allow repressive measures to be taken against believers. Similar
concerns were echoed by Father Serafim Kenisarin, pastor of the Almaty-
based Love ecumenical church. "The battle with terrorism must not turn
into a battle with law-abiding believers. Unfortunately, though, the draft
law will create a means of persecuting unwelcome believers," he told
Keston.

"The draft law is full of hidden ways to persecute believers," agreed
Roman Dudnik, president of the Christian Society for Evangelisation and
Charity, speaking to Keston from Almaty. "The state will virtually give
part of its functions to a few chosen religious associations. We are going
back to the European Middle Ages, or else we are mimicking the Taliban
regime."

The most extensive critique came from the Council of Churches of
Evangelical Christians/Baptists, which rejects registration on principle in
all the post-Soviet republics where it operates. In a four-page appeal to
President Nazarbayev, parliamentary deputies and the General Procurator,
Rashid Tusupbekov, circulated among Kazakh-based pastors ahead of the
31 January senate vote, the Baptists focused their criticism on Article 8,
which covers registration. "The current situation of freedom of religious
confession in Kazakhstan rules out for us the possibility of reconsidering
the question of registering churches' statutes and registration for
conducting missionary activity," the appeal declared. It also objected to
provisions limiting the participation of children in religious activity.

The Baptists pointed out that the requirement to register religious
organisations and missionary activity and the restrictions on children's
involvement in religious activity violate the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights, both of which Kazakhstan has signed. (END)

Copyright (c) 2002 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.