KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 16 January 2001

I. KAZAKHSTAN: EDUCATION MINISTRY WITHDRAWS
CONTROVERSIAL RESTRICTIONS Following pressure from believers and
human rights activists, Kazakhstan's Education and Science Ministry has
withdrawn certain provisions of the directives banning religious believers from
activities in educational establishments. Visits by religious figures will no
longer be completely banned, and religious groups will be allowed to rent
facilities and to offer aid, within the guidelines of a decree �on organising work
to prevent religious extremism�.

II. ARMENIA: NO PROGRESS FOR JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES AHEAD OF
COUNCIL OF EUROPE VOTE. With the Council of Europe�s final vote
tomorrow (17 January) on whether or not to admit Armenia, the Jehovah's
Witnesses have not seen any progress in their attempts to register, despite
Armenia's commitment to end discrimination against religious minorities. Nor
has there been any progress on releasing twenty-four Jehovah's Witnesses
imprisoned for refusing compulsory military service.

I. KAZAKHSTAN: EDUCATION MINISTRY WITHDRAWS
CONTROVERSIAL RESTRICTIONS

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Following pressure from believers and human rights activists, Kazakhstan's
Education and Science Ministry in the capital Astana has withdrawn certain
provisions of the directives banning religious believers from activities in
educational establishments. The change of heart was announced in a letter of 19
December to the heads of regional education departments signed by the first
deputy education and science minister Erlan Aryn, of which Keston News
Service has received a copy. M. Ishchanova, the Education Ministry official
who drew up the 19 December letter, told Keston by telephone from Astana on
16 January that the earlier ban had been a `mistake', but declined to say who
had introduced the ban or why.

Believers of a number of religious groups had been alerted to the ban on
religious activity in educational establishments spelled out by the ministry last
September, when V. M. Tszyn, an official of the education department in the
former capital Almaty, sent an instruction to heads of professional schools and
colleges in the city asking them to draw up a plan of measures to `preserve the
principle of the secular nature of education'. Among the proposed measures
were instructions to hold `recommendatory discussions' to explain the country's
religion law, to ban `participants of religious associations, organisations and
confessions' from visiting educational establishments, to instruct parents on the
separation of secular and religious education, to ban humanitarian or other aid
from religious organisations to educational establishments and to ban the rental
of facilities in educational establishments to religious organisations. Similar
letters appear to have been sent to heads of educational establishments in other
regions of the country.

Believers objected in particular to the ban on visits by religious figures, the ban
on humanitarian and other aid from religious organisations and the ban on
renting facilities to religious groups, objections backed by the Almaty Centre of
the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which argued
that this limited the rights of parents to bring up their children in accordance
with their beliefs. The OSCE wrote to the Ministry of Education pointing out
that these restrictions violated Kazakhstan's international human rights
commitments.

In his December letter, Minister Aryn cancelled these three provisions of the
instructions issued last September, although he failed to explain to regional
education chiefs why they were withdrawn and made continued reference to an
education ministry decree of 9 December 1999 `on organising work to prevent
religious extremism'.

Ishchanova confirmed to Keston that clergy were now allowed to visit
educational establishments, but were not allowed to conduct `propagandistic
activity' there. She also confirmed that religious organisations could rent
premises from educational establishments to hold services and meetings,
provided children were not involved. Before Keston could clarify whether
children could participate voluntarily in such activities she had put the phone
down and it was impossible to reach her again. (END)

II. ARMENIA: NO PROGRESS FOR JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES AHEAD OF
COUNCIL OF
EUROPE VOTE

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

With the Council of Europe�s final vote tomorrow (17 January) on whether or
not to admit Armenia, the Jehovah's Witnesses have not seen any progress in
their attempts to register, despite Armenia's commitment to end discrimination
against religious minorities. Nor has there been any progress on releasing
twenty-four Jehovah's Witnesses imprisoned for refusing compulsory military
service. The Jehovah's Witnesses claim a membership of 19,000 in Armenia,
the only South Caucasian state where they have been refused registration.

Officials of the government's Council for Religious Affairs and the Foreign
Ministry confirmed to Keston News Service from Yerevan on 16 January that
the Jehovah's Witness registration application is still being refused (see KNS 22
November 2000). Michael Bagratuni of the Foreign Ministry in Yerevan
promised to inform Keston of the steps Armenia was taking to meet its
commitments to register the Jehovah's Witnesses and free the conscientious
objectors in line with its promises to the Council of Europe, but was
unavailable later on 16 January to report his findings.

An official of the Council of Europe told Keston from Strasbourg the same day
that the Committee of Ministers is `fully aware' of the continued refusal to
register the group, as is the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, adding
that if the Committee of Ministers goes ahead and votes to allow Armenia to
join, Jehovah's Witness registration `will be one of the criteria of post-accession
monitoring'.

Armenia committed itself last year, as part of its Council of Europe application,
to `ensure that all churches, in particular those referred to as "non-traditional",
may practise their religion without discrimination', to free all conscientious
objectors from prison and to introduce an alternative service law. Officials have
recognised that registration of the Jehovah's Witnesses forms part of these
commitments.

Apart from the Jehovah's Witnesses, only two other groups are known to
function in Armenia without registration - the Molokans and the Assyrian
Church. However, Arkan Kandilian, head of the analytical department of the
Council for Religious Affairs, told Keston from Yerevan on 16 January that
neither of these two groups has applied for registration. He added that among
the 50 or so registered denominations are two communities of the Yezidi faith,
the majority belief of the country's Kurdish minority.

The Jehovah's Witnesses have been seeking registration in Armenia in vain for
many years. Their most recent application was refused on 20 May last year.
Further attempts last October to negotiate with the authorities ended in failure,
despite ten meetings with various officials. Eduard Safarian, deputy chairman
of the Council for Religious Affairs, told the Jehovah's Witness delegation that
the group may eventually be registered, but that `society is not ready for such a
decision'. Registration could only be possible after a law on alternative service
is passed and the law on religious organisations is amended, allowing for
proselytism by other religions besides the Armenian Apostolic church.

The Jehovah's Witnesses report that twenty of their male followers are serving
sentences for refusing military service, the most recent sentenced last
November. Fourteen more have been freed after serving part of their sentences,
but still have to report regularly to the police. A further four arrested between
August and October last year are in prison awaiting trial.

The only progress for the Jehovah's Witnesses is that police and security
ministry officers have halted raids on the group's meetings. `As of December
2000 the situation is relatively calm and peaceful,' the Jehovah's Witnesses
reported. `There has been no further police action since the interference at the
Memorial of Jesus Christ's death last April and the confiscation at the border by
Armenian customs on 30 March 2000 of 734 kg of religious literature that
Jehovah's Witnesses were trying to bring into Armenia from Georgia.'
However, the Jehovah's Witnesses have complained of a continuing media
campaign with `negative newspaper articles and repeated broadcasting of an
anti-Witness video'.

The National Security Ministry (the former KGB) has been heavily involved in
raids on Jehovah's Witness meetings in the past, but a ministry spokesman -
who declined to give his name - told Keston on 16 January that he had no
knowledge of actions by Ministry officers against Jehovah's Witness meetings,
which have included forcibly breaking up meetings and detaining and beating
participants. `The National Security Ministry has no powers to act against
Jehovah's Witnesses as long as they don't violate the law,' he declared. `If they
do violate the law they are subject to the same provisions as any other citizens.'
(END)

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.