KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 22 February 2001

I. KAZAKHSTAN: HARE KRISHNAS ENCOUNTER INCREASED
POLICE HARASSMENT. A Hare Krishna community based near
Kazakhstan's former capital Almaty has experienced increased harassment
from the local authorities since a presidential decree of February 2000
launched a nationwide crackdown on religious communities of all faiths,
involving checks by the police, KNB (former KGB) and prosecutor's offices.
Local officials seem particularly keen to implement measures which could
be of financial benefit to themselves.

II. KAZAKHSTAN: MISSIONARY RESTRICTIONS OBSTRUCT HARE
KRISHNA PREACHING. Govinda Swami, the American founder of the
Almaty Hare Krishna community and coordinator of the Society for Krishna
Consciousness in Central Asia, was prevented, along with fellow US citizen
Niranjana Swami, from preaching in a rented hall in central Almaty in
December 2000. As foreign citizens, their missionary activity is restricted to
the one region of Almaty where they are accredited, and preaching in other
places could lead to removal of their accreditation.

I. KAZAKHSTAN: HARE KRISHNAS ENCOUNTER INCREASED
POLICE HARASSMENT

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

A Hare Krishna community, based at its 160 acre (65 hectare) farm 20 miles
(32 kms) outside Kazakhstan's former capital Almaty, has experienced
increased harassment from the local authorities since a decree of February
2000 from President Nursultan Nazarbayev launched a nationwide
crackdown on religious communities of all faiths, involving checks by the
police, KNB (former KGB) and prosecutor's offices, president of the farm
Kripamoya Das told Keston News Service on 8 February.

In the most recent incident, according to Kripamoya Das, the community
was fined 7,075 tenge (one month's minimum wage - approximately 50 US
dollars) by the local public prosecutor's office a week before Keston's visit.
The reason given, he said, was that the farm is not registered as a religious
organisation, but as the private property of several of its members: `I was
told that if we don't register as a religious community within two months
they will bring legal charges against me personally.'

According to Govinda Swami, the American founder of the Almaty Hare
Krishna community and coordinator of the Society for Krishna
Consciousness in Central Asia, a spate of police checks took place last
summer. At approximately 9 pm one evening in late June, he told Keston on
7 February, local police arrived at the community's farm and demanded to
see everyone's documentation.

Returning the following evening with a 12-year-old girl, he said, the police
officers announced that two Kazakh Hare Krishna devotees had been drunk
in a local village the night before and raped her: `This is a far out thing - our
people don't even drink.' The girl was then told to identify her assailants
from among the men on the farm, of whom only one, Sharana, was ethnic
Kazakh.

Sharana was then taken into custody from 1 to 2 July. According to
Kripamoya Das, the police hinted that if the community gave them money
the alleged incident would be forgotten - `they would hardly have said that if
they seriously suspected that a crime had been committed' - upon which a
devotee named Jaigopal replied that the community was poor. When he also
threatened to take legal measures against the police, said Kripamoya Das,
Sharana was released.

According to Govinda Swami, Karasai region police officers arrived at the
farm several days later, made straight for the pumphouse, moved aside a
brick, and - exclaiming `Here it is - we knew it was here!' - pulled out a bag
presumed to contain heroin. Kripamoya Das told Keston that on this
occasion the group included high-ranking officers and behaved more
professionally, insisting that the community sign a protocol. However, he
maintained, they also asked then president of the farm, Chala, for money,
and the incident was again forgotten once Chala insisted that the community
were poor vegetable growers.

These were not the first incidents of harassment by Karasai region police
officers. On 28 July 2000 the community complained to Karasai region
public prosecutor over what it claimed was the unlawful deportation of one
of its members, Goranarayana, an ethnic Kazakh citizen of Uzbekistan.

Following a police identification check at the farm, according to the
complaint, the head of Karasai region migration police department
confiscated Goranarayana's passport on 9 June and fined him 725 tenge (5
US dollars) for violations of the passport regime. Kripamoya Das claims
Goranarayana's documentation had been in order, and personal resentment
had been behind the incident: `One officer said to him, "How can you be a
Kazakh like me but a Hare Krishna? I can forgive you anything, but not
that?"' Although Goranarayana was subsequently deported from Kazakhstan,
he said, he was later able to return once he received confirmation that the
police action had been unlawful in a 1 September letter from senior justice
advisor at Karasai region public prosecutor's office, T. Kurmanbayev.

If the head of the department for religious organisations within Almaty
akimat, Vladimir Ivanov, is benign, what could lie behind the increase in
harassment? Kripamoya Das believes the harassment at the farm last
summer was motivated by avarice: `Planting drugs and accusing rape are
typical ways of extorting money. That is the motive locally, although there
might be other motives higher up which come into alignment with local
motives to a greater or lesser extent.'

A 14 September 2000 unpublished, internal instruction addressed to district
and town akims (governors) from the akim of Almaty region, Zamanbek
Nurkadilov, gives some indication of the higher motive. `Since the political
situation in states bordering Kazakhstan is becoming more complex as a
result of the subversive activity of religious movements of an extremist
nature,' Nurkadilov wrote, `I ask you to submit information on religious
organisations of different confessions, religious institutions and missionary
movements officially and unofficially operating on the territory of the region
(city), as well as those not registered with the department of justice.' Special
attention is drawn in the instruction to the personal responsibility of the
akims `to take measures against those violating the procedure concerning the
forms and legality of the activity of religious organisations.' (END)

II. KAZAKHSTAN: MISSIONARY RESTRICTIONS OBSTRUCT HARE
KRISHNA PREACHING

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

In addition to problems at its farm not far from Kazakhstan's former capital
Almaty (see separate KNS article), the Almaty Hare Krishna community has
also experienced obstructions to its preaching activity. In a 1 February
message to Keston News Service, Govinda Swami, the American founder of
the Almaty community and coordinator of the Society for Krishna
Consciousness in Central Asia, stated that he and fellow US citizen
Niranjana Swami were informed they could not preach when they arrived at
a Sunday meeting in a rented hall in central Almaty in December 2000.

A 30 November letter to the president of the Hare Krishna community based
in Almaty city, Krishna Balaram Das, from the public prosecutor's office of
Turksib region of the city states that, since Govinda Swami and three other
non-Kazakh citizens have missionary accreditation only for the Turksib area
of the city, their preaching in other areas as well as other Kazakh cities is a
violation of a 1997 government decree regulating missionary activity by
foreign citizens. If this situation is not rectified, the letter warns, the Hare
Krishna missionaries could suffer the `negative consequence' of having their
accreditation removed.

Govinda Swami reports that the Kazakhstani Society for Krishna
Consciousness is registered as a local Almaty organisation. Without national
registration, he told Keston, its members encounter difficulties when
distributing literature in other parts of the country (see KNS 22 January
2001).

On 7 February a member of the community at the farm, Chitta Hare Das,
told Keston that he and four other devotees had been beaten while in police
custody in Chimkent during the first half of August 2000. A woman who had
spoken to them while they were distributing literature on the streets had lost
her purse at some point during the day had made an official complaint
against them to the police, he explained, and the five were accused of
stealing, although ultimately no charges were brought and the group was
released after 48 hours.

According to Govinda Swami, Hare Krishna devotees have not encountered
any problems in Almaty city, where they broadcast two radio programmes a
week on a private radio station and conduct an extensive food relief
programme. Until the December 2000 incident, he claimed, he would receive
a Kazakh visa, `register and be free to preach and conduct programmes
without any restrictions.' Asked about the Hare Krishna community on 6
February, head of the department for religious organisations within Almaty
akimat, Vladimir Ivanov, dismissed suggestions that they faced restrictions:
`What's all the fuss about? There are only 72 of them.' Although not a
member of a new religious movement - `I don't believe in anything, thank
God' - he had high praise for them: `In non-traditional religions the people
are better and their belief is stronger.' (END)

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