KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 23 January 2002.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

I. KAZAKHSTAN: NEW RESTRICTIVE RELIGION LAW GOES TO
UPPER HOUSE. Kazakhstan�s proposed new religion law is likely to be
approved by the upper house of the Kazakh parliament on 31 January,
despite objections from religious groups, human rights activists and the
Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Keston
News Service has learned. It was approved by the lower house on 17
January, and also requires the signature of the president to become law. If
adopted unamended 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.

II. KAZAKHSTAN: IS MORE RESTRICTIVE RELIGION LAW
JUSTIFIED? One of the justifications presented by Kazakh officials for
the new, more restrictive religion law now being adopted is what officials
claim is an increased danger to state security from religious organisations.
However, Keston News Service found no evidence of any increased
threat in the Chimkent region of southern Kazakhstan, which the
government regards as a hotbed of religious fundamentalism. An official
of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
mission in Kazakhstan, which sent the government a detailed critical
commentary on the new draft law, told Keston that the OSCE does not
believe the situation in Kazakhstan requires such controls to be imposed
on religious groups.

I. KAZAKHSTAN: NEW RESTRICTIVE RELIGION LAW GOES TO
UPPER HOUSE

by Igor Rotar, Keston News Service

Kazakhstan�s proposed new religion law is set to move a step closer to
adoption at the end of this month despite objections from religious
groups, human rights activists and the Organisation for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Keston News Service has learned. If
adopted unamended 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. On the morning of
31 January, the Senate (upper chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament) is due
to consider the draft law approved by the Majilis (lower chamber) on 17
January.

For the new version to become law, it must also be signed by President
Nursultan Nazarbayev, though few now believe it will fail to gain
approval. "I have no doubt that the new draft law will be approved both
by the upper chamber and by the president," the head of the Almaty
Helsinki Committee Ninel Fokina told Keston by telephone on 21
January. "It is an initiative of the authorities themselves and its discussion
in parliament was simply a formality."

The new draft of the law on freedom of conscience and religious
organisations specifies that Islamic communities can only be registered
on the recommendation of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of
Kazakhstan, and the construction and opening of Islamic centres of
worship requires the approval of the spiritual administration. The number
of people required to form a religious association has been raised from 10
under the current law to 50.

Among other innovations causing concern to many religious groups are a
requirement that religious educational activity be licensed and a ban on
conducting missionary activity without compulsory registration, the
procedure for which is not specified in the law. According to article 7 (on
religious associations) in the new draft, "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. The manner of
the agreement will be defined by the government of the republic of
Kazakhstan." According to Article 5 of the draft (on the separation of
schools from religious associations and the secular nature of state
education) "the religious education of a child must not harm his overall
development or his physical and moral health". This vague formulation
would in effect allow the state to forbid a child's religious education.

The new provisions of article 11 (on liquidation of a religious association)
make it easier for the state to deal with what it regards as "unwelcome"
religious organisations. According to the new draft, "the legal grounds for
a cessation and ban on the activity of a religious association are: a refusal
by the leaders of religious associations to register the associations with
state administrative agencies; the existence of activity by a religious
association that contradicts the aims and objectives set out in its statute;
participation in and provision of financial support for the activity of
political parties; infringement of the laws on the conduct of religious
functions away from the place where a religious association is based; the
organisation and conducting by ministers and members of religious
associations of children's youth assemblies and groups that bear no
relation to the functions of the cult; forcing citizens to carry out religious
rituals or to take part in a particular religious activity."

These grounds for a cessation and ban on the activity of a religious
organisation repeat verbatim article 375 of the Administrative Code,
adopted on 30 January 2001. This article contradicts the current religion
law, but the authorities have already used it to punish members of
unregistered religious groups. The new draft law does away with the
contradiction between the two juridical acts, and simultaneously tightens
control over believers' activity. Neither parliamentary deputies nor state
officials have hidden the fact that the new draft law aims to tighten
control over "non-traditional religious" movements (particularly Islamic
movements).

In its critique of the proposed law, sent to the Kazakh government, the
OSCE set out nine points of concern where it said changes were required.
Among other concerns, it called for the substitution of the term "freedom
of religious confession" with the internationally-accepted phrase
"freedom of religion or belief"; the ban on the activity of "extremist
religious associations" to be rephrased to avoid potential interference in
the activity of legitimate religious associations; clarification of the
restrictions on religious activity by minors; and more work on the issue of
registration of Muslim communities. The OSCE also feared that the
requirement that foreign-based religious groups work through a local
religious group might restrict such groups' autonomy and that the
requirement for 50 members might violate people's freedom of religion or
belief. The OSCE repeated its concerns about Article 375 of the
Administrative Code and believed that similar provisions in the proposed
law could violate the rights of those who were not party to any offence.
(END)

II. KAZAKHSTAN: IS MORE RESTRICTIVE RELIGION LAW
JUSTIFIED?

by Igor Rotar, Keston News Service

One of the justifications presented by Kazakh officials for the new, more
restrictive religion law now being adopted (see separate KNS article) is
what officials claim is an increased danger to state security from religious
organisations. However, Keston News Service has not discovered
evidence of such an increased threat on a January visit to Chimkent
region of southern Kazakhstan, an area the government regards as a
hotbed of religious fundamentalism. An official of the mission in Almaty
of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has
told Keston that it too fails to share the concerns about the threat
allegedly posed by religious extremism.

"It was reported during the discussions that the law had been amended
due to the internal situation in Kazakhstan and that on the international
arena," Radio Liberty reported on 17 January in the wake of the
parliamentary debate. "It was also mentioned by deputies of the
parliament that after 11 September, the situation had changed and that the
necessity of strict control over all the religious organisations working in
Kazakhstan had arisen."

The culture, information and public accord minister, Mukhtar Kul-
Mukhammed, told deputies that the amendments were prompted by "a
real threat of religious extremism to Kazakhstan's security", adding that
they are aimed at tightening state control over non-traditional faiths which
cause great concern among the public. He said the number of religious
associations, especially non-traditional Islamic and other religious
organisations, had been growing rapidly and had now reached more than
2,500 religious, representing over 40 religions.

However, it is doubtful whether "extremist religious organisations" do
pose a threat to Kazakhstan's security. Between 5 and 9 January Keston
visited Chimkent region, which the authorities believe is the main centre
of Islamic extremism in the country, and concluded that the situation
there is remarkably calm (see KNS 17 January 2002). Local authority
officials express very much the same view. "For the time being at least,
the situation here is very calm," Vladimir Zharinov, chief specialist at the
department for relations with religious organisations in the office of
Chimkent's regional akim (administrator), told Keston on 8 January.
"Unlike in southern Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, the Hizb-ut-Tahrir party
is practically inactive here. True, last year four members of the Hizb-ut-
Tahrir party were arrested in the town of Turkestan (165 kilometres
north-west of Chimkent), but they were almost immediately released
under an amnesty. You will agree that this number of arrests is simply
negligible compared to other Central Asian republics."

The OSCE mission in Kazakhstan, which sent the government a detailed
critical commentary on the new draft law, does not believe the situation in
Kazakhstan requires such controls to be imposed on religious groups.
"The [current] Kazakh law on freedom of conscience and religious
associations conforms to international legal standards and in principle we
do not see any need to introduce amendments to it," Birgit Kainz, the
human dimension officer at the OSCE's Almaty mission told Keston by
telephone on 22 January. "We very much hope to persuade the senators
and the president to vote down the new draft." (END)