KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 17 December 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
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KAZAKHSTAN: NO PUBLIC CONSULTATION ON RELIGION
BILL. A new draft religion law was presented to the Kazakh parliament
at the end of November without public consultation, the mainly Protestant
Association of Religious Organisations of Kazakhstan (AROK)
complained in a letter received by Keston News Service. Kazakhstan's
religion law was adopted in 1992, but there have been repeated attempts
in recent years to amend it. Commenting on the latest draft, the head of
the Almaty Helsinki Group told Keston: "The authorities are making no
secret of the fact that they intend to intensify the controls on believers. In
the preamble to the draft law it is stated clearly that it is meant to limit the
expansion of 'non-traditional' religious groups in Kazakhstan."

KAZAKHSTAN: NO PUBLIC CONSULTATION ON RELIGION BILL

by Igor Rotar, Keston News Service

There was no public consultation prior to the presentation of a new draft
religion law to the Kazakh parliament at the end of November, the mainly
Protestant Association of Religious Organisations of Kazakhstan (AROK)
complained in a letter received by Keston News Service. "On 28
November we came up against the government's latest attempt to force
Parliament to adopt a law that would encroach upon religious rights and
freedoms in our country," AROK declared.

Kazakhstan's religion law was adopted on 15 January 1992, but there
have been repeated attempts in recent years to amend it. Since the end of
1998, the government has developed five drafts of a new law, the latest
being presented to parliament last March (see KNS 23 March 2001). That
draft contained numerous discriminatory clauses about faith and age, and
unlawfully restricted religious freedom. It proposed, for example, that
both registration of Islamic religious associations and construction or
opening of mosques should be only at the initiative of the Spiritual
Administration of Muslims in Kazakhstan. It also raised the number of
people required to form a religious association from 10, under the current
law, to 50. It proposed making registration regulations more stringent:
increasing the number of documents to be submitted for registration and
introducing a requirement for analysis by an expert on religion.

The report "Threats to religious freedoms in Kazakhstan: legislation and
practice", published by the Almaty Helsinki Committee in July 2001
noted two "innovations" in the draft law it deemed "offensive": the
requirement to license religious educational activity and the ban on
missionary activity that had not undergone an obligatory registration
process, the nature of which was not defined by the law. The draft law
nevertheless provided for criminal punishment for missionary activity
conducted without registration (or after having infringed the rules on
registration), extending to imprisonment for up to one year.

Although the draft law was recalled in August this year, after the
intervention of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe
(OSCE) and Kazakh public associations, the current draft law is
practically a carbon copy of its precursor, the head of the Almaty Helsinki
Committee Ninel Fokina told Keston by telephone on 12 December. True,
the new draft does not consider charitable work to be missionary activity
and consequently does not require it to be registered. Nor does it propose
criminal punishment for missionary activity conducted without
registration. However, all the other clauses that restrict the rights of
believers have been retained in the new draft law. "Evidently, the
authorities are making no secret of the fact that they intend to intensify
the controls on believers," Fokina told Keston. "In the preamble to the
draft law it is stated clearly that it is meant to limit the expansion of 'non-
traditional' religious groups in Kazakhstan."

"We were unpleasantly surprised that the draft law was presented to
parliament without initial public consultation," Birgit Kainz, human rights
specialist at the OSCE bureau in Almaty, told Keston on 12 December.
"In our opinion there is no need to formulate a new draft law. The
existing law on freedom of conscience and of religious associations meets
international legal standards and we have no problems with it."

The Almaty-based lawyer Roman Podoprigora, who specialises in
religious matters, is of a somewhat different opinion. "The existing law
on freedom of conscience and of religious associations was 'cribbed' from
the Soviet law," he told Keston on 12 December. "Over the past ten years
life has changed substantially and the law naturally needs some finishing
touches. Whether the changes proposed in the current draft law are
precisely the changes required is another matter."
(END)

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