KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 22 January 2001

police in Aktobe detained two women for selling Hare Krishna literature,
claiming that this was illegal as the group did not have registration with the
regional justice department. The Kazakh authorities are putting increasing
pressure on religious communities that do not have registration, with officials
repeatedly claiming that existing law requires religious groups to register before
they can conduct any activity. A possible amendment to the law may bring in
this requirement, despite the fact that it conflicts with Kazakhstan�s human
rights obligations.


by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Local police detained two women for selling Hare Krishna literature on the
streets of the north western Kazakh town of Aktobe, claiming this was illegal as
the group did not have registration with the regional justice department.
Yermek Tauanov, deputy head of the regional department for work with
religious organisations, insisted to Keston News Service that Kazakh law
requires religious groups to have registration before they can conduct any
activity, despite the fact that this is nowhere stated in law.

The problems encountered by the Hare Krishna devotees are symptomatic of
increasing pressure on religious communities that do not have registration.
Officials repeatedly claim that existing law requires such registration. Baptists
affiliated with the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists - who
refuse to register on principle in any of the post-Soviet republics - have faced
particular pressure. Three of their communities in Kazakhstan were warned last
year that their activity was illegal, most recently in the town of Stepnogorsk
inOctober (see KNS 2 November 2000).

The two Hare Krishna devotees - whose names have not been released by the
local police but who were reportedly aged 20 and 17 � were detained in Aktobe
on 15 December after they were found selling Krishna books on the streets for
100 tenge (65 US cents) each. Police were called and they were detained, and
20 books were confiscated. They were due to be taken to the police holding
centre, but were freed when the police `took pity on them', Tauanov told Keston
from Aktobe on 19 January. `We had every right to send them to prison, but we
let them go.' He confirmed he had been brought in to speak to the two women,
but declined to tell Keston how his office had become involved. `We don't
comment on the way our law enforcement organs operate.' He refused to
explain why the books had been confiscated.

Tauanov claimed the two had arrived from the country's commercial capital
Almaty by train without any identity documents - which he said was illegal -
and that they had been selling the books on the streets without a licence from
the Aktobe tax office (which he said cost approximately 20 tenge). Asked
whether the devotees would be able to distribute their books on the streets next
time if they brought their identity papers and bought a licence, he responded:
`No. The Krishnaites do not have registration in the region here. All religious
organisations which function must have registration.' Asked by Keston to name
which law spelled out such a requirement, Tauanov referred to instructions
issued last year by the procurator general for a nationwide inspection of all
religious organisations to make sure they were functioning with registration.
Challenged again to name a law which made registration compulsory, Tauanov
was unable to do so.

Krishnabalaram, the president of the Hare Krishna temple in Almaty (which has
official registration), told Keston on 19 January that he was not familiar with
the Aktobe case, but confirmed that the group does not have registration there.
However, he contested the idea that the group needed registration to be able to
distribute literature. `Many local officials don't know the laws and demand all
kinds of certificates and permissions.' He cited a case last autumn in the town of
Chimkent in southern Kazakhstan, where five devotees had been `persecuted
and beaten' by the police for distributing literature on the streets. `They were
lucky to have been able to get away.' However, he stressed that there were
many other places where the group is able to distribute books on the streets
`without problems'.

`We try here in Aktyubinsk region to ensure that everyone obeys the law,'
Tauanov declared, referring with disdain to the `disorder' in South Kazakhstan
region. `Last year the procurator general checked up on the registration
situation in South Kazakhstan region. He discovered that of 600 religious
organisations, more than 300 were functioning without registration.'

Believers of many different faiths are concerned by plans to amend the
country's religion law. Although three drafts are currently being circulated,
observers believe the final version will include a requirement for all religious
groups to register in order to function, although this would conflict with
Kazakhstan's international human rights obligations. `The bureaucrats are not
moving on two points,' Ninel Fokina, chair of the Almaty Helsinki Committee,
told Keston on 18 January. `Registration will be made compulsory and foreign
missionaries will be banned.' (END)

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