KESTON NEWS SERVICE 20.00, 2 November 2000

KAZAKHSTAN: FIFTY-YEAR-OLD BAPTIST CONGREGATION
ILLEGALLY ORDERED TO REGISTER. Although no point in Kazakhstan�s
law on religion seems to require registration, the town procurator and
administration insist punishment will follow if the church does not halt its
activity and then seek registration.

KAZAKHSTAN: FIFTY-YEAR-OLD BAPTIST CONGREGATION
ILLEGALLY ORDERED TO REGISTER

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

A fifty-year-old Baptist church in the town of Stepnogorsk near the Kazakh
capital Astana has been instructed to halt its religious activity until it gains
registration. The Stepnogorsk church is the third congregation in the Central
Asian republic belonging to the Council of Churches of Evangelical
Christians/Baptists - which refuses
to register in all the post-Soviet republics where it operates - known to have
received such a warning in the past few months (see KNS 13 June 2000 and 6
October 2000). Kazakh law does not specifically require religious groups to
register in order to be allowed to function and Kazakhstan's international
human rights commitments do not allow it to impose such a restriction on
religious activity. The church's leaders now face the prospect of administrative
punishments if they fail to halt the church's activity.

The town procurator Viktor Podrezov issued a written warning to the presbyter
of the Stepnogorsk church, Pyotr Tkachenko, on 13 October, of which Keston
News Service has received a copy. The four-point warning claimed that during
checking up on violations of the law on religious organisations it had been
found that the church was not registered and ordered the church�s `immediate
registration'. The warning also ordered the church to halt its activity until `the
bringing of registration documents into accord with the demands of current
legislation'; to inform the procurator within ten days that submission of a
registration application had taken place, together with a copy of the application.
Lastly it warned that any failure to meet the procuracy's demands would attract
administrative penalties.

Podrezov, who acknowledged that the church had existed in Stepnogorsk since
1942, complained that `from the very start of its activity' the church had
refused to register because the church's umbrella body and statute refused to
allow congregations to seek registration. He claimed that this refusal to register
violated Articles 4 and 9 of the country's 1992 religion law, as well as Article
206 of the Administrative Code of the Kazakh SSR. He also complained that
the Council of Churches' statute of 10 October 1997 had not itself been
registered in Kazakhstan, which he claimed violated Article 14 of the religion
law.

Keston cannot find any specific article in the religion law that specifically
requires registration for religious groups. Article 4 outlines the separation of
religious organisations from the state and declares that `they must comply with
legislation and law and order', but does not require registration. Article 9
describes the procedures for acquiring registration, but does not make it a
requirement. Article 14 declares that associations set up for charitable activity
`may have their charters registered in the manner established for public
associations', though again there is no requirement.

Asked to clarify why he believed religious groups needed registration given the
absence of such a requirement in the laws he cited, Podrezov insisted on his
interpretation of the law. `They must register, it is the law,' he told Keston by
telephone from Stepnogorsk on 2 November. Asked how his interpretation that
registration was compulsory related to constitutional and international
guarantees of freedom of conscience he eventually declared: `Kazakhstan hasn't
yet subscribed to international norms, it is a young state.' However, he refused
to accept that religious groups could function freely without registration.

Podrezov stressed that no-one was obstructing the Baptist church from
registering. `The conflict wouldn't have arisen if they had registered,' he
declared. `There are 12 religious organisations in the town and the Baptists are
the only ones to function without registration.' Podrezov failed to understand
why the Baptists were not
seeking registration.

He declared that if the church continued to meet without registration
`administrative measures' would be taken against them. He confirmed that the
warning he sent Pastor Tkachenko was also copied to the town administration
(khokimat). He reported that the church had failed to notify the procuracy
within the ten days specified in his warning about what steps they had taken to
seek registration, although the procuracy had received a copy of the letter of
complaint the Baptists wrote to Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev about
the pressure on this and other congregations to register. `The question of what
further action to take has been put to the administrative commission of the
town administration,' Podrezov noted.

Zhaneta Tilitovich, an official of the town administration, told Keston by
telephone from Stepnogorsk on 2 November that they were `still considering'
what action to take against the Baptists. `They must fulfil the demands of the
procuracy,' she declared bluntly. `I don't see any violations on the part of the
procuracy.' She repeated Podrezov's claims that Kazakh law required groups to
register and she too failed to understand why the church did not want to. `They
can't not register.' She said the town administration would summon Pastor
Tkachenko and discuss the question with him, then it would respond to the
procuracy within the prescribed one month period, that is by 13 November.
`We will look at the law and consult the Ministry of Culture, Information and
Social Accord, which deals with religious matters.'

It is highly unlikely that the Stepnogorsk church will halt its activity, so further
action against the pastor and the congregation appear inevitable. (END)


Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.