I. KAZAKHSTAN: ANTI-RELIGIOUS DRIVE IN ALMATY SCHOOL. In
a 19 December letter the Kazakh ministry of education and science withdrew
three provisions from its September instructions outlawing any form of
religious activity in schools (see KNS 16 January 2001). Keston News
Service has learnt, however, that educational establishments have still not
received this letter and are acting as if the ban were still in force. Teachers in
one Almaty school, for example, have tried to stop pupils attending meetings
run by a local Protestant church.
II. ROMANIA: ABANDONED RESTRICTIVE RELIGION BILL
REVIVED. A highly restrictive religion bill withdrawn by the government
last year after protests by non-Orthodox religious communities (see KNS 17
February 2000) has been revived by the Ministry of Culture and Cults. The
draft text was sent to the country's fourteen recognised religious
communities in early February and they have been given until 15 March to
produce their comments, but some religious leaders and human rights
activists have already voiced their concern.
I. KAZAKHSTAN: ANTI-RELIGIOUS DRIVE IN ALMATY SCHOOL
by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service
Although a 19 December letter from first deputy education and science
minister Erlan Aryn withdrew three provisions from the same ministry's
September instructions outlawing any form of religious activity in schools
(see KNS 16 January 2001), educational establishments have still not
received this letter, a Protestant leader in Kazakhstan's former capital
Almaty told Keston News Service.
Speaking on 7 February, the president of Emmanuel Christian Society for
Evangelisation and Charitable Activity, Roman Dudnik, said the city's
educational establishments were acting as if the three provisions - bans on
visits by religious figures, receipt of humanitarian or other aid from religious
organisations and rental of premises to religious groups - were still in force.
Five Almaty Protestant churches - about which he was reluctant to give
details in case their situation worsened - had still not had their rental
agreements reinstated, he said.
According to Vladimir Leshevsky, president of the Association of Religious
Organisations of Kazakhstan, regional education authorities have the 19
December document `but they don't want to advertise it - they are trying to
bury it.' Dudnik suggested that the reluctance to circulate the letter indicated
that the educational establishment was in favour of the original instructions:
`They were signed 26 September, schools received and implemented them
just two working weeks later.'
One example of anti-religious activity by schools, Dudnik told Keston, was
the recent attempts by teachers at Almaty School No. 154 to prevent pupils
from attending meetings held by Khanaan Presbyterian Church. In a series of
short video interviews conducted by Emmanuel last autumn and viewed by
Keston, nine children of primary school age are asked about their, their
parents' and their school's attitude to the church.
All the children say they enjoy attending church meetings: `We find out
about God there: I like it very much', `They never tell us off there,' `It's
good: they give us things, we draw and play.' Although one girl says her
mother had reservations at first, the children all state that they have the
permission of their parents, or whichever family member is responsible for
them, to attend the church: `My parents said it is a good church, they help us
to love God there.' A couple say they have this permission even though their
families know the attitude of the school towards the church: `My mum says
what they say in school about the church isn't right: that that headmaster
doesn't know anything.'
Asked about the school's attitude, most of the children say they are told by
their teachers not to attend the church. Several say their teachers ask in class
who attends the church and make a list of their names. `They write down the
names of who goes and shout at them,' `They threaten to punish us if we go
to the church.' Those who attend the canteen run by the church also say their
teachers warn them the food contains drugs: `They say the food is poisoned,'
`They say the church puts drugs in the sweets they give us so that we will
kill our parents.'
The children do not believe the teachers' warnings, however: `I don't think it
is that sort of church,' `They help us: they haven't done anything to us.'
Contacted by Keston on 9 February, headmaster of School No. 154, Verner
Masalim, said his school currently did not have any problems with churches.
There was a church called Khanaan nearby, he said, and at one time
members of this church came to the school and tried to forge contacts with
the children: `We had to chase them away.'
He believed the religious situation in the country was unsatisfactory: `There
are too many churches. In Kazakhstan the indigenous nation is Muslim - in a
period of social tension people can make the wrong choice.' (Although
Kazakhs are traditionally regarded as Muslim, the pupils interviewed by
Emmanuel included those of Russian, Kazakh, Uighur and mixed
Asked about the September and December instructions from the education
ministry, Masalim said he was `familiar' with both, but would not say
whether he had received the second set. According to one of the pupils and
Dudnik, the school had prevented Khanaan Church from distributing warm
winter coats there last autumn.
In Dudnik's view, the school's attitude towards religion was reminiscent of
the Soviet period, with children being pressurised into admitting they had
attended Protestant meetings: `The school is again taking upon itself the role
of ideological provider.' (END)
II. ROMANIA: ABANDONED RESTRICTIVE RELIGION BILL
by Felix Corley, Keston News Service
A highly restrictive religion bill withdrawn by the government last year after
protests by non-Orthodox religious communities (see KNS 17 February
2000) has been revived by the Ministry of Culture and Cults. The draft text
was sent to the country's fourteen recognised religious communities in early
February and they have been given until 15 March to produce their
comments, but some religious leaders and human rights activists have
already voiced their concern. `Many of us hoped that the proposal for a new
law on religion was forgotten in the form in which it is raising its head
again,' Otniel Bunaciu, deputy general secretary of the Baptist Union, told
Keston News Service from Bucharest on 24 February. However, officials of
the Ministry of Culture and Cults, which is promoting the bill, insisted to
Keston that the current draft is only a proposal and the views of all religious
faiths will be taken into account in drawing up the final text to be presented
to the government and parliament.
Stefan Ioanita, director of the culture ministry's department for relations with
religious groups, told Keston by telephone from Bucharest on 27 February
that the much-criticised draft withdrawn last year is `no longer valid', but
admitted that this year's draft contains `almost the same text'. He claims such
provisions as fines on those organising religious activity without state
permission no longer figure in the new draft.
He reported that the draft has been sent only to the fourteen religious
communities recognised in law as `religious cults', but added: `All religious
communities have access to the text. We photocopied it and gave it out. All
those who asked for it have received it, not just the fourteen recognised
communities.' Asked by Keston whether only those comments submitted by
the recognised communities will be considered, he declared: `No. We will
consider all responses. We don't make distinctions between religious
Father Mihai Lungu, secretary of the foreign church relations department of
the Orthodox Patriarchate, declared that his church is broadly supportive.
`We have a very favourable opinion of this draft,' he told Keston by
telephone from Bucharest on 27 February. `There are just a few suggested
changes we have, but they are not in the essentials.' He said Romania needed
a new religion law as the old law dated back to 1948. `It will be of great
benefit to the whole Romanian people.' He spoke of `good cooperation'
between the recognised religious communities and the State Secretariat for
Religious Cults (which was subsumed last December into the Ministry of
Culture and Religious Cults under the new government).
Bunaciu told Keston the decision to reintroduce an almost identical bill to
that rejected last year was `unexpected', adding: `Surprisingly this proposal
is nothing but the old proposal, which was much criticised by almost all
religious denominations in Romania except the Orthodox Church.' He
declares that `most' of the country's faiths believe that if adopted in the
present form, the law `would bring serious prejudice to religious freedom'.
Adrian Bocaneanu, president of the Adventist Church, also expressed his
concern about the new text. He told Keston on 25 February that the old and
the new versions `seem to be identical'.
Bunaciu pointed to several provisions of the draft he found unacceptable,
including the requirement for religious groups to have permission from the
state secretary for religion to be able to operate; the privileged status given to
the Orthodox Church as a National Church; discrimination between a
number of officially recognised denominations and other religious groups
`who would have at best a tolerated status'; the threshold of 0.5% of
Romania's population for group's to gain the status of a recognised cult,
which he argues `will become a way to discriminate against minority
religious groups'; and the undefined nature in the draft of the term
`aggressive proselytism'. He also expressed concern that groups that
succeeded in getting legal backing could lose it if another body successfully
complained that its own `legitimate rights and interests' had been violated.
Father Lungu told Keston the Orthodox Church had objected in particular to
the 0.5% threshold to acquire recognised status, believing that no numerical
threshold was required.
However, Ioanita brushed aside such concerns. `We are very open to
proposals and invite everyone to dialogue. This will be a democratic
process.' He was unable to give Keston a timetable of how the bill is likely to
proceed. However, Gabriel Andreescu, chair of the Centre for Human Rights
within the Romanian Helsinki Committee, reported he had learnt from
Lavrentiu Tanase, state secretary at the ministry in charge of relations with
religious communities, that it intends to have a final text in March, to have a
decision from the government in April and for the bill to be sent to
parliament in May. `By June they hope to have a new law,' Andreescu told
Keston on 27 February from Bucharest.
Andreescu shared the concerns of some minority faiths about the current
draft. `A law on religion is a fundamental law for freedom of religion and
democracy,' he declared. `That is why I prepared an alternative, liberal draft
bill which I handed out in January.' He is concerned the government is trying
to rush through the current restrictive version to prevent minority
communities having time to lobby against it. (END)