KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 8 February 2002.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

KYRGYZSTAN: NEW DECREE SET TO TIGHTEN RELIGIOUS
CONTROLS. As preparations continue for a new religion law which
could be approved as early as May, the Kyrgyz government has issued a
decree tightening controls on publishing which seems set to increase
control over religious organisations. The senior Muslim cleric in Jalal-
abad region in southern Kyrgyzstan told Keston News Service he feared
the "audit" of religious organisations heralded by the decree would impact
not only on "religious extremists", the professed target of the decree, but
on ordinary believers as well. A human rights activist from Jalal-abad
agreed. "I have no doubt that in time we will feel the impact of this
decree, and that the controls over believers will tighten," he told Keston.

KYRGYZSTAN: NEW DECREE SET TO TIGHTEN RELIGIOUS
CONTROLS

by Igor Rotar, Keston News Service

As preparations continue for a new religion law which, a parliamentary
aide told Keston News Service, could be approved by parliament as early
as May, the Kyrgyz government has issued a decree tightening controls
on publishing which seems set to increase control over religious
organisations. The senior Muslim cleric in Jalal-abad region in southern
Kyrgyzstan told Keston he feared the "audit" of religious organisations
heralded by the decree would impact not only on "religious extremists",
the professed target of the decree, but on ordinary believers as well.

The decree, "On several issues relating to publishing activity in the
Kyrgyz Republic", was issued by the government on 14 January. The
preamble to the decree states that its goal is to "put a stop to the
subversive, ideological and propaganda work of various extremist
religious centres and the activisation of their informational influence." In
particular, the decree contains instructions to "carry out an inventory and
make a register of typesetting, printing, duplicating and production
equipment. The method of registration for the above-mentioned
equipment is to be worked out and established in a prescribed manner. It
is the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice to register the affiliates of
private businesses that carry out publishing and printing activity on the
territory of the Kyrgyz republic."

There are clauses in the decree that affect religious associations directly.
"The state commission for religious affairs, under the auspices of the
government of the Kyrgyz Republic, together with the Ministry of Justice
of the Kyrgyz Republic, will carry out an audit of officially-registered
religious movements and confessions and, together with the state
administration agencies and local government agencies, will regulate the
number of spiritual establishments constructed on the territory of the
republic, and will undertake propaganda and explanatory work, through
the media, about the unlawful activities of various types of religious
movements."

The chairman of the government's commission for religious affairs,
Omurzak Mamayusupov, told Keston by telephone on 6 February that
this decree was not intended to tighten controls over believers. "We
simply want to understand better the religious situation in the country."
He cited the fact that of the estimated 2,000 mosques functioning in the
country, only 931 are registered. "There is nothing prejudicial in the fact
that we want to understand what religious organisations are operating in
Kyrgyzstan today and to establish how many there are," Mamayusupov
insisted.

A consultant at the parliamentary sub-committee for religious affairs,
Sanobar Ahizbayeva, proved more frank. "This decree is primarily aimed
against religious extremists," she told Keston by telephone on 6 February.
"It is not the only step we have taken in this direction. We have also
prepared a new draft law on religion which, we hope, will be approved by
parliament as early as May of this year." Ahizbayeva reported that the
new draft law, unlike the current law, provides for the mandatory
registration of religious associations and increases controls over the
activity of preachers. According to the draft law, preaching would be
allowed only in religious establishments, and visiting foreign missionaries
would have to go through a registration process.

Because most of what the government calls "religious extremists" are
active in southern Kyrgyzstan, Keston decided to find out how
representatives of religious and human rights organisations in that region
felt about the new decree. "I believe this decree will have a minimal
effect," Sheikh Sadikjan Kamaluddin, chairman of the Islamic Centre in
the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh told Keston by telephone. "After all,
those who distribute leaflets calling for a caliphate to be established in
Central Asia exist underground, and consequently this decree will not
affect their existence."

"There is no question that there are indeed religious extremists in
southern Kyrgyzstan. But to set a whole forest ablaze, you need only set
fire to a single tree," mufti Dilmurat haji Orozov, head of the Spiritual
Administration of Muslims of Jalal-abad region, told Keston by telephone
on 6 February. "It seems to me that not only extremists but also ordinary
believers will suffer from the repressive actions of the authorities. In my
opinion it is unacceptable for a democratic government to undertake an
'audit of officially-registered religious movements and confessions'."
Mufti Orozov told Keston that he had just returned from the United
States, where he had been shown a report from the US State Department
complaining that, among the Central Asian states, believers' rights are
being restricted in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. "Unfortunately, I fear
that if our government continues with the same religious policy, then our
country will also be included in the next State Department report," he
declared.

However, Valeri Uleyev, head of the Jalal-abad human rights
organisation Justice, said that so far he had not detected any changes in
the authorities' religious policy since the decree was issued. "It seems to
me that our local authorities have simply not yet managed to get going on
it," he told Keston by telephone on 6 February. "But I have no doubt that
in time we will feel the impact of this decree, and that the controls over
believers will tighten." (END)

Copyright (c) 2002 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.