Legislation Would Limit "Nontraditional" Religious Groups in Kazakhstan

Draft Presented in Parliament

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ROME, DEC. 23, 2001 (Zenit.org).- A draft law to limit the expansion of «nontraditional» religious groups was presented in Kazakhstan´s Parliament in November, without previous public consultation, Keston news service reported.

AROK, the principal association of Protestant religious organizations in Kazakhstan, told Keston that «on Nov. 28 we ran into the government´s last attempt to force Parliament to adopt a law that might invade the religious rights and liberties of our country.»

Kazakhstan´s religious law was adopted Jan. 15, 1992, but there have been repeated attempts in recent years to amend it. Since the end of 1998, the government has written five new drafts of the law; the last was presented to Parliament in March.

This draft had many discriminatory clauses on faith and age, and restricted religious liberty illegally. For example, it proposed that both the registration of Muslim religious associations as well as the construction or opening of mosques should only be at the initiative of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan.

The draft also increased the number of people required to form a religious association from 10, as in the present law, to 50. It proposed stricter measures for inscription in the register, including more paperwork and an examination by an expert in religion.

The report, «Threats to Religious Liberties in Kazakhstan: Legislation and Practice,» published by the Helsinki Commission of Almaty in July, indicated two «innovations» in the draft law that were described as «offensive»: the requirement of a license for religious educational activity and the prohibition of missionary activity that was not subjected to a process of compulsory registration, whose nature was not defined by the law.

Yet the draft law included a criminal sentence for missionary activity carried out without registration (after having infringed the rules on registration), extending it to more than a year of imprisonment.

Although the draft law was withdrawn in August, following the intervention of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Kazakh public associations, the current draft law is virtually a carbon copy of its precursor.

The new draft does not consider charitable work as missionary activity; hence, it does not need to be registered. Nor does it propose a criminal sentence for unregistered missionary activity. However, all other clauses that restrict the rights of believers have been kept in the new draft law.

«We are disagreeably surprised that the draft law was presented to Parliament without an initial public consultation,» said Birgit Kainz, a human-rights specialist of the OSCE office in Almaty.

«In our opinion, there is no need to formulate a new draft law,» Kainz said. «The existing law on freedom of conscience and religious associations responds to international legal standards, and we have no problems with it.»

Lawyer Roman Podoprigora, who works in Almaty and specializes in religious topics, had a different opinion.

«The existing law on freedom of conscience and religious associations was plagiarized from the Soviet law,» he explained. «Over the past 10 years, life has changed substantially, and the law naturally needs some touching up. However, whether the changes proposed in the present draft law are precisely the changes required is another question.»

John Paul II visited the central Asian republic in September.

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