«KAZAKHSTAN: Religious freedom survey, March 2014 By Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service, and John Kinahan, Forum 18 News Service Before the 2014 UN ...»
FORUM 18 NEWS SERVICE, Oslo, Norway
The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one's belief or religion
The right to join together and express one's belief
20 March 2014
KAZAKHSTAN: Religious freedom survey, March 2014
By Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service, and
John Kinahan, Forum 18 News Service
Before the 2014 UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Kazakhstan, and the 26 March - 6 April visit of UN Special Rapporteur on
Freedom of Religion or Belief Professor Heiner Bielefeldt, Forum 18 News Service's religious freedom survey notes continuing violations of freedom of religion or belief and related human rights. Violations include: making the exercise of human rights conditional upon state permission; systematically increasing the range of possible "offences" people can be punished for if they exercise freedom of religion or belief and related human rights; officials routinely violating the rule of law with impunity; closing down independent mosques, and continuing to seek to close other smaller religious communities; censorship of religious literature and objects, including severe limitations on the numbers of premises where such literature and objects can be distributed; the misuse of psychiatry against people the authorities dislike; and exit bans and jailings imposed on those refusing to pay fines for exercising freedom of religion or belief without state permission.
Before the October-November 2014 UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Kazakhstan, and the 26 March
- 6 April visit of UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Professor Heiner Bielefeldt, Forum 18 News Service's religious freedom survey notes continuing violations of freedom of religion or belief. Also violated are intrinsically linked rights such as the freedoms of expression, assembly, and speech. This survey concentrates on the most important freedom of religion and belief violations Forum 18 has documented from the latest Religion Law coming into force in October 2011 until March 2014.
Serious violations Forum 18 has documented include: making the exercise of human rights conditional upon state permission;
systematically increasing the range of possible "offences" people can be punished for if they exercise freedom of religion or belief and related human rights; officials routinely violating the rule of law with impunity; closing down independent mosques, and continuing to seek to close other smaller religious communities; censorship of religious literature and objects, including severe limitations on the numbers of premises where such literature and objects can be distributed; the misuse of psychiatry against people the authorities dislike; exit bans and jailings imposed on those refusing to pay fines for exercising freedom of religion or belief without state permission; and co-operation with other states which seriously violate human rights.
Kazakhstan's basic approach is to make the exercise of human rights conditional upon state permission, as a means of state control of society, flagrantly breaking its binding international human rights obligations. In the area of freedom of religion and belief this is seen in, among other things, imposing compulsory registration of religious or belief groups and the banning of all unregistered religious activity.
Fear within Kazakhstan of expressing views the government dislikes has increased in recent years. Forum 18 was told in early 2014 that fear of the consequences of criticising the government has caused some religious communities to decide not to participate in the UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review, and to decide not to meet the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief on his visit.
Kazakhstan is geographically the largest country in Central Asia, and has the second largest population with nearly 18 million people. Roughly half the population are ethnic Kazakhs (regarded as being of Muslim background) and the rest are made up of ethnic Uzbeks (likewise of Muslim background), Slavs (mainly Russians and Ukrainians, many of Russian Orthodox or other Christian background) and smaller minorities of Koreans, Germans and Poles. Kazakhstan's economy has been the strongest in the region, buoyed by its oil and gas reserves, attracting migrants from its poorer neighbours.
Nursultan Nazarbaev has ruled Kazakhstan since 1989 when it was part of the Soviet Union. Elections have been repeatedly criticised as neither free nor fair by Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) election observers. In the last 2011 presidential election, Nazarbaev claimed to have gained over 95 per cent of votes. His Nur Otan political party has long provided the overwhelming majority of deputies in the Majilis (lower chamber) of Parliament.
Kazakhstan is a member of the Council of Europe's Commission for Democracy through Law, or Venice Commission. But this has Copyright Forum18 News Service 2014 Page 1/13 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1939 not led to implementation of the country's human rights obligations. Indeed, it applied for full membership of the Venice Commission the same day (11 October 2011) President Nazarbaev signed two laws violating international human rights commitments. These were a new Religion Law and an Amending Law amending nine other laws and legal provisions (see below).
As human rights defender Nazgul Yergalieva of the Legal Policy Research Centre observed to Forum 18 at that time, "strict regulation and limitation of fundamental rights, such as freedom of religion, by governments has already proved to be a dangerous path, leading to social tension and resentment".
The government attempts to publicise its alleged "religious tolerance", for example in "Congresses of leaders of world and traditional religions". Revealingly, an employee of the state Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) (which plays a key role in running Congresses) described the May 2012 meeting to Forum 18 as being "for foreigners".
One participant in a Congress planning process described these - in a confidential conversation - as prepared "in Soviet style top-down fashion". A secular guest from a well-known international organisation, invited by the Kazakh government, described - in a confidential conversation - their surprise that President Nazarbaev attended most of the Congress, and what they described as their "horrified amazement" when they witnessed religious leaders present - including prominent foreign religious leaders - ignoring fundamental human rights violations within Kazakhstan, as well as the indissoluble links between tolerance and human rights.
The rule of law?
Article 4 of Kazakhstan's Constitution states: "International treaties ratified by the Republic shall have priority over its laws and be directly implemented except in cases when the application of an international treaty shall require the promulgation of a law." Article 2, Part 2 of the Religion Law states that in cases where an international agreement signed by Kazakhstan exists, this overrides other provisions of the Religion Law. If this and the Constitution's Article 4 were implemented, most of the Religion Law and other laws would be abolished, including demands for compulsory prior state permission to exercise human rights.
Those subjected to violations of their internationally recognised human rights frequently complain that trials are conducted unfairly, law seemingly being used to provide officials with excuses to engage in oppression. Officials do not appear to see law as imposing restraints on their actions. Indeed, the interlocking nature of violations of freedom of religion or belief and inseparably linked human rights appear designed to impose total state control on all of society.
Even if officials admit they acted unlawfully - as Adil Togayev, Director of Almaty Regional Land Inspectorate did in May 2012 in relation to a fine imposed on the wife of the pastor of a forcibly closed Methodist Church - there is no guarantee of redress. Officials have refused to admit that similar fines and bans - for example bans on Ahmadi Muslims meeting - are also illegal. No official Forum 18 has spoken to has been prepared to discuss what disciplinary or other action will be taken against officials who break domestic laws or international human rights law.
Officials routinely deny human rights violations. President Nazarbaev claimed on 17 April 2013 to visiting Finnish President Sauli Niinistö that "Kazakhstan is an example to the world of equal rights and freedoms for all citizens" and that "religious freedom is fully secured".
Steadily increasing restrictions and violations
The authorities have long been increasing their "legal" instruments of repression. On 5 September 2011 a new Religion Law, and an Amending Law changing nine other laws and legal provisions including the Administrative Code were introduced into the parliament. Both were adopted very quickly, despite strong criticism from national and international human rights defenders, being signed into law by President Nazarbaev on 11 October 2011.
These laws were foreshadowed by raids on and punishments for meeting for worship without state permission by the police and National Security Committee (KNB) secret police. Prominent in these measures were state-funded so-called anti-sect centres, and attacks by officials on so-called "non-traditional" beliefs, which members of many religious communities state encouraged public hostility through statements in the state-controlled national and local media. Communities targeted included Hare Krishna devotees, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Protestants, described as "destructive religious movements". Also Ahmadi Muslims in the southern city of Shymkent had their community closed by the authorities. One Ahmadi suggested to Forum 18 that the "anti-sect" campaign was intended to prepare the ground for the two restrictive laws.
Officials of the ARA, the Muslim Board, and regional authorities also in August 2011 - during Ramadan - re-started earlier demands that independent legally registered mosques join the government-supported Muslim Board, although the National Security Law banned state interference in religious communities. One imam faced telephone demands "almost every day several times" that his mosque give up its independence. Another Imam was threatened that independent mosques will not be re-registered after - not if - a new Religion Law was adopted. Karaganda regional ARA Director Serik Tlekbayev claimed to Forum 18 that "they are not real Copyright Forum18 News Service 2014 Page 2/13 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1939 Imams".
Many in Kazakhstan were fearful of expressing their opposition to the laws in public, Forum 18 notes. Fear of expressing views critical of the state has increased since 2011. We are "very much followed by the KNB secret police" a member of one religious community - who wished to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals - commented on this in early 2014.
The authorities often associate the victims of freedom of religion or belief violations with words with negative overtones. Officials defended the 2011 laws restricting freedom of religion or belief as being needed as counter-terrorism measures.
In another example, January 2013 raids on Baptists refusing to seek state permission to exercise freedom of religion or belief were led or instigated by police Departments for the Struggle against Extremism, Separatism and Terrorism. North Kazakhstan Regional Police described the raids as "operational/prophylactic activity to counter manifestations of religious extremism and terrorism".
Media attacks on allegedly "non-traditional" beliefs and the use of state-funded "anti-sect" centres in attacks on people exercising freedom of religion or belief continue. This undermines social acceptance of Kazakhstan's diversity of ethnic groups and beliefs.
More repressive laws to come?
The "legal" mechanisms used to justify official violations of freedom of religion or belief may be added to. A new Criminal Implementation Code (which includes a draft provision banning prisoners from having any religious literature of their own), a new Criminal Code, a new Code of Administrative Offences and a new Criminal Procedure Code are all in preparation. They are currently planned to be adopted in 2014 and take effect from January 2015.
Current main "legal" justifications for repression The current March 2014 main "legal" justifications of state violations of freedom of religion or belief are the Religion Law and the Administrative Code. Their main relevant provisions are outlined below.
The Religion Law Compulsory re-registration All religious communities were required under Article 24 to apply for re-registration - state permission to exercise freedom of religion or belief - by 24 October 2012. Failure to be re-registered led to many communities being forcibly closed (see below).
Complex registration system Article 12 identifies four kinds of registration: national, regional, local and unregistered. All activity by those categorised as unregistered is banned. Local and regional organisations are only allowed to conduct activity in the geographic area they are registered in.
The three categories of registered religious organisations are allowed to teach their faith to their own members. However, only regional and national registered religious organisations are allowed, under Article 13, Part 3, to train clergy in institutions established - with state permission - by religious organisations. Under Article 13, Part 3, they are allowed to establish "professional educational programmes to prepare priests". It remains unclear whether religious education not involving training of "priests" will be allowed.
Geographic area and training of clergy appear to be the main differences between the three permitted types of religious organisations. Regional and national organisations must register with the Justice Ministry in the capital Astana. The system may have been designed to ensure that only the Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox Church are able to gain top-level, national registration.
- Unregistered activity banned Article 3, Part 11 bans all unregistered exercise of freedom of religion or belief. Communities which are unable to register, or which