KAZAKHSTAN: Laws enforced although not yet in force
By Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service
Kazakhstan is enforcing laws before they have come into force, Forum 18 News Service has found. In Atyrau, police and KNB secret police officers raided a meeting for worship of an officially registered Protestant church, New Life, claiming that under the new Religion Law the church cannot meet outside its legal address. The church had been forced to meet away from its legal address because of pressure from the the KNB. During the raid, a 17-year old woman was hit by a policeman, leaving her unconscious. No action seems to be being taken against the policeman responsible for the attack, even though church members state that a Public Prosecutor’s Office official was a witness. In the commercial capital Almaty, Jehovah’s Witnesses sharing their beliefs were briefly detained by police, who stated that they were doing this as the new Religion Law bans missionary activity on the street. When other Jehovah’s Witneses pointed out that the Law was not yet in force, their colleagues were released. Hare Krishna devotees, Ahmadi Muslims and Catholics have all expressed concern to Forum 18 about the new laws and their impact, but do not wish to comment publicly.
Kazakhstan is enforcing laws before they have come into force, Forum 18 News Service has found. In the south-western city of Atyrau, officials including police and National Security Committee (KNB) secret police officers raided a worship meeting of an officially registered Protestant church, claiming that under the new Religion Law the church cannot meet outside its legal address. During the raid, a 17-year old woman was hit by a police officer, leaving her unconscious. In the commercial capital Almaty, Jehovah’s Witnesses sharing their beliefs were briefly detained by police, who stated that they were doing this as the new Religion Law bans missionary activity on the street. However, the new Religion Law does not come into force until 26 October.
The new Religion Law, which breaks the country’s human rights commitments, imposes a complex tiered registration system, bans unregistered religious activity, imposes compulsory religious censorship and requires both central and local government approval to build or open new places of worship. All religious communities will be required to re-register or face liquidation through the courts (see F18News 23 September 2011 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1617).
The second law restricting freedom of religion or belief amends nine other laws and legal provisions. It also enters into force on 26 October. Most of the changes are minor, but changes to Article 375 of the Code of Administrative Offences and to the Law on the Rights of the Child could have a more far-reaching impact (see F18News 23 September 2011 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1617).
Both the new Laws were signed on 11 October by President Nursultan Nazarbaev, though this was not publicly announced until 13 October (see F18News 13 October 2011 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1624). Both laws were officially published on 15 October in the Kazakh-language paper Egemen Kazakhstan and the Russian-language paper Kazakhstanskaya Pravda. They both come into force on 26 October, ten days after their official publication.
Before parliament had even passed the laws, state officials were based on them threatening registered independent mosques that they will not be re-registered under the new Religion Law – and so will be banned – if they do not join the state-favoured Muslim Board (see F18News 16 September 2011 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1613).
In early September, the government’s Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) wrote to the Muslim Board warning it not to invite a Moscow-based imam Shamil Alyautdinov or other foreign Muslim preachers. He was forced to cancel his proposed speaking tour of Kazakhstan at short notice. The ARA’s head Kairat Lama Sharif appears to have now overturned the ban on Alyautdinov’s visit after widespread protests (see forthcoming F18News article).
Hare Krishna devotees, Ahmadi Muslims and Catholics all expressed concern to Forum 18 on 18 October that they will face difficulties and possible punishments by the authorities for carrying out their normal religious activity. All those Forum 18 spoke to did not wish to make any public comments on the new laws and their impact.
“There is a new law..”
Jehovah’s Witnesses were stopped by police in Almaty on 18 October while they were sharing their beliefs with others on the street, and taken to be detained at Auezov District Police Station. The police said that this was because “there is a new law banning missionary activity on the street”, the Jehovah’s Witnesses told Forum 18 on 18 October. But, “when we took our registration documents to the police station and explained that the law has not entered into force, the police released our believers without opening a case”.
Duman Aukhadiyev, Deputy Chief of Auezov Police, told Forum 18 on 19 October that “we need to see what kind of literature people are passing out on the streets”. Asked why police are enforcing a law which is not in force, he said: “I cannot comment on that over the phone”.