Astana (AsiaNews/F18) - There is great fear among the faithful and human rights activists in Kazakhstan that the new law on religious freedom and the reform of the code of administrative offenses will restrict their rights, while the authorities are refusing to release its text. The norm was approved on September 24 by the lower chamber (the Majilis) of the Kazakh parliament, and in days it will be under examination at the senate, finally to be signed by the president.
Kamal Burkhanov, who heads the working group of the Majilis that drafted the text, tells the news agency Forum 18 that the document was passed with 80 votes in favor, and only one against. But he refused to provide a copy or to reveal any details, saying only that "those who violate the law will be punished". The parliament is dominated by the Nur Otan party of president Nursultan Nazarbaev, which holds all of the seats in the Majilis. The only lawmaker who voted against it, Aygul Solovyova, also refused to explain his reasons and what he thinks is wrong with it, limiting himself to saying that "the entire text must be changed".
According to the September 26 edition of the newspaper Respublika, Maulem Ashimbaev, vice president of the presidential administration for domestic politics, says that with the new law, all religious groups will have to again ask for authorization in order to operate, something that could permit the authorities to deny this for many of them and ban them. Local officials of the religious affairs committee must, he says, "bring everything under their personal control".
Human rights groups say that the law further erodes religious freedom, so the parliament wants to approve it without scrutiny, presenting it to all as a fait accompli.
Ninel Fokina, head of the Helsinki Committee in Almaty, observes that the law, as well as can be known, provides greater restrictions for religious groups in comparison with other associations, and grants greater rights to certain faiths. In order to obtain registration, "the opinion of an expert on religion" is needed on the religion's founding documents, literature, and practices. Communities are also prohibited from printing or importing religious texts without the authorization of the state, something that she maintains is "genuine censorship". For this reason, she maintains that the law is "contrary to every principle of religious freedom affirmed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)".
These concerns are shared by Aleksandr Klyushev, head of the association for religious organizations in Kazakhstan, who maintains that the law is "unconstitutional".
It also seems that there will be increases in penalties for unauthorized religious sect entities, and that every community will have to have at least "50 adult citizens" as members in order to be registered.
Lutheran bishop Yuri Novgorodov calls it "a law for unfreedom of conscience".
In Kazakhstan, repression against religious minorities is underway, partly through state media and the imposition of a "state program of patriotic education", approved by President Nazarbaev. Religious groups - apart from Muslims and Orthodox Christians - are increasingly controlled in all of their activities, minutely scrutinized, and even deprived of the buildings where they meet.
In order to quiet the criticisms, Kazakhstan asked the office of the OSCE for democratic institutions and human rights to examine the proposed law, last June. But Forum 18 says that the parliament completely ignored the observations of the OSCE.
President Nazarbaev wants to be president of the OSCE in the near future.