11/12/2011, 00.00
KAZAKHSTAN
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Churches and mosques in Kazakh prisons closed. Solitary confinement for praying in cells

The places of worship in violation of new laws on religious freedom. Prohibiting prayer in public places. The prison service is run by the Muslim community and the Russian Orthodox Church.
Astana (AsiaNews / F18) - The Kazakh government has closed mosques, churches and places of worship in prisons. The authorities justify the gesture with the application of the new law which prohibits any form of religious activity in public buildings. Alika Kadenova, Interior Minister, said that churches and other buildings had been built illegally. However Fr. Alekseandr Suvorov of Orthodox Diocese of Astana and Almaty, points out that no official has been arrested. These days the police have sent a few Muslim prisoners into solitary confinement for praying in their cells.

Omirbek Ongar, spokesman for the Muslim community, said that prisons are areas under strict police control, so there is no reason to fear any terrorist attacks or the spread of Islamic extremism. In recent months the prisoners have sent several appeals to the government to have a place to pray. "We wrote letters and contacted the authorities to denounce this attitude - the Muslim leader says - but no one listened. The prisoners were left without churches and mosques. "

A total of 163 places of worship in prisons are to be closed. Of these about 100 belong to the Muslim community, the other to the Kazakh Orthodox Church. They are the only two faiths to have places of encounter and prayer in public prisons.

Launched last October 13 and wanted by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the laws were created to combat Islamic extremism. But they affect all religious groups and aim to nationalize the country's faiths considered traditional or with a large following, following the pattern of control used by the Chinese government. To survive and avoid sanctions at a national level, each religious group must demonstrate that they have at least 5 thousand members. The laws prohibit any form of religious expression in public places and forbid Muslim women to wear headscarves. In principle only the Russian Orthodox Church and Islamic community Kazakhstan, considered part of the tradition, were excluded from these restrictions, but the recent discovery in the territory of extremist groups has prompted the government tighten its grip on them also.

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