(AsiaNews/F18) - Kazakhstan's new Religion Law bans 579 religious groups,
including Protestant Churches and Muslim sects, if they have less than 50
registered members. According to the government's top religious affairs
official, Kairat Lama Sharif, the law adopted on 21 October 2011 has cut the
number of registered religious organisations by 13 per cent. Many Protestants,
including Seventh-Day Adventists, will be forced to hold services in private
homes under close government watch.
authorities wrote to the affected communities telling them to follow the new
rules or disband. They have a year to meet the new requirement for
registration. However, no group with less than 50 members will be able to
conduct public services even if they were legal under the old rules.
Melnik, pastor of the Grace Church in Shakhan, Shakhtinsk district (Karaganda),
said he was summoned by the police to inform him of the new law. "Now our
believers are afraid each time they gather for worship," Alkeyeva of the Grace
have protested against the law for violating religious freedom. Yet, despite
appeals and demands for consultations by minorities, the government has
remained inflexible, justifying the new law as a tool to defend the country against
religious terrorism. Henceforth, anyone who refuses to register or celebrates
services publicly outside the law will be punished.
The first victim
of the new rules was Aleksei Asetov, head of a Baptist congregation in Ekibastuz
that is affiliated with the unregistered Council of Churches. He was fined more
than US$ 3,000, the equivalent of 18 months of the average salary, for not
registering his community. A shoemaker by trade, the clergyman is the father of
10 children and could go to jail and see his property seized.
Nursultan Nazarbayev strongly backed the law adopted on 21 October, ostensibly
to counter Islamic extremism, but so sweeping that it affects all religious
groups.However, one of the law's
goals is to nationalise traditional or large religions along Chinese lines.
from abroad must have at least 5,000 nation-wide members to avoid sanctions and
survive. At the same time, the law bans the
display of religion in public places and prohibits women from wearing the vel.
Kazakhstan's Russian Orthodox Church and Islamic community, the country's
mainstream religions, are not subject to the restrictions.
recent discovery of extremist groups operating on Kazakh territory as well as attacks
on 31 October in Atyrau in the west of the country have pushed the government to
tighten its control over them as well.