10/27/2014, 00.00
KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyz government to require religions to register or fold

The authorities propose changes to the existing Religion Law. If adopted, changes will further empower the State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA). For human rights activists, the amended legislation would "subordinate religion to the state".

Bishkek (AsiaNews/F18) - Kyrgyzstan has decided to tighten its Religion Law. The Kyrgyz government has proposed a number of changes to the country's law regulating religious worship, granting the State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) more powers, this according to Forum 18, a Norwegian human rights group.

Under the new rules, freedom of religion would be subordinate to government fiat. In particular, three changes have alarmed human rights activists and religious leaders: the required number of founding members for registered religious organisations (the only ones authorised) would go from 200 to 500, thus forcing existing registered organisations to re-register; anyone working for a religious organisation would have to be licensed every year by the SCRA; the same would apply to every institution offering religious education.

The amendments to the Religion Law and to the Administrative Code were announced on 9 October during a panel discussion organised by the SCRA and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). However, Forum 18 published a report about the meeting only a few days ago.

Local human rights activists as well as representatives of the country's Russian Orthodox and Protestant Churches took part in the meeting. A participant, anonymous for security reasons, said that the SCRA was reluctant to include religious organisations in the roundtable until approached by the UNDP.

The "authorities only want to bring more coordination and regulation to religious freedom," Damira Niyazaliyeva, chairwoman of the Social Policy Committee of the country's Supreme Council (parliament), told Forum 18.

"The state needs to know who these religious organisations are and what exactly they are doing, because we do not know how they are directing our children and youth," Niyazaliyeva explained.

Asked whether it is not the responsibility of parents to take care of their children, and why the state wants to interfere in the personal decisions of its citizens, she declined to answer.

Kyrgyzstan has a population of about 5.4 million people. Sunni Islam is the official religion (70 per cent of the population). Just over 5 per cent are Orthodox Christians. The remaining 25 per cent is divided between atheists and members of other religious denominations.

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