09/23/2011, 00.00
KAZAKHSTAN
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Religious freedom laws breeze through Kazakh lower house

The new legislation imposes compulsory registration for all religious communities, censorship on documents deemed dangerous for the state and limits on religious building construction. Changes were proposed on 5 September. The Kazakh Senate is set to vote in two weeks time.
Astana (AsiaNews/ F18) – In record time, the lower house (Majlis) of the Kazakh parliament passed on Wednesday two bills that restrict religious activities in the country. The proposals were tabled on 5 September and approved two days ago by 98 votes out 107 without any major changes and this despite criticism from religious groups. In the coming days, the bills will go to the Cultural Development Committee of the Senate. A final vote is expected in a fortnight, parliamentary sources said. The news laws should come into effect next year.

The draft bills passed by the lower house include compulsory registration for all religious groups. Unregistered groups or communities without proper papers will be deemed illegal. Eligible religions can be practiced but their materials, including books and sermons, must undergo pre-emptive censorship. Building new places of worship will require the approval of the central and local governments. The new legislation also bans all forms of religious expression in public spaces and forbid Muslim women from wearing the veil.

In preparing the new laws, the Majilis only heard the opinions of representatives of the Muslim and Christian Orthodox communities, which are viewed as traditional religions in Kazakhstan, and kept Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other Muslim groups out of the policy process, the Forum 18 News Services reported.

The Kazakh lower house also did not consult the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which had already criticised the 2009 law, which was later declared unconstitutional.

Under Kazakhstan’s current constitution all religions are considered equal, but since 1991, various amendments have restricted the rights of groups and individuals in the name of “national security” or against “Islamic antiterrorism”. It is unclear however, how the country’s tiny Catholic and Protestant communities can raise such concerns. De facto, all “unauthorised” religious activities are banned, including prayer meetings.
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