Nazarbayev signs laws for the control of religious groups
Severe penalties for offenders of registration requirement. At least 5 thousand members necessary to comply with the national registration. The existence of dozens between religious groups and churches at risk.
Astana (AsiaNews / Agencies) – Kazakhstan has approved legislation that provides for the restriction of religious freedom. On 13 October, President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed into law two amendments that will come into force from October 24. The Organization for European Security and Cooperation (OECD) has criticized the decision of the Kazakh government, which imposes severe penalties for churches and groups that are not registered or approved by the State. Minorities who do not have the necessary requirements are likely to disappear. Among them many Protestant Christian churches, but also various Muslim groups.

The government passed new laws in just two months without hearing the views of representatives of minorities. Only the Sunni Muslim community and the Russian Orthodox Church had the opportunity to discuss the changes.

Felix Corley, editor of Forum 18 News Service, which covers religious freedom for all, said: "These new rules are part of a strategy to increase state control over the entire society."

To date, the Kazakh Constitution declares that the country is open to all religions in a position of equality. But from 1991 on all the amendments have been restrictive of the rights of groups and individuals in the name of "national security" and "Islamic terrorism". But in reality, the new rules affect the freedom of Protestants and Catholics.

The new restrictions have retroactive effect and will force religious groups that have already registered to undergo the approval process again. To gain government approval they must have at least 50 members locally, 500 for regionally and 5 thousand at a national level. Many do not really have the numbers to fit within the requirements imposed by the government and it will be impossible for them to continue their activities without breaking the law.

Religions considered suitable are free to worship, but their material, such as books and texts of sermons, will be subjected to censorship. To build or open new places of worship approval of the central and local government will be required. The laws also prohibit any form of religious expression in public places and forbid Muslim women to wear headscarves.