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Kazakhstan: Oficially Inspried Intolerance of Religion Steps Up


By Felix Corley

4/4/2007 Kazakhstan. Forum 18 News. Religious minorities have expressed their frustration over their failure to persuade state officials to halt official intolerance towards them in state documents, in officials’ public comments and in state-inspired hostile media coverage. Their concerns are shared by the Human Rights Ombudsperson, Bolat Baikadamov, including concern over the “State Programme of Patriotic Education of Citizens of Kazakhstan for 2006-8.” This was approved by a presidential decree of President Nursultan Nazarbayev on 10 October 2006, and attacks so-called “non-traditional” and “extremist” religious minorities.

“These examples of an oppressive attitude are not permissible,” Ombudsperson Baikadamov said from the capital Astana on 12 March. “They show a lack of knowledge of international standards over the way officials should treat religious communities.” In particular, Baikadamov insisted that a booklet issued in 2006 by the Justice Ministry, “How not to fall under the influence of religious sects”, attacking Baptists, Ahmadi Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses, should not be distributed.

“Of course we are shocked over these two documents,” human rights activist Yevgeny Zhovtis, of the of the Kazakhstan International Bureau of Human Rights and the Rule of Law, told Forum 18 from the country’s commercial capital Almaty on 21 March. “But on the other hand it seems that such a policy of state intolerance does exist. These documents simply prove this.”

In spite of the fact that the Constitution and the Religion Law contain articles about the equality of all religions, he says, “such documents provide the moral, or more accurately immoral, basis for officials to justify their negative attitudes towards non-traditional religions”. He believes that overall attitudes towards religious freedom for religious minorities are becoming more and more unfavorable.

Roman Podoprigora, a law professor at the Adilet Law School in Almaty, who studies the legal position of religious communities, is worried about the impact of the intolerant sentiments on the life of religious minority communities. “Of course such evaluations and opinions create many problems for religious organisations in many areas of activity,” he said from Almaty on 21 March. “Such intolerant statements can influence whether religious communities or missionaries can register or not, which way court decisions will go on religious issues such as over unregistered organisations or missionary activity, and legislative initiatives.”

Professor Podoprigora’s comments are borne out by Kazakh officials openly admitting that their country’s international human rights obligations “mean nothing to us” in crackdowns on unregistered religious communities.

Registration procedures are highly intrusive and are designed with control not legal status as their goal. Fines for unregistered religious activity – and most recently a prison sentence for a Baptist – have continued to escalate.

However, Amanbek Mukhashev, head of the government’s Religious Affairs Committee brushed aside any criticism. “Mentioning the Ahmadis – what’s wrong with that?” he asked from Astana on 19 March. “And the Protestants, they can’t complain. Don’t let your head worry about this. You don’t know the religious situation here.” He refused to continue any further discussion of these official documents and put the phone down.

Mukhashev has previously complained about Baptist leaders wanting to meet President Nzarbayev to discuss state harassment of their congregations.

The State Program of Patriotic Education, published in 2006 <http://www.government.kz/ru/doc/U060200_.htm>, contains a section on how to combat what it believes to be the growing interest in “non-traditional”

faiths. “Topical for the state at present without a doubt are questions of the organization of the struggle with the activation of the activity of non-traditional religious associations and extremist organizations in Kazakhstan directed above all at attracting the youth into their ranks,” the state program declares. It blames foreign propaganda for contributing to the spread of extremism in the past decade.

“I think this is the usual evaluation of so-called non-traditional religious organizations,” Podoprigora said. “This is a very popular opinion, not only from the government but also from different social groups. This is the level of tolerance in Kazakh society today.”

The booklet “How not to fall under the influence of religious sects,” issued in 2006 by the Justice Ministry, is claimed to provide “legal help” for Kazakh citizens. The booklet – authorized for publication on 17 May

2006 – was produced in Kazakh and Russian, though the language used in both texts differs in places. Copies are distributed through public legal advice centers.

“How not to fall under the influence of religious sects” laments that today, “very many young people” have joined “religious sects,” which it identifies as including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists and Ahmadi Muslims.

The booklet equates all of these with the Hizb-ut-Tahrir Islamist political movement. “Such youth can only be called illiterate on a theological level,” the booklet states, “not knowing the basics of fundamental knowledge and not very bright people. With such young people, work must be conducted to return them to consciousness, and such work must be conducted by imams in mosque, academic theologians in towns and aksakals [elders] in small villages.”

“Transferring to other religious faiths represents treason to one’s country and faith. Because religion is our spiritual life, our today and our tomorrow.” The booklet calls on the Justice Ministry, the Muslim Spiritual Board, the mass media, law enforcement agencies, local akimats (administrations), higher education institutions, schools and parents to take a series of measures “for prophylaxis of the influence of religious sects”. The Muslim Board is urged to teach Islam more effectively and send young people on courses of up to three weeks, while the mass media is urged to use well-educated theologians “on themes of spiritual humanization”.

Academic councils in higher educational establishments are urged to hold lectures to counter the “disturbed activity of religious sects”. Schools should hold lessons on morals and the bases of theology. Parents too are urged to bring up their children in a spirit of morality.

Once again, officials brushed aside complaints. Altbai Alibaev, head of the Committee for Legal Assistance in the Justice Ministry, which distributed the booklet, insisted that his office arranges the distribution of many booklets “only a few of which are on religious themes”. He said the content of this one had been approved by the Religious Affairs Committee. “I’m not responsible for the content,” he said from Astana on 19 March. “Whether it was right to distribute it or wrong, it was the responsibility of the Religious Affairs Committee.”

Asked about his view of the content of the booklet, law professor Podoprigora was at a loss for words. “No comments,” he told Forum 18. “It is too intolerant and stupid for comments.”

Using the mass media to incite intolerance against religious minorities, such as Baptists and Hare Krishna devotees, is a normal tactic for the authorities. One official in a court statement described the Hare Krishna community as a “terrorist organization” and stated that allowing it to function will lead to a “second Chechnya in Kazakhstan .” The country also uses international conferences on tolerance to provide camouflage for the repression of religious minorities.

Klyushev of AROK complains that many officials do not understand that, at least in theory, Kazakhstan ‘s political system requires that religion and the state are separate. He believes some officials want to back their own faith through laws and practice. “That’s when discrimination starts.”

He points to the impact of all this state-backed intolerance. “The state always says we are multi-ethnic and multi-confessional, but official comments as in this program of patriotic education and this booklet fan popular intolerance. This forms public opinion. Look across the world – is extremism really from Hare Krishna devotees, Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses? It’s absurd. It’s not objective.”

Kazakh officials are increasingly smearing religious minorities, one official describing a state crackdown on Baptist and Pentecostal Christians to Forum 18 as “the fight against terrorism and religious groups without registration”.

At a 27 February conference in Astana on how the current Religion Law should be amended, parliamentary deputy Amangeldy Aytali – long a supporter of harshening the Law – cited the State Programme with approval as a reason to “protect,” as he put it, “traditional” faiths and restrict minority faiths.

Kazakhstan plans to even more severely restrict religious freedom via a new Religion Law, and the KNB secret police are also planning separate restrictions on religious freedom via the Anti-terrorism Law.

Religious minorities have expressed their frustration over their failure to persuade state officials to halt official intolerance towards them in state documents, in officials’ public comments and in state-inspired hostile media coverage. Their concerns are shared by the Human Rights Ombudsperson, Bolat Baikadamov, including concern over the “State Programme of Patriotic Education of Citizens of Kazakhstan for 2006-8.” This was approved by a presidential decree of President Nursultan Nazarbayev on 10 October 2006, and attacks so-called “non-traditional” and “extremist” religious minorities.

“These examples of an oppressive attitude are not permissible,” Ombudsperson Baikadamov said from the capital Astana on 12 March. “They show a lack of knowledge of international standards over the way officials should treat religious communities.” In particular, Baikadamov insisted that a booklet issued in 2006 by the Justice Ministry, “How not to fall under the influence of religious sects”, attacking Baptists, Ahmadi Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses, should not be distributed.

“Of course we are shocked over these two documents,” human rights activist Yevgeny Zhovtis, of the of the Kazakhstan International Bureau of Human Rights and the Rule of Law, told Forum 18 from the country’s commercial capital Almaty on 21 March. “But on the other hand it seems that such a policy of state intolerance does exist. These documents simply prove this.”

In spite of the fact that the Constitution and the Religion Law contain articles about the equality of all religions, he says, “such documents provide the moral, or more accurately immoral, basis for officials to justify their negative attitudes towards non-traditional religions”. He believes that overall attitudes towards religious freedom for religious minorities are becoming more and more unfavorable.

Roman Podoprigora, a law professor at the Adilet Law School in Almaty, who studies the legal position of religious communities, is worried about the impact of the intolerant sentiments on the life of religious minority communities. “Of course such evaluations and opinions create many problems for religious organisations in many areas of activity,” he said from Almaty on 21 March. “Such intolerant statements can influence whether religious communities or missionaries can register or not, which way court decisions will go on religious issues such as over unregistered organisations or missionary activity, and legislative initiatives.”

Professor Podoprigora’s comments are borne out by Kazakh officials openly admitting that their country’s international human rights obligations “mean nothing to us” in crackdowns on unregistered religious communities.

Registration procedures are highly intrusive and are designed with control not legal status as their goal. Fines for unregistered religious activity – and most recently a prison sentence for a Baptist – have continued to escalate.

However, Amanbek Mukhashev, head of the government’s Religious Affairs Committee brushed aside any criticism. “Mentioning the Ahmadis – what’s wrong with that?” he asked from Astana on 19 March. “And the Protestants, they can’t complain. Don’t let your head worry about this. You don’t know the religious situation here.” He refused to continue any further discussion of these official documents and put the phone down.

Mukhashev has previously complained about Baptist leaders wanting to meet President Nzarbayev to discuss state harassment of their congregations.

The State Program of Patriotic Education, published in 2006 <http://www.government.kz/ru/doc/U060200_.htm>, contains a section on how to combat what it believes to be the growing interest in “non-traditional”

faiths. “Topical for the state at present without a doubt are questions of the organization of the struggle with the activation of the activity of non-traditional religious associations and extremist organizations in Kazakhstan directed above all at attracting the youth into their ranks,” the state program declares. It blames foreign propaganda for contributing to the spread of extremism in the past decade.

“I think this is the usual evaluation of so-called non-traditional religious organizations,” Podoprigora said. “This is a very popular opinion, not only from the government but also from different social groups. This is the level of tolerance in Kazakh society today.”

The booklet “How not to fall under the influence of religious sects,” issued in 2006 by the Justice Ministry, is claimed to provide “legal help” for Kazakh citizens. The booklet – authorized for publication on 17 May

2006 – was produced in Kazakh and Russian, though the language used in both texts differs in places. Copies are distributed through public legal advice centers.

“How not to fall under the influence of religious sects” laments that today, “very many young people” have joined “religious sects,” which it identifies as including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists and Ahmadi Muslims.

The booklet equates all of these with the Hizb-ut-Tahrir Islamist political movement. “Such youth can only be called illiterate on a theological level,” the booklet states, “not knowing the basics of fundamental knowledge and not very bright people. With such young people, work must be conducted to return them to consciousness, and such work must be conducted by imams in mosque, academic theologians in towns and aksakals [elders] in small villages.”

“Transferring to other religious faiths represents treason to one’s country and faith. Because religion is our spiritual life, our today and our tomorrow.” The booklet calls on the Justice Ministry, the Muslim Spiritual Board, the mass media, law enforcement agencies, local akimats (administrations), higher education institutions, schools and parents to take a series of measures “for prophylaxis of the influence of religious sects”. The Muslim Board is urged to teach Islam more effectively and send young people on courses of up to three weeks, while the mass media is urged to use well-educated theologians “on themes of spiritual humanization”.

Academic councils in higher educational establishments are urged to hold lectures to counter the “disturbed activity of religious sects”. Schools should hold lessons on morals and the bases of theology. Parents too are urged to bring up their children in a spirit of morality.

Once again, officials brushed aside complaints. Altbai Alibaev, head of the Committee for Legal Assistance in the Justice Ministry, which distributed the booklet, insisted that his office arranges the distribution of many booklets “only a few of which are on religious themes”. He said the content of this one had been approved by the Religious Affairs Committee. “I’m not responsible for the content,” he said from Astana on 19 March. “Whether it was right to distribute it or wrong, it was the responsibility of the Religious Affairs Committee.”

Asked about his view of the content of the booklet, law professor Podoprigora was at a loss for words. “No comments,” he told Forum 18. “It is too intolerant and stupid for comments.”

Using the mass media to incite intolerance against religious minorities, such as Baptists and Hare Krishna devotees, is a normal tactic for the authorities. One official in a court statement described the Hare Krishna community as a “terrorist organization” and stated that allowing it to function will lead to a “second Chechnya in Kazakhstan .” The country also uses international conferences on tolerance to provide camouflage for the repression of religious minorities.

Klyushev of AROK complains that many officials do not understand that, at least in theory, Kazakhstan ‘s political system requires that religion and the state are separate. He believes some officials want to back their own faith through laws and practice. “That’s when discrimination starts.”

He points to the impact of all this state-backed intolerance. “The state always says we are multi-ethnic and multi-confessional, but official comments as in this program of patriotic education and this booklet fan popular intolerance. This forms public opinion. Look across the world – is extremism really from Hare Krishna devotees, Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses? It’s absurd. It’s not objective.”

Kazakh officials are increasingly smearing religious minorities, one official describing a state crackdown on Baptist and Pentecostal Christians to Forum 18 as “the fight against terrorism and religious groups without registration”.

At a 27 February conference in Astana on how the current Religion Law should be amended, parliamentary deputy Amangeldy Aytali – long a supporter of harshening the Law – cited the State Programme with approval as a reason to “protect,” as he put it, “traditional” faiths and restrict minority faiths.

Kazakhstan plans to even more severely restrict religious freedom via a new Religion Law, and the KNB secret police are also planning separate restrictions on religious freedom via the Anti-terrorism Law.