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Kazakhstan Turns Ugly

ICC Note

Kazakhstan is infamous for its violations of freedom of worship for groups such as Christians.

By Doug Bandow

12/12/2008 Kazakhstan (The American Spectator)- Central Asia has escaped Soviet domination, but the newly independent states have replicated communist repression. Nations like Kazakhstan never really moved forward. Now it is retreating on religious as well as political liberty. The U.S. and Europe have to decide whether to allow the Kazakh government to take over leadership of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The Majilis, or Kazakhstan’s lower house, has passed legislation punishing unregistered religious organizations, targeting churches (particularly Catholic and Orthodox) which cross territorial boundaries, effectively barring proselytizing, censoring religious materials, and requiring that children produce written permission from their parents to attend religious events. The Majilis acted shortly after OSCE representatives visited Astana to discuss the bill. Spokesman Jens-Hagen Eschenbaecher plaintively explained: “We expressed our hope that our comments on the draft would be fully taken into account. We obviously hope that this still will be the case.”

Kazakhstan is not the only “stan” moving towards greater repression. Kyrgyzstan ‘s parliament has approved new legislation restricting religious liberty. Tajikistan ‘s legislature is considering a similar measure limiting freedom of worship and conscience. Neither Turkmenistan nor Uzbekistan protect this most fundamental liberty which Americans take for granted. The attack on religious liberty “is a regional trend,” says Felix Corley, editor of Forum 18, an Oslo-based group which monitors religious repression.

But what makes Kazakhstan stand out is the fact that the government is set to take over as OSCE chairman in 2010. The vision is jarring: since the Cold War the OSCE’s mission has emphasized promoting freedom in the newly liberated nations. As the Institute on Religion and Public Policy recently pointed out in a letter to the OSCE’s governing Ministerial Council: “Moving ahead with the Kazakh Chairmanship in 2010 without any changes to this dangerous law undermines the human rights basket of the OSCE and the political commitments that make the OSCE a guarantor of fundamental rights.”

Kazakhstan is a largely Muslim state, though ethnic Russians and smaller groups of Ukrainians and Belarusians trend Orthodox. Like those of most authoritarian states, the Kazakh constitution formally provides for freedom to worship. But Astana fears non-establishment groups outside of its control.

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