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How many religious books await compulsory state censorship?

ICC Note:

New State Censorship Regulations make it difficult for religious literature to be produced or brought into the country of Kazakhstan. So far, the only ones approved have been of Muslim origin.

By Felix Corley

05/08/2012 Kazakhstan (Forum18)-With new state Censorship Regulations for almost all religious literature and objects produced in or imported into Kazakhstan now in force, only some religious books – all Muslim – have so far successfully undergone the censorship process, Forum 18 News Service notes. As of 8 May, 182 Muslim works had gained the Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) approval required before they can be distributed. Those distributing uncensored religious literature risk fines. Although the maximum period the ARA has to conduct its censorship is 60 days, some religious communities complain they have had no response to applications “for months”. No ARA official was immediately available to say how many books or religious items are awaiting approval, if any have so far been refused, why no non-Muslim books have yet been approved and whether religious books already in use are legal or not. Officials have already confiscated religious books – including children’s books on the lives of Russian Orthodox saints – from libraries for checking.     Two months after Kazakhstan’s new Censorship Regulations came into force in March, only some Muslim books are listed on the website of the state Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) as having successfully passed the new compulsory censorship of all religious literature and other items produced in or imported into Kazakhstan, Forum 18 News Service notes. The ARA in the capital Astana told Forum 18 on 8 May that no-one was immediately available to say how many books or religious items are awaiting approval, if any have so far been refused and why no non-Muslim books have yet been approved. It was also unable to say if religious books already in use are legal or not.

The new Censorship Regulations codify the official prior compulsory censorship of almost all religious literature and objects imposed by the 2011 Religion Law. This is the first time the way state censorship of religious literature and other materials is conducted will have been codified. But partial state censorship of religious literature has existed for some years. The Regulations do not codify either who is allowed to produce or import literature or other religious items under the Law, or who is allowed to sell or distribute such religious materials. Both are among the human rights restricted under the new Law (see F18News 23 September 2011

As well as violating freedom of religion or belief human rights commitments, Kazakhstan’s censorship regime violates freedom of expression human rights commitments it has formally undertaken to implement. These include Article 19 (“Freedom of expression”) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the country ratified in 2006.

Censorship both objectionable and slow

Many religious communities – including the Jehovah’s Witness and Hare Krishna communities and others which did not want to publicly identify themselves – have complained to Forum 18 about the compulsory censorship imposed by the Religion Law. They have also complained about the slowness of the process.

The ARA – the body tasked with censoring all religious literature – has not responded in months to requests for approval for specific religious materials. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses have submitted successive copies of their magazine each month since November 2011, with no response (see F18News 30 April 2012

Without the ARA’s approval, religious communities cannot use or distribute such literature without risking heavy penalties. Article 375, Part 1 of the Code of Administrative Offences punishes – among other things – “the import, production, publication and/or distribution of religious literature or other materials of religious content (significance) and objects of religious significance” in violation of the demands of the law. Fines for individuals are 50 Monthly Financial Indicators (MFIs), for officials and leaders of religious organisations 100 MFIs, and for legally-registered entities 200 MFIs plus a three-month ban on the organisation’s activity. Article 375, Part 3 punishes individuals who use uncensored religious literature to spread their faith with a fine of 100 MFIs, plus – if the “offender” is a foreigner – deportation from Kazakhstan.

The MFI is set annually, and since 1 January 2012 has been 1,618 Tenge (64 Norwegian Kroner, 8 Euros, and 11 US Dollars). This is just below one tenth of the official minimum monthly wage.


One Almaty-based Russian Orthodox priest noted that although Orthodox books have not yet been approved by the ARA, the Church has not had any problems continuing to import them from Russia. “Just because a law exists doesn’t mean it is being implemented,” the priest told Forum 18 on 8 May.

Others have found that they are being prevented from distributing religious literature. Five Baptists in the northern Akmola Region who distribute Christian literature on the street were stopped twice within the space of a week in March. Their literature was confiscated, they were all questioned at the police and some were entered into police records. They may face prosecution, a police official told Forum 18. Police detained two Hare Krishna devotees in East Kazakhstan Region in April for handing out what police claim was “extremist literature” on the street. Their identity documents were seized and they too may face prosecution (see F18News 30 April 2012

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