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KAZAKHSTAN: Pressure on founders to deny re-registration?
ICC Note:
On October 25, 2012 the government of Kazakhstan enforced the new “re-registration” deadline for all religious communities, churches etc.  All churches were required to turn in paperwork that included the signatures of individuals who were church members, as you were required to have at least 50 members for your church to be even eligible to register.  In the days leading up to the deadline authorities were contacting those who had signed pressuring and harassing them to revoke their signatures. One Christian said he was, “weary of all these phone calls and visit from the officials.”
10/29/2012 Kazakhstan (Forum18)-

Shortly before the 25 October re-registration deadline for all of Kazakhstan’s religious communities, officials pressured nearly a quarter of the signatories on the re-registration application of Grace Protestant Church in Karaturyk to remove their names. “It seems the authorities especially chose to target those founders who are of Kazakh and Uygur ethnicity,” the Church’s Pastor Zhursyn Koshkinov told Forum 18 News Service. One of the officials told Forum 18 “we only did what we were asked by the District Internal Policy Department.” It in turn told Forum 18 the instruction came from the government’s Agency of Religious Affairs. ARA official Zhumagali Alimbekov refused to tell Forum 18 how the authorities can demand that the Grace Church signatories reveal whether or not they are active in the Church or write statements to reveal their beliefs while this is not required by the Religion Law. Jehovah’s Witness communities have been raided “to make sure we are registered”, while a Protestant church’s worship was interrupted by the head of a state-backed “anti-sect” centre.
In the run-up to the 25 October deadline for all of Kazakhstan’s religious communities to apply for compulsory re-registration if they wish to continue to be able to legally function, officials continued raids on officially registered religious communities. Some raids were ostensibly to check whether or not they have legal status. Officials pressured members of one community of particular ethnic backgrounds to revoke their signatures on its re-registration application, as they told Forum 18 News Service.

Meanwhile, state-backed “anti-sect” centres continued their campaign against some of these communities as “dangerous sects” in the media and in educational institutions. Members of these communities told Forum 18 they fear this may be an attempt by the authorities to justify their possible denial of re-registration.…
Re-registration signatories pressured
In mid-October, shortly before the re-registration deadline, Almaty Regional officials made phone calls or visited 14 of the 61 founders who signed the re-registration application of Grace Protestant Church in Karaturyk in the Region’s Yenbekshikazakh District. Officials warned the signatories about the dangers of the “sectarian” Grace Church, and demanded that they revoke their signatures on the application, the Church’s Pastor Zhursyn Koshkinov and some of the signatories told Forum 18.
“It seems the authorities especially chose to target those founders who are of Kazakh and Uygur ethnicity,” Koshkinov told Forum 18 on 19 October.
Tamara Kasymova’s home in Karaturyk was visited on 19 October. She and other family members signed the Grace Church’s application. Baurzhan Sokurov, Deputy Chief of Karaturyk Administration, along with religious affairs specialists Saule Aytzhanova and Gulmira (last name not given), warned family members to revoke their signatures saying that Grace Church is a “dangerous sect”.
Dilshot Kasymov, Kasymova’s son, told Forum 18 that he is “weary of all these phone calls and visit from the officials.”
“We are not members in any ‘sect’,” Kasymov told Forum 18. He said that he and his mother signed the Grace Church’s application “not because we attend the Church regularly but because they are our neighbours, and we know them. They help people in the neighbourhood and are good people.”
Pastor Koshkinov told Forum 18 that the officials told Kasymov that he and his mother must visit the local Administration and write a statement that “they are not members of a sect”.
Koshkinov added that the same officials also summoned some members of the Church who had also signed the re-registration application. They demanded that they bring statements to the Administration that they had been Muslims and had converted to Christianity.

”
We only did what we were asked”
Sokurov of Karaturyk Administration insisted to Forum 18 on 19 October that “we are not against the church, and we only did what we were asked by the District Internal Policy Department.” He explained that District Administration officials asked them to “verify the local residential registration of the signatories”.
Sokurov denied that he or the other officials with him put pressure on the Kasymov family or other members of the Church. “They do not need to come to the Administration or write such statements,” he claimed to Forum 18.
Ermek Kurmangali, Chief Specialist of Yenbekshikazakh District’s Internal Policy Department, told Forum 18 on 19 October that they in their turn were asked by Zhumagali Alimbekov, Almaty Regional representative of Kazakhstan’s Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) to “verify whether or not the founders [Grace Church signatories] resided in the area.”
“The Grace Church is not a sect,” Kurmangali told Forum 18. “Perhaps the local authorities are inexperienced and did not explain well the purpose of their visit to them.”

Alimbekov of the ARA Department told Forum 18 on 19 October from Taldykorgan, the central city of Almaty Region, that the ARA has already approved the Grace Church’s charter and other founding documents. “We do not consider the Grace Church a sect.” He added that the “only thing left to do is to amend the list of their group of founders. Some are Muslims and are not members of the Church, but signed the application.” He did not explain how officials appear to know what faith individuals might adhere to.
Who can be founders?
Forum 18 asked Alimbekov how the authorities can demand that the Grace Church signatories reveal whether or not they are active in the Church or write statements to reveal their beliefs while this is not required by the Religion Law. However, he repeatedly avoided answering.
“The number of their signatories is 61 but they only need 50 or 51,” Alimbekov insisted. “However, those must be persons who know what they are doing, and know the Church well. That is all we are asking.”
However Kurmangali of Yenbekshikazakh District Administration was more specific. He told Forum 18 that the founders “do not have to be” members of the same organisation. He also said that the signatories are “not obliged” to write statements to the authorities to indicate what religion they believe in or represent.

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