Kyrgyz Christians Face Tighter Restrictions on Religious Freedom
12/25/2012 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – While a recent attack on a young girl who converted to Christianity exposes the need for protection of minorities in Kyrgyzstan, the government is making life more difficult for them by making the already repressive religion law more stringent.
A young Christian girl, Almas, was beaten by her own parents, who are Muslim, until she fell unconscious, Open Doors reported on Dec. 17. After Almas, not her real name, refused to leave her new faith, her parents put her into a cold room for several days, and then burned her face with the stove. Since she still remained faithful, she was subsequently sent to work in a sewing workshop, and has lost touch with all her Christian friends.
Persecution of Christians by relatives and other social actors, especially sections of the Muslim community, is not uncommon in this former Soviet nation, where more than 80 percent of the people are Muslim, and about 17 percent follow Russian Orthodoxy.
Earlier this year, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay noted during her first visit to Kyrgyzstan that “discrimination, especially on ethnic, religious and gender grounds, remains a deeply problematic issue” in the country.
The Kyrgyz government is known for favoring the state-backed Muslim Board, which oversees millions of Muslims, and the Russian Orthodox Church, and dislikes Protestant Christians, though they are small in number.
When Christians are attacked, authorities rarely press serious charges against the attackers. For example, five men from a Baptist church were beaten up in Ak-Kya village in Ak-Talaa District in the central Naryn Region eight months ago, but police have not brought serious charges against the attackers.
Narrating the incident, Narsbek Sydykov, one of the victims, told Forum 18 News that he and four other Protestants were visiting relatives in the village on 11 April, and distributing gifts – without any Christian material – to poor children at a local school with the consent of the parents as well as the school management. A local Muslim clergy, Kylych Abashakirov, and some robust young men threw the presents around, and then hit and kicked them. They decided to leave the village quickly, but the attackers followed their cars and threw stones and hard objects. But for the police, the attack was a “petty” offense.
Apart from sporadic attacks, Protestant Christians also complain that they face many difficulties in burying their dead in communal graveyards, which Muslims groups do not allow them to use. Therefore, Christians have long been demanding the right for all Kyrgyz people to avail the country’s graveyards.
However, preventing attacks on Christians and granting them equal rights are not on the agenda of autocratic President Almazbek Sharshenovich Atambayev.
His government, on the contrary, is seeking to further restrict basic freedoms of minorities. Proposed amendments to the 2009 Religion Law, making it stricter, have begun passage in parliament, Forum 18 News Service reported on Dec. 19. If adopted, they would grant state organizations almost complete control over religious literature, require religious communities to have 200 founders in one locality, ban sending students for foreign religious education without state permission, and ban all foreigners exercising freedom of religion or belief without a state license.
As Pillay had noted, it is believed that the Kyrgyz government wants to use the amendments against religious denominations it is biased against.
The repressive religion law was brought in force under the guise of dealing with an alleged threat from the Islamist terror group Hizb ut-Tahrir in southern parts of the country. It is believed that it was a covert move to restrict civil freedoms as part of President Atambayev’s efforts to remain in power.
Contrary to the government’s claim that restrictions are needed to check growth of terror groups, it is common knowledge that corruption and authoritarianism in the country are the main reasons why some terrorist groups have been able to gain ground the country – by convincing sections of the Muslims that Islamism is the alternative to the “unjust” government.
Kyrgyzstan is not an isolated country – it is a member of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and more importantly an ally of the United States in its global war against terror. European nations and the U.S. government, therefore, must make efforts to ensure protection of minorities and their basic freedoms in Kyrgyzstan.