Kazakhstan: Inviting to Religious Worship a New Offence

ICC Note: The abuse of religious minorities and the assault on religious freedom has risen to new levels in Kazakhstan. The government has now fined individuals simply for inviting people to a scheduled and registered religious event. A Jehovah’s Witness man was fined for “illegal missionary activity” as a result of send a text message to friends inviting them to the meeting. This kind of government intervention is in complete violation of any understanding of religious freedom and violates both the constitutional and the international agreements of Kazakhstan.

By Mushfig Bayram

9/03/2013 (Forum 18) – In what appears to be a new development under Kazakhstan’s harsh controls on religious activity, Jehovah’s Witness Zarina Burova was fined in June for illegal “missionary activity” after inviting friends by text message to attend a religious meeting. In a July case, four Jehovah’s Witnesses were similarly fined after two or three attendees at a meeting raided by police were guests, according to the court verdicts seen by Forum 18 News Service. The five were among 13 Jehovah’s Witnesses fined for illegal “missionary activity” between May and July under Administrative Code Article 375, Part 3. Judge Kuralai Tobelbasova dismissed complaints by one of those she fined that his rights had been violated, arguing that the requirement to have personal state registration as a missionary before sharing his faith “cannot be evaluated as an infringement of religious freedom”. On 29 August Jehovah’s Witnesses filed a further nine complaints to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee in Geneva on behalf of 15 individuals punished for “missionary activity”.

In the first such case known to Forum 18 News Service, an individual has been punished under Kazakhstan’s harsh controls on religious activity simply for inviting friends to attend a registered religious meeting. Zarina Burova was fined for illegal “missionary activity” after inviting friends by text message. In another recent case, the presence of several guests at a religious meeting of a state-registered community was enough to cause four fines for illegal “missionary activity”.

Among an upsurge of raids and fines during the summer months on members of religious communities, regardless of whether or not these are officially registered, those sharing their faith with strangers were also punished for “missionary activity”.

Thirteen Jehovah’s Witnesses, all members of locally registered communities, were fined for alleged “missionary activity without registration” between May and July, Jehovah’s Witnesses told Forum 18 from Almaty on 26 August. They said they expect more fines since “prosecutions [of Jehovah’s Witnesses] continue throughout Kazakhstan”.

Fined nine months’ minimum wage

Each of the 13 Jehovah’s Witnesses was fined 100 Minimum Financial Indicators (MFIs) or 173,100 Tenge (6,850 Norwegian Kroner, 860 Euros or 1,130 US Dollars). This is the maximum fine under Code of Administrative Offences Article 375, Part 3 and represents just over nine months’ official minimum monthly wage.

Some of the thirteen “were penalised for talking to people about God and the Bible, and sharing their personal religious beliefs”, Jehovah’s Witnesses complained to Forum 18. “Why do these believers need to be registered specifically as missionaries” to be able to share their views on religion with others, they asked. “It is our Constitutional right and also protected by Article 18 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR, signed by Kazakhstan].”

However, four of the thirteen punished Jehovah’s Witnesses were fined for meeting together with other members of their registered community to read the Bible and pray. But as some non-members attended the meeting, the authorities qualified this as “illegal” missionary activity.

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