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KYRGYZSTAN: “I don’t see political will on higher level” to resolve burial problems

Last week, ICC shared the stories of several Christian families in Kyrgyzstan who, because of their Christian faith in a predominantly Muslim region, were barred from burying their loved ones in ancestral, state-owned cemeteries. Facing demands to convert to Islam from local imams, or receiving hard-line refusals for them to access the cemeteries, these Christians appealed to local authorities with little success. Kyrgyzstan recently drafted a document to address the burial issues, but few see the move as substantial progress towards resolving these problems.

By Mushfig Bayram

6/11/2014 Kyrgyzstan (Forum 18) – Amid continuing violations of freedom of religion or belief connected to the burial of deceased non-Muslims or Muslims who have non-Muslim relatives, little sign appears at the national level that the problem will be resolved in practice, Forum 18 News Service notes.

A recent draft of Kyrgyzstan’s Concept on State Policy in the Religious Sphere 2014-20 acknowledges that the problem exists. But even a Presidential Administration official involved in the drafting admits that solutions that might be included “may not resolve all future burial problems…”

Galina Kolodzinskaya, an independent religious expert from Bishkek, points out that the specialists drafting the Concept did not include in its first Draft possible solutions for the burial problems non-Muslims face. “Even if the Concept finally includes such solutions, it will still be a document, not a law on the basis of which actions and measures are taken,” she told Forum 18 on 30 May.

She insists that solving this long-standing problem requires both political will “on the higher level,” as well as laws. “Until then the problem will not be solved, and similar violations will take place,” she warned. “At the moment I don’t see such political will on the higher level.”

Although Baha’is, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Hare Krishna devotees have all complained of problems in recent years, the most recent publicly documentable failures by the authorities to ensure people may exercise their rights concern Protestants. In two villages in Jalal-Abad Region in January, local imams interfered in the conduct of funerals. In another case in a different Region later in 2014, an imam blocked the burial of a Protestant woman and forced her grieving husband to convert to Islam to get her buried.

The authorities appear to be content to allow local imams to control who is buried in state-owned cemeteries not owned by religious communities…

[Orozbek Moldaliyev, Head of the State Commission for Religious Affairs,] claimed to Forum 18 on 2 June that the problem of burials was “resolved.” Told about the three cases in early 2014, and asked what solutions his Commission or other state authorities will put in place, Moldaliyev brushed off Forum 18: “Cases like those are simply not possible in Kyrgyzstan.” When Forum 18 told him that it talked to the victims and the local authorities who confirmed the violations, and gave the details of the cases, he was laconic, “We did not hear of about these cases. No one complained to us.”

Protestant pastor Yusup uuly was stopped by the local Imam on 26 January from participating in the burial procession of his deceased brother in Jalal-Abad Region. “The purpose of the imams’ burial denials and scandalous actions is to take revenge on the Kyrgyz who accepted the Christian faith and scare others not to do so,” he told Forum 18 on 27 May from Bishkek. “When people see such scandals they develop fear not to accept other religions. The Imams pressure Muslims to turn away from their Christian relatives or make them renounce their faith.”

One religious expert from Kyrgyzstan pointed out to Forum 18 on 3 June that cemeteries “are basically hereditary, meaning people bury their dead in the same cemetery for generations and centuries. Most Kyrgyz would like to be buried where their ancestors’ bodies lie.” The expert believes that burial problems can be overcome. “According to my understanding of Islamic tradition, if there is a path, stream or any barrier between Muslim and non-Muslim graves, burial should not be a problem.”

The expert believes that local Imams are artificially maintaining that Muslims and non-Muslims cannot be buried in the same cemetery. “These Imams perceive the religions non-Muslim Kyrgyz chose as competitors…”

[Chief Expert Kubanych] Abakirov of the Presidential Administration, however, rejects such assertions. “I can agree that there may be competition between local Imams and other religious communities over attracting more adherents, and that Imams don’t like the fact that more Kyrgyz are becoming Christian or choosing other religions,” he told Forum 18. “But… I think such burial problems arise locally and have no connection to each other.”

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