KAZAKHSTAN: No freedom of religion or belief “unless they have registration”, Anti-Terrorism Police claim
“We do not want to violate the Religion Law and be punished, but the authorities put pressure on our members so we cannot get registration,” Nurlubek Zhalgasbayev, the Church’s leader, said. “Now we don’t know what to do.”
12/23/2014 Kazakhstan (Forum 18)-Kazakhstan – in defiance of its binding international legal obligations – demands that groups of people can exist as a religious community and exercise freedom of religion or belief only if they have state permission. Permission to exist is gained via state registration. Yet even religious communities who try to register or have registered are prevented by officials from exercising their freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. The most recent known examples of communities facing such official obstruction are a Protestant church in Atyrau and an independent mosque community in Petropavl, both of which are yet again seeking registration, and a Hare Krishna community in Kostanai which is already registered.
Denial of binding international obligation
Kazakhstan’s Religion Law imposes a complex and restrictive state registration system, including state checks on a community’s beliefs and demands for at least 50 people willing to identify themselves in writing to the authorities as founders. Many people are afraid to do this, for fear of state reprisals (see Forum 18’s Kazakhstan religious freedom survey.
Vladimir Ivanov, Head of the Culture Ministry’s Religious Affairs Committee’s Division of relations with Christian and other non-Muslim organisations claimed – in defiance of the facts – that the demand for compulsory state registration of religious communities is not in violation of Kazakhstan’s international obligations. The demand also does not violate the Constitution, he claimed to Forum 18 on 18 December.
This ban on exercising human rights without state permission does violate international law, as UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Heiner Bielefeldt made clear during his March-April visit to the country (see below). This is also clearly laid out in the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)/Venice Commission Guidelines on the Legal Personality of Religious or Belief Communities. Kazakhstan is both an OSCE participating state and a Venice Commission member state.
Church seeking registration
The Full Gospel Church in the Caspian Sea port of Atyrau [Atyraü] in north-western Kazakhstan has made repeated attempts to apply for state permission to meet to exercise freedom of religion or belief. Its first application in 2014 was on 17 January and its most recent on 14 October 2014.
“We do not want to violate the Religion Law and be punished, but the authorities put pressure on our members so we cannot get registration,” Nurlubek Zhalgasbayev, the Church’s leader, told Forum 18 on 10 December. “Now we don’t know what to do.”
He complained that the applications were each time turned down because the Justice Department in Atyrau arbitrarily removed names from the list of founders, bringing the number below the required 50 adult citizens.
Pastor Zhalgasbayev and his Kazakh-language Church have long faced pressure for exercising freedom of religion or belief without state permission. It has repeatedly sought state registration in vain since before 2005.
“Each time we [in 2014] applied to the Justice Department with the list of 50 founders, Atyrau Anti-Terrorism Police officer Askar Rakhimov visited and compelled some of the founding members to write statements he dictated,” Pastor Zhalgasbayev continued. Anti-Terrorism Police officer Rakhimov forced those founders to “confess that we had unauthorised meetings, or that they did not understand the full responsibility of being a founder and only signed because the Church or a family member asked them to”.
Each time the Anti-Terrorism Police reduced the list of founders by these means, the Justice Department rejected the Church’s applications for registration as “there is a problem with the list of founders”.
“We were presented by the police with statements written by Church founders that they either were not Church members or just joined the Church and were asked to sign as founders”, Nurlan Kuzenbayev, Deputy Head of Atyrau Justice Department told Forum 18 on 18 December. “They therefore wished to withdraw their signatures”, he claimed. Asked why the authorities demand that religious communities must register and then pressure them not to register, he replied “you must ask that question to the police”. Religious communities cannot meet “until they receive registration, which is what the Law demands”, Kuzenbayev stated.