07ASTANA654, CORRECTED COPY: KAZAKHSTAN: DRAFT AMENDMENTS TO RELIGION

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07ASTANA654 2007-03-14 03:38 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Astana

VZCZCXRO4559
RR RUEHDBU RUEHLN RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHTA #0654/01 0730338
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 140338Z MAR 07
FM AMEMBASSY ASTANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8789
INFO RUEHAST/USOFFICE ALMATY
RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE 0095
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE 1699

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ASTANA 000654 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR SCA/CEN (M. O'MARA), DRL/PHD, DRL/IRF 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PHUM PGOV PREL KDEM KZ
SUBJECT: CORRECTED COPY: KAZAKHSTAN: DRAFT AMENDMENTS TO RELIGION 
LAW SPARK CONCERN 
 
ASTANA 00000654  001.2 OF 003 
 
 
1. (SBU) Summary:  The Religious Issues Committee (RIC) of the 
Ministry of Justice recently acknowledged that it is drafting 
amendments to "modernize" and "update" Kazakhstan's law on religion. 
 According to a draft of the amendments circulating among the human 
rights community, the new amendments would increase the role of the 
RIC in registering and monitoring religious groups and severely 
restrict the activities of any religious group with less than 50 
members.  An RIC official confirmed that some of these ideas were 
under consideration, but stated that the amendments were still in 
the draft stage, and that outside groups and religious confessions 
would ultimately have the opportunity to comment on the proposed 
legislation before it is submitted to the legislature. 
Nevertheless, human rights activists are very concerned about the 
threat to religious freedom posed by these amendments, and are 
mobilizing to oppose them. End summary. 
 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
AMENDMENTS WOULD TIGHTEN CONTROL OVER RELIGIOUS GROUPS 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
 
2. (SBU) On February 1, Ninel Fokina, chairwoman of the Almaty 
Helsinki Committee, distributed copies of draft religion law 
amendments to PolOff, the OSCE human dimension officer, and several 
diplomats from OSCE member states.  Fokina acknowledged that the 
document was a draft, but in her view it was substantially complete 
based on her past experience with the legislative drafting process. 
 
3. (SBU) According to the draft, Kazakhstan's religion law would be 
amended in a number of areas.  The provision that has drawn the most 
attention thus far is the sharp restriction on the activities of any 
group with less than 50 members.  Such groups would be subject to a 
mandatory, though simplified, registration process.  Among other 
things, they would be prohibited from publishing, producing, 
exporting, or importing religious literature or materials designed 
for religious purposes; setting up facilities for the production of 
religious literature and other religious products; building and 
maintaining facilities for religious services, meetings, and 
worship; and soliciting or receiving financial donations.  Although 
the draft text is not entirely clear, this provision appears to 
apply to both local, independent religious groups and local branches 
of nationally registered groups. 
 
4. (SBU) In addition, the proposed text appears to increase the 
power of the RIC, empowering it to register religious associations 
and all of their branch and representative offices; keep a database 
on religious associations; oversee implementation of religious 
freedom legislation; coordinate operation of foreign religious 
organizations in Kazakhstan, including the appointment of their 
leaders; and coordinate the construction of buildings for worship. 
As part of the registration process, religious groups would be 
required to provide the RIC with basic information on their faith 
and their worship practices, including the history of the faith and 
of the particular religious organization.  The registration 
materials will then be subjected to an "expert analysis," on which 
the RIC will base its registration decision. 
 
5. (SBU) The proposed amendments would also limit the distribution 
of religious materials to officially recognized worship buildings, 
places of pilgrimage, buildings where religious organizations are 
located, cemeteries, crematoria, and in citizens' apartments and 
houses.  The current religion law does not expressly limit the 
distribution of religious materials. 
 
 
----------------------------- 
TIMELINE FOR DRAFT AMENDMENTS 
----------------------------- 
 
6. (SBU) Amanbek Mukhashov, deputy chairman of the RIC, told Poloff 
on February 15 that Kazakhstan's religion law is long overdue for an 
update, and that the current amendments are being drafted pursuant 
to a larger government legislative plan.  He said that a working 
group of Ministry of Justice lawyers, representatives from five or 
six religious groups, scholars, and theologians was currently 
assimilating different proposals, and that it would offer draft 
amendments for public discussion at the end of March.  He expects 
that the draft amendments will be presented to the Cabinet in April, 
undergo an interagency approval process, and be submitted to the 
parliament in June.  He stated that the RIC is very open to outside 
input, and would invite the OSCE and human rights organizations to 
comment on the proposed amendments. 
 
-------------------------------------------- 
GOVERNMENT WARY OF MINORITY RELIGIOUS GROUPS 
-------------------------------------------- 
 
7. (SBU) During the conversation, Mukhashov expressed frustration 
 
ASTANA 00000654  002.2 OF 003 
 
 &#x
000A;that religion law amendments offered in 2002 were rejected as 
unconstitutional by the Constitutional Council, because they 
required any Islamic group seeking registration to get the approval 
of the Spiritual Association of Muslims of Kazakhstan (SAMK), the 
nominally independent though "official" coalition of mosques and 
clergy.  The 2002 amendments were also found unconstitutional 
because they vested the SAMK with authority to approve the 
construction of mosques.  (Note: In general, the 2002 religion 
amendments would have significantly tightened government control 
over religious groups.  End note.)  Mukhashov noted that he is not 
alone in disagreeing with the 2002 Constitutional Council ruling, 
and he believes that the government should enforce a hierarchy for 
Islam in Kazakhstan similar to the strict hierarchy for the Orthodox 
and Catholic churches.  He finds it unacceptable that under the 
current law, Muslim groups with as few as 10 members can be 
registered without the SAMK's knowledge, leading to public confusion 
about the identity and alignment of the different groups. 
 
 
8. (SBU) On February 27, the RIC held a hearing on the proposed 
amendments.  The hearing included representatives from several 
traditional faiths, including Islam, the Orthodox Church, the 
Catholic Church, and Judaism, as well as two members of parliament 
very concerned about minority religious groups in Kazakhstan.  Bjorn 
Halvarsson, deputy head of the OSCE's mission in Kazakhstan, also 
attended.  (Note: The RIC also invited Ninel Fokina of the Almaty 
Helsinki Committee, though with only two days notice, she was unable 
to travel to Astana.  End note.) According to Halvarsson, Amangeldy 
Aitaly, an ultra-nationalist deputy in the Mazhilis (lower house of 
parliament), strongly criticized minority religious groups in 
Kazakhstan, and said that they threaten the destruction of local 
culture.  The representatives of Islam and the Orthodox Church spoke 
out in favor of stricter registration requirements and tighter 
government control over non-traditional groups, while the 
representatives from the other faiths were more moderate in their 
comments.  Halvarsson reported that evangelical churches and groups 
with a missionary component were the clear targets of the criticism, 
and he noted that none of these groups were represented at the 
meeting. 
 
9. (SBU) Halvarsson said that in a private conversation after the 
hearing, Yeraly Tugzhanov, chairman of the RIC, was clearly 
convinced of the need for more control over religious groups in 
Kazakhstan, though his views were more moderate than those of some 
of the other participants.  Tugzhanov expressed interest in learning 
the OSCE's perspective, and asked the OSCE to submit comments and 
"best practices" to the RIC for their consideration. 
 
------------------------------------------- 
HUMAN RIGHTS COMMUNITY MOBILIZING TO OPPOSE 
------------------------------------------- 
 
10. (SBU) In a meeting with Poloff, Fokina said that the new 
amendments are being developed by the KNB, with assistance from the 
RIC, the SAMK, and the Orthodox Church.  She strongly condemned the 
proposed amendments, and said they will severely restrict the 
freedom of minority religious groups in Kazakhstan, such as smaller 
evangelical Christian groups and Muslim groups unaffiliated with the 
SAMK.  Fokina said that the human rights community is mobilizing to 
oppose the amendments, and she plans to raise the issue with the 
Presidential Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights 
Ombudsman. 
 
11. (SBU) Yevgeniy Zhovtis, director of the Kazakhstan International 
Bureau for Human Rights, also sharply criticized the proposed 
amendments during a meeting with Poloff.  He called the amendments 
"exactly the wrong direction for Kazakhstan," and said that they 
reflect the government's ideology of increasing control over civil 
society.  He predicted that if the government succeeds in tightening 
control over religious groups, it will next move to impose stricter 
controls over NGOs.  Zhovtis asserted that the government is 
exaggerating the threat from extremist groups such as Hizb'ut-Tahrir 
in order to frighten the public and justify the new amendments.  He 
said that the amendments violate constitutional protections for 
religious freedom, and called on Western governments to oppose the 
proposed amendments. 
 
------- 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
12. (SBU)  Although the RIC characterizes the draft amendments as a 
much-needed modernization of Kazakhstan's law on religion, and 
promises an open drafting process, human rights and religious 
freedom advocates have valid grounds for concern.  The government 
has not made a convincing national security argument for the 
amendments, or even explained what specific threats it is seeking to 
 
ASTANA 00000654  003.2 OF 003 
 
 
address.  Post will monitor the legislative process and encourage 
the Kazakhstani government to uphold its oft-stated commitment to 
religious freedom. 
 
ORDWAY

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