08ASTANA767, KAZAKHSTAN: NEW LEGISLATION THREATENS RELIGIOUS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08ASTANA767 2008-04-18 11:52 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Astana

VZCZCXRO1752
OO RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHFL RUEHLA RUEHLH RUEHMRE RUEHPW RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHTA #0767/01 1091152
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 181152Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY ASTANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2256
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE 0481
RUCNOSC/OSCE POST COLLECTIVE
RUCNCLS/SCA COLLECTIVE
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE 1902

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 ASTANA 000767 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/18/2018 
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KIRF KDEM PREL KZ
SUBJECT: KAZAKHSTAN: NEW LEGISLATION THREATENS RELIGIOUS 
FREEDOM 
 
REF: (A) ASTANA 113 (NOTAL) (B) ASTANA 411 (NOTAL) 
 
Classified By: Pol/Econ Chief Steven Fagin, Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d) 
 
------- 
SUMMARY 
------- 
 
1. (SBU) On April 2, a group of parliamentarians introduced 
draft amendments to Kazakhstan's laws governing religious 
organizations.  Among other things, the amendments would 
require all religious groups in the country to re-register 
under more restrictive procedures; limit the activities of 
smaller groups; establish a quota system and require local 
government consent for missionaries; and prohibit all 
financial contributions from foreign or anonymous donors. 
Though the Ministry of Justice claimed that the amendments 
are purely a parliamentary initiative, their introduction 
follows a coordinated campaign by the Ministry of Justice to 
increase political and public support for changes to the law, 
through increased public pressure and criticism of 
non-traditional religious groups and "sects."  The Mazhilis 
conducted a public hearing on the legislation on April 17. 
According to participants, the legislation appears to be on 
the fast track for approval, and deputies showed little 
interest in inviting outside inp 
ut or review.  End summary. 
 
--------------------------------------------- --- 
PROPOSED LEGISLATION TIGHTENS GOVERNMENT CONTROL 
--------------------------------------------- --- 
 
2. (SBU) On April 2, six Mazhilis deputies and two senators 
introduced draft amendments to Kazakhstan's laws governing 
religious organizations. Among other things, the amendments 
would: 
 
-- establish new procedures for registering a religious 
organization, and divide such organizations into local 
religious organizations (formed within one administrative 
unit upon the initiative of at least 10 adult citizens) and 
central religious organizations (formed upon the initiative 
of local religious organizations registered on the territory 
of more than half of the oblasts for at least 10 years); 
 
-- create a new category of entity called a "religious 
group", subject to a simplified registration procedure but 
sharply restricted in its activities.  Such groups would be 
permitted to engage in religious activities only among 
members of the group, and would be forbidden from producing 
religious literature or products, maintaining facilities open 
to the public for religious worship or meetings, or preaching 
and teaching outside of the group; 
 
-- require all existing religious organizations (or 
organizations involved in religious activities, but not 
currently registered as a religious organization) to 
re-register under the new law within two years from the date 
it becomes effective; 
 
-- prohibit all financial and other contributions from 
foreigners and anonymous donors, and require religious 
organizations to receive contributions with the assistance of 
cash registers and with the participation of local government 
officials; (Note: This provision would prohibit the common 
practice of collecting tithes by passing a collection plate 
during a church service.  End note.) 
 
-- require religious organizations to provide the government 
with information about the fundamentals of the religion and 
its associated practices, including information about the 
history of the religion, forms and methods of its operation, 
its perspective on marriage, family relations, education, and 
the health of its followers, and restrictions for its members 
and priests concerning human rights and liabilities; 
 
-- establish that registration of a religious group 
previously unknown in Kazakhstan may be suspended for up to 
six months; 
 
-- in the event the government denies registration, require 
that the government provide written justification for the 
denial and establish a right of appeal to court; 
 
-- prohibit entities not registered as a religious 
organization from conducting religious activities, unless the 
entity is formed by a registered religious organization 
(Note: According to a comment in the text of the draft 
legislation, this provision is aimed at various public funds 
 
ASTANA 00000767  002 OF 004 
 
 
and charities that are actually involved in religious 
education and preaching.  End note.) 
 
-- establish that the relationship between the government and 
religious organizations will take into account the influence 
of the religious organization on the development of spiritual 
and cultural traditions of the people of Kazakhstan; 
 
-- establish that religious organizations may be subject to 
theological analysis by representatives of religious 
organizations, public organizations, government agencies, 
theologians, lawyers, and other experts upon request by a 
citizen or a government agency; 
 
-- define missionary activity as religious-educational 
activity on behalf of a religious organization beyond the 
territory of its activity (the region where t
he organization 
is registered), and establish a yearly quota system for 
missionaries, taking into account the views of local 
government agencies on the number and affiliation of 
missionaries that should be permitted in their territory; 
 
-- prohibit religious organizations that force a split in 
families, hinder high school education, damage the morale or 
health of citizens, or force citizens to give their property 
to the organization or its leaders 
 
-- prohibit religious organizations that force citizens to 
get involved in their operations or hinder them from 
quitting, including through the use of force or threat of 
force, dependence, hypnosis, or deceit; 
 
-- require written consent from the parents or guardians of 
underage children for their participation in any religious 
gatherings or groups; 
 
-- establish procedures for registering a religious 
educational organization; 
 
-- require that the full and short name of a religious 
organization must contain an indication of its religion, and 
a religious organization must use its full name during its 
operations; 
 
-- prohibit religious organizations from conducting worship 
services or religious rites and ceremonies in private 
dwellings, except in cases of ritual need where the rights 
and interests of neighbors are observed; 
 
-- require local government authorization for the 
construction of a religious facility; 
 
-- require expert theological review of all religious books 
and materials, and restrict their public distribution to 
public places, public transport, public streets, and during 
visits to citizens' dwellings at the initiative and approval 
of the citizens; 
 
-- significantly increase fines and penalties for violating 
the law. 
 
3. (SBU) According to Ninel Fokina, chairperson of the Almaty 
Helsinki Committee, the legislation represents a significant 
and aggressive restriction of religious freedom.  She said 
the legislation is part of a trend throughout the CIS and 
Shanghai Cooperation Organization to tighten control over 
religious groups.  In her analysis, the legislation is aimed 
at evangelical Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses, 
Scientologists, and Hare Krishnas, all of whom have been 
singled out for criticism by various government officials and 
the media over the past few years.  She predicted that most 
of these groups will be pushed into the new "religious group" 
category, which essentially prohibits proselytizing, and only 
traditional groups such as state-approved Islamic groups, the 
Russian Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, and the Jewish 
community will be able to gain religious organizations 
status. Fokina speculated that a few of the more onerous 
provisions may be dropped before final passage to pacify 
critics. 
 
--------------------------------------------- 
GOVERNMENT DENIES IT IS BEHIND THE AMENDMENTS 
--------------------------------------------- 
 
4. (SBU) On April 11, Ardak Doszhan, the new chairman of the 
Religious Issues Committee in the Ministry of Justice, told 
us that these amendments were drafted and introduced by 
members of parliament, not the government.  He claimed that 
the Ministry of Justice was not involved in drafting or 
 
ASTANA 00000767  003 OF 004 
 
 
proposing the legislation. (Comment: Doszhan's claim 
contradicts earlier statements from deputy chairman of the 
Religious Issues Committee Amanbek Mukhasov, who told us that 
the Religious Issues Committee was drafting legislation and 
arguing for its inclusion on the legislative agenda this 
year.  Ministry of Justice officials in Shymkent also told us 
last month that the Ministry of Justice was working on new 
legislation.  End Comment.) 
 
5. (SBU) Doszhan explained that members of parliament rarely 
introduce legislation themselves, but there are special 
procedures allowing them to do so.  In accordance with these 
procedures, he explained that the Cabinet reviewed the 
legislation and offered general approval, with some 
reservations.  (Note: The draft amendments were accompanied 
by a comment signed by Prime Minister Masimov that included a 
few technical reservations, but offered "general support" for 
the draft law.  End note.)  He said that the Religious Issues 
Committee will function as an expert during the legislative 
process, and will present the government's viewpoint and 
reservations. He said the government was still in the process 
of forming its viewpoint. Doszhan referred questions 
concerning timing and process to the Mazhilis, and told us 
that parliament is responsible for deciding whether to submit 
the legislation to the OSCE for expert review. 
 
------------------------------------- 
MOMENTUM BUILDING OVER SEVERAL MONTHS 
------------------------------------- 
 
6. (SBU) Despite Doszhan's position that the amendments are 
the result of a parliamentary initiative, the Ministry of 
Justice and other supporters have been building public and 
political support for new restrictions over the past several 
months.  The legislation follows the December 2007 adoption 
of a Ministry of Justice program that specifically called for 
new legislation to restrict missionaries and nontraditional 
religious groups, a January 2008 speech by President 
Nazarbayev criticizing foreign missionaries and calling for 
new legislation to stop "religious radicalism" and extremism, 
and a February and March 2008 surge in negative media 
coverage of non-traditional religious groups, which was 
consistent with the educational aims of the Ministry of 
Justice program. (Refs A, B) 
 
-------------------------------------- 
LEGISLATION ON TRACK FOR QUICK PASSAGE 
-------------------------------------- 
 
7. (SBU) Fokina attended an April 17 public hearing organized 
by the Mazhilis to discuss the legislation.  She described 
the public hearing as carefully orchestrated, and attended by 
several NGOs, previously unknown to her, who claimed to 
represent victims of religious extremism and sects. She 
described most deputies as very aggressive in their support 
of the legislation and very uninterested in considering 
international norms. She asked deputies for the opportunity 
to provide outside expertise and analysis of the legislation, 
and asked how long she would have to provide such an 
analysis.  According to Fokina, the deputies told her that it 
was too late. In her analysis, the legislation is on track 
for passage within one month. 
 
8. (C) OSCE Human Dimension Officer Eugenia Benigni and 
Political Adviser to the EU Special Representative for 
Central Asia Jens Beikuefner also attended the hearing and 
shared Fokina's characterization of the event. Benigni spoke 
at the hearing and encouraged the deputies to submit the 
legislation to ODIHR for its review, though the deputies made 
no commitment to do so.  According to Fokina and Beikuefner, 
the deputies agreed to create a working group for further 
discussi
on of the legislation, though both believe that only 
a few deputies were genuinely interested in further 
discussion and input. 
 
------- 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
9. (C) Kazakhstan often prides itself on its religious 
freedom record and tradition of inter-faith tolerance.  This 
legislation, if adopted in its current form, would severely 
restrict the freedom of evangelical Christians, Jehovah's 
Witnesses, Hare Krishnas, and other "non-traditional" groups, 
and would formalize what critics such as Fokina already 
allege:  that inter-faith tolerance in Kazakhstan applies 
only to certain favored traditional religious groups. 
Supporters of this legislation knew it would be 
controversial, and have developed significant momentum 
 
ASTANA 00000767  004 OF 004 
 
 
through a careful political and public relations campaign. 
The government may be willing to drop a few provisions in 
order to show moderation and pacify critics. Indeed, 
supporters likely orchestrated the legislation's introduction 
by individual parliamentarians in order to take pressure off 
the government and give it room to maneuver.  We believe it 
will take sustained engagement by us and our like-minded 
partners to ensure that the most objectionable provisions are 
dropped.  End Comment. 
ORDWAY

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