08ASTANA1711, KAZAKHSTAN – COURTS SUSPEND JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08ASTANA1711 2008-09-10 06:41 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Astana

VZCZCXRO9418
OO RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHFL RUEHLA RUEHLH RUEHMRE RUEHPW RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHTA #1711/01 2540641
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 100641Z SEP 08 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY ASTANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3234
INFO RUCNOSC/OSCE POST COLLECTIVE
RUCNCLS/SCA COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ASTANA 001711 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/20/2018 
TAGS: PHUM KIRF KDEM PGOV KZ
SUBJECT: KAZAKHSTAN - COURTS SUSPEND JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES 
CHAPTERS IN SOUTHERN REGIONS 
 
Classified By: Pol-Econ Chief Steven Fagin, Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d) 
 
------- 
SUMMARY 
------- 
 
1.  (C) In recent months, courts in southern Kazakhstan have 
ordered three chapters of Jehovah's Witnesses to suspend 
their activities for six months for holding meetings at 
venues other than their registered addresses.  Similar cases 
heard by courts in other regions of the country have been 
dismissed.  Jehovah's Witnesses legal representatives told us 
on September 8 that they are worried that additional adverse 
decisions could result in an attempt to shut them down 
nationwide.  They see the recent clamp-down as part of a 
broader campaign against "non-traditional" religion groups. 
While pressure against the Witnesses may continue, we 
consider a nationwide shut-down to be unlikely.  End Summary. 
 
 
------------------------ 
THREE CHAPTERS SUSPENDED 
------------------------ 
 
2.  (SBU)  Three chapters of the Jehovah's Witnesses in 
southern Kazakhstan have been ordered to suspend their 
activities for alleged breaches of the administrative code. 
In three separate instances over the past five months, courts 
ruled that the chapters broke the law by "conducting 
religious activities outside their registered addresses." 
The three communities were legally registered with local 
authorities in the Kyzylorda and South Kazakhstan oblasts 
(regions).  In each case, chapter members had gathered for 
services in either rented premises or at a private residence 
outside their legally registered addresses.  The courts 
imposed fines on the organizations and ordered them to 
suspend their activities for a period of six months. 
 
3.  (SBU)  Gregory Olds, Jehovah's Witnesses Associate 
General Counsel based in New York, and John Burns, the 
organization's Canadian attorney, who were both here for the 
recent trials, provided us with further details during a 
September 8 meeting.  According to Olds, the three cases were 
prosecuted under article 375.1 of Kazakhstan's administrative 
code, which imposes sanctions on groups that "violate the 
rules for holding religious events outside the registered 
premises except for charity, care for the sick, and prison 
visits."  He contended that this provision is vague, as it 
does not clearly specify what "the rules" are.  Olds 
explained that in April, a Kyzylorda court convicted the 
Kyzylordra Witnesses' chapter and its chairman for holding a 
religious service in rented premises.  This decision was 
upheld in May by an appeals court.  In August, courts in 
South Kazakhstan oblast handed down rulings against two local 
Witnesses chapters for holding prayer meetings in private 
residences.  Appeals in both of those cases were denied as 
well. 
 
--------------------------- 
CONFLICTING COURT DECISIONS 
--------------------------- 
 
4.  (SBU) Burns told us that the three judgments contradict 
rulings on similar cases in other regions of the country.  In 
June, the Koksusk district court in Almaty oblast dismissed a 
case against a local Jehovah's chapter for holding meetings 
in rented premises, while a Kokshetau court in Astana oblast 
returned a similar case to the prosecutor's office for not 
making clear "the essence of the violation of the law."  The 
defense's attempts to introduce these decisions into the 
record in South Kazakhstan oblast "fell on death ears," said 
Olds.  The only institution that can reconcile these 
contradictory rulings is the Procurator General's Office 
(PGO), he maintained, but there is no incentive for the PGO 
to do so. 
 
5.  (SBU) Olds expressed worry about the future of the 
Jehovah's Witnesses in Kazakhstan.  Under current 
legislation, the courts can liquidate a religious 
organization nationwide if it repeatedly violates the law. 
"We've got three strikes against us already," said Olds. 
More court decisions like this, and the courts could shut 
down the Jehovah's Witnesses altogether, he contended. 
 
---------------- 
BROADER CAMPAIGN 
---------------- 
 
6.  (SBU) Both Olds and Burns see the rulings against the 
Witnesses as part of a broader campaign on the part of the 
authorities to limit the influence of "non-traditional" 
 
ASTANA 00001711  002 OF 002 
 
 
religious groups -- a campaign which also includes the 
recently proposed amendments to the country's religion law. 
All three chapters that were shut down were established years 
ago, said Olds, so these decisions cannot be seen as a 
reaction to new groups.  "This all began with President 
Nazarbayev's January speech," Olds maintained, referring to 
an address in which Nazarbayev criticized foreign 
missionaries and called for legislation to stop "religious 
radicalism."  Burns argued that this recent clamp-down is 
motivated by the fact that many view "non-traditional" faiths 
as a growing threat to the identity of ethnic Kazakhs as 
Muslims.  (Note:  Ethnic Kazakhs are essentially uni
versally 
Muslim by ancestry, but most are lapsed by practice.  End 
Note.) 
 
------- 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
7.  (C)  The Jehovah's Witnesses may to an extent be the 
victims of a contradiction in Kazakhstani legislation.  While 
Kazakhstan's administrative code forbids religious 
organizations from hosting events outside the registered 
premises, article 12 of the current religion law specifically 
states that registered organizations can hold religious 
services and ceremonies in a variety of locales, including in 
private residences.  The differing court rulings may indicate 
that some judges gave primacy to the first legal provision, 
and others the second one.  While the pressure may continue, 
we consider it unlikely that the authorities will move to 
suspend the Jehovah's Witnesses nationally.   Such a radical 
step would seriously undermine Kazakhstan's record on 
religious freedom as it moves closer to its 2010 OSCE 
chairmanship and continues its efforts to garner support for 
Nazarbayev's Common World Forum -- an initiative aimed at 
promoting tolerance between the Muslim world and the West. 
End Comment. 
ORDWAY

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