08ASTANA1850, KAZAKHSTAN – RELIGION LAW AMENDMENTS HEADED TOWARD

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08ASTANA1850 2008-09-22 12:33 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Astana

VZCZCXRO8254
OO RUEHFL RUEHLA RUEHMRE RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHTA #1850/01 2661233
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 221233Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY ASTANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3377
INFO RUCNOSC/OSCE POST COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ASTANA 001850 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/22/2018 
TAGS: PHUM KIRF PGOV KZ
SUBJECT: KAZAKHSTAN - RELIGION LAW AMENDMENTS HEADED TOWARD 
SECOND MAZHILIS READING 
 
REF: ASTANA 1107 (NOTAL) 
 
Classified By: Pol-Econ Chief Steven Fagin, Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d) 
 
SUMMARY 
------- 
 
1.  (C) The Mazhilis will hold its second reading on a 
package of amendments to Kazakhstan's religion law on 
September 24.  The latest text is an improvement over the 
June version that was passed at the first reading, although 
it still includes several problematic provisions.  Civil 
society and religious contacts maintain that this latest text 
remains far too restrictive, but they predict that it will 
pass the Mazhilis unchanged.  NGO sources passed us a 
document with remarks purportedly made at a closed government 
meeting by Presidential Administration Deputy Chief Maulen 
Ashimbayev, which indicate that exerting greater control over 
"non-traditional" religious groups is an important priority 
for the government.  End Summary. 
 
FURTHER IMPROVEMENTS ... 
------------------------ 
 
2.  (SBU) The Mazhilis working group responsible for 
amendments to Kazakhstan's religion law has announced that 
the draft text is ready for a second Mazhilis reading, which 
is scheduled for September 24.  If the legislation passes 
without changes, it will move to the Senate for 
consideration.  Since the legislation went through a first 
reading on June 10 (see reftel), the working group has made 
several more changes to the text.  (Note:  The Mazhilis 
usually approves the general concept of a piece of 
legislation at the first reading, and reserves 
provision-by-provision review for the second reading. End 
Note.)  The June text was a clear improvement over the 
original legislation introduced in May.  The latest version 
appears to incorporate several further improvements, most 
notably as follows: 
 
-- A proposal for a restrictive definition of a religious 
confession (as a "movement known throughout the region, with 
historic recognition") has been removed.  Instead, the latest 
text retains a broader definition that exists in current law. 
 
--  Several proposed restrictions on missionary activities 
have been removed, including (1) a requirement to obtain the 
permission of neighbors for activities conducted in private 
homes, and (2) a ban on missionary activities in secular 
institutions, public places, and on the streets. 
 
... BUT PROBLEMATIC PROVISIONS REMAIN 
------------------------------------- 
 
3.  (SBU) Despite the abovementioned changes, the latest 
draft nevertheless still contains a number of points of 
concern.  In particular, a religious group would still have 
to have at least fifty members to register.  Groups with 
fewer than that number would be barred from proselytizing and 
from renting public places for services, though they would be 
allowed to publish their own religious literature.  The 
latest draft would also require oral permission from parents 
for minors to attend religious events, and would levy fines 
on religious organizations for failing to comply with this 
provision.  In addition, the Ministry of Justice's Religious 
Issues Committee (the body responsible for registering 
religious groups) would retain broad powers to review, 
suspend, and deny registration to organizations, and all 
religious organizations would be required to re-register 
within one year. 
 
CIVIL SOCIETY SAYS "CONCEPT" OF LAW IS WRONG 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
 
4.  (SBU) Key NGO leaders remain highly skeptical of the most 
recent changes introduced into the legislation.   Almaty 
Helsinki Committee head Ninel Fokina and Association of 
Religious Organizations of Kazakhstan head Alexander Klyushev 
told us separately on September 17 that "the concept of the 
law is deficient" and the legislation itself, not its 
individual provisions, must be rethought.  Klyushev said if 
the current text becomes law, a pastor who decides to meet 
with believers in a neighboring district would have to 
separately register with the authorities in that district, 
something Klyushev called a "dramatic infringement on 
religious freedom."  Fokina contended that the draft law 
would "destroy Kazakhstan's image as a liberal country 
tolerant to diverse faiths."  Both Fokina and Klyushev 
strongly believe that the latest text will pass through a 
second Mazhilis reading unchanged.  They intend to direct 
their lobbying efforts at the Senate, with the hope of 
stopping the legislation there. 
 
ASTANA 00001850  002 OF 002 
 
 
 
TIGHTER CONTROL A GOVERNMENT PRIORITY 
------------------------------------- 
 
5. (C) Klyushev asserted to us that the amendments to the 
religious law are just one part of a broader drive on the 
part of the government to increase control over 
"non-traditional" religious groups.  As proof, he presented 
us with a copy of a statement Presidential Administration 
Deputy Chief Maulen Ashimbayev purportedly made in August at 
a closed high-level government meeting on the government's 
priorities in domestic policy. (Comment: The same statement 
was passed to us by Fokina.  Both Klyushev and Fokina said 
they could
not reveal the source that gave them the document 
and asked that we keep it confidential.  While the substance 
of the document is not entirely surprising, we have no/no 
means of independently confirming its authenticity.  End 
Comment.) 
 
6. (C) The issue of "non-traditional" religions figured 
prominently in Ashimbayev's alleged remarks.  He maintained 
that there are organizations associated with Protestant 
churches and other "non-traditional" religious groups which 
are not themselves registered as religious groups but are 
nevertheless involved in religious education and 
proselytizing.  He called on oblast akims (i.e., regional 
governors) and government bodies to "administratively 
curtail" the activities of such organizationas.  He also 
ordered an "unofficial moratorium" on the construction of any 
new religious buildings of "non-traditional" groups, except 
in special circumstances with the approval of the Religious 
Issues Committee and the Presidential Administration.  He 
directed that "the sixty or so independent mosques" be 
brought "under the patronage of the Spiritual Administration 
of Muslims in Kazakhstan." 
 
7.  (C) Ashimbayev admitted that the new religious 
legislation would bring "greater regulation in the religious 
sphere."  Talking about the mandatory re-registration of all 
religious groups, he said that "a number of organizations 
will have to be closed, others supported."  "This is our 
task," Ashimbayev reportedly said, and this work must be 
conducted "quietly and precisely," with careful coordination 
with the central authorities. 
 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
8.  (C)  We fully expect that some form of new religious 
legislation will become law in the coming months.   The fact 
that the Mazhilis working group further softened the text in 
response to criticism from civil society and the 
international community is nevertheless a good sign. 
Ashimbayev's purported remarks are perhaps not surprising. 
It has been clear for some time that with the proposed 
legislation as well as through other initiatives, the 
government is intent on exercising greater control over 
"non-traditional" religious groups -- as well as over 
independent Muslims.  Senate Chairman Tokayev promised us in 
June that the Senate would take into account the 
recommendations of ODIHR and, if necessary, would make 
changes in the text ultimately approved by the Mazhilis.  We 
may see very soon whether he keeps to his word.  End Comment. 
 
MILAS

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