08ASTANA2388, KAZAKHSTAN: RELIGION LAW PASSES PARLIAMENT

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08ASTANA2388 2008-12-03 10:59 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Astana

VZCZCXRO7301
OO RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW
RUEHLA RUEHLH RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHNEH RUEHNP RUEHPOD RUEHPW RUEHROV
RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHTA #2388/01 3381059
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 031059Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY ASTANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4022
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE 0883
RUCNCLS/SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0288
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 0990
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFAAA/DIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC 0450
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC 0365
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
RHMFIUU/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ASTANA 002388 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR SCA/CEN, DRL 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM KDEM KZ
SUBJECT:  KAZAKHSTAN:  RELIGION LAW PASSES PARLIAMENT 
 
A. ASTANA 767 
B. ASTANA 1107 
C. ASTANA 2365 
 
1.  (U) Sensitive but unclassified.  Not for public Internet. 
 
2.  (SBU)  SUMMARY:   On November 26, Kazakhstan's parliament 
adopted the amendments to the religion law, and the legislation is 
now before President Nazarbayev for signature.  While the draft is a 
marked improvement over the original April version, it still 
contains several problematic provisions, including restrictions on 
the rights of "religious groups."  The Kazakhstani parliament passed 
the law the day after the government agreed to have the latest draft 
reviewed by the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights 
(ODIHR) Experts Group, who had earlier reviewed the legislation. 
ODIHR Headquarters expressed disappointment at the hasty passage of 
the law and urged the President not to sign it in its current form. 
Civil society and religious leaders plan to petition President 
Nazarbayev to submit the law for a review to the Constitutional 
Court, although the government has not yet committed to doing so. 
END SUMMARY. 
 
LAW GOES TO PRESIDENT FOR SIGNATURE 
 
3.  (SBU)  On November 26, Kazakhstan's parliament adopted the 
amendments to the religion law.  The legislation will now be sent to 
the President, who has 60 days to sign it into law.  The 
legislation, as it stands now, is a marked improvement over the 
draft originally submitted in April 2007 (ref A), although several 
problematic provisions remain.  As laid out in reftels, the law 
would: 
 
-- mandate a minimum of 50 members to register as a religious 
organization; 
 
-- establish new procedures for registering a religious 
organization, and divide such organizations into local religious 
organizations (formed within one administrative unit) and central 
religious organizations (formed upon the initiative of local 
religious organizations that exist in at least five oblasts); 
 
-- create a new legal entity for groups with less than 50 members, 
called a "religious group," which would benefit from simplified 
registration process.  The law would also, however, impose 
significant restrictions on the activities of such "religious 
groups."  They would be banned from proselytizing or renting public 
facilities for services, and could conduct religious services only 
among the group's members; 
 
-- require that all existing religious groups and organizations 
re-register within one year of the new law becoming effective; 
 
-- require religious organizations, when registering and 
re-registering, to provide the government with information about the 
fundamentals of the religion and its associated practices, including 
its history, methods of operation, and its perspective on marriage, 
family relations, and education; 
 
-- establish that registration of a religious group previously 
unknown in Kazakhstan may be suspended for up to six months; 
 
-- require, in the event of a denial of registration, that the 
government provide a written explanation justifying the denial; 
 
-- define missionary activity as religious-educational activity on 
behalf of a religious organization "beyond the territory where it is 
registered," and require that "missionaries" register with the 
authorities.  (NOTE: The law does not clearly define "territory," 
and several religious groups expressed worry that the ambiguity will 
lead to believers having to register whenever they travel to 
neighboring oblasts.  END NOTE.); 
 
-- require oral parental consent for any minor to attend religious 
events; 
 
-- significantly increase fines and penalties for violating the law. 
 
 
ODIHR "DISAPPOINTED ABOUT HASTY ADOPTION" 
 
ASTANA 00002388  002 OF 002 
 
 
 
4.  (SBU)  The law's adoption came on the heels of the November 
24-25 visit from the Expert Group on Freedom of Belief from OSCE's 
Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which 
had authored ODIHR's review of the original draft legislation. 
Professor Cole Durham, the review's chief drafter, told the 
Ambassador on November 24 that ODIHR saw numerous issues with the 
legislation, but could not go into specific detail because the 
review was being kept confidential at Kazakhstan's request.  The 
Expert Group met with Ministry of Justice's (MOJ) Religious Issues 
Committee (RIC) on November 25 and agreed that ODIHR would review 
the latest version of the legislation and publicize its report. 
Upon the adoption of the law, ODIHR released a statement from its 
headquarters in Warsaw expr
essing disappointment that the parliament 
"approved amendments to the religion law without taking into account 
ODIHR's recommendations."  The statement urged President Nazarbayev 
not to sign the law in its current form and allow it to be revised 
to "better reflect international standards."  Ambassador Janez 
Lenarcic, ODIHR's Director, in Warsaw, said, "It is disappointing 
that the law was adopted in such a hasty way without making full use 
of broad consultations with civil society and expertise from the 
international community." 
 
CIVIL SOCIETY AIMS EFFORTS AT PRESIDENCY 
 
4.  (SBU)  Civil society leaders were not as surprised as ODIHR's by 
the law's quick passage.  "No one thought the Mazhelis (lower house 
of the parliament) would take a long time," said Helsinki Committee 
Chair Ninel Fokina.  She told us a group of leading NGOs were 
preparing a review of the religion legislation, as well as the 
package of legislative amendments on political parties, elections, 
and the media, to be presented at the December 4 OSCE Ministerial in 
Helsinki.  Fokina predicted that President Nazarbayev would either 
sign the legislation into law "immediately" or choose to send the 
draft law to the Constitutional Court for review, "to be seen as a 
liberal ruler."  She said several NGOs and religious groups would 
petition the President to send the law for review. 
 
5.  (SBU)  Fokina voiced skepticism that the new ODIHR review would 
make any difference.  The review will not be done in time to affect 
change, she believes.  Director of the Legal Resource Center, Vera 
Tkachenko, also did not pin her hopes on ODIHR's review.  The fact 
that the original review was kept confidential sent Kazakhstan mixed 
messages, she said.  ODIHR called on Kazakhstan to follow Western 
norms, but failed to publicize what those norms are, she alleged. 
(NOTE: OSCE representatives here frequently voiced their frustration 
about Kazakhstan's condition that the report be kept confidential, 
but remained bound by the agreement between ODIHR and Kazakhstan. 
END NOTE.) 
 
6.  (SBU)  COMMENT:  It seems unlikely that President Nazarbayev 
will wait for ODIHR's review before signing the religion bill into 
law, and civil society groups fully expect that the new legislation 
will come into force within the next few months.  The current draft 
is a significant improvement over the original April version, and 
while civil society leaders maintain that some of the controversial 
provisions were inserted as bargaining chips, it is an encouraging 
sign that many did not make it into the final draft.  Senate 
Chairman Tokayev assured the Ambassador that the law is aimed 
specifically against the pernicious influences of "sects" and 
extremist organizations (ref C).  However, many of the provisions 
that Parliament retained in the current version seem to be aimed 
specifically at exerting greater government control over smaller 
"non-traditional" groups.  If, as expected, the President signs the 
existing version into law, experts on religious freedom will be 
carefully monitoring how the government chooses to implement the new 
legislation and its effects on religious freedom. 
 
MILAS

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