Jail for unregistered gatherings in Kazakhstan under proposed new law

May 29, 2014 by  
Filed under newsletter-asia

Kazakhstan, May 21, 2014: Those who lead or take part in religious gatherings without state permission in Kazakhstan could be jailed under a new criminal code that is advancing through the country’s parliament.

The Kazakh Parliament building in Astana

The Kazakh Parliament building in Astana

The “offences”, which are currently punished by fines, could see leaders imprisoned for up to 60 days and participants for up to 45 days. Offenders could alternatively face fines, corrective labour or community service. Those who finance unregistered religious activity would be liable to the same penalties as leaders.

The new criminal code was approved by the Majilis, the lower house of Parliament, on 9 April and sent to the Senate, the upper house. This has until 15 June to adopt the code, and it is thought unlikely that any significant changes will be made at this stage.

A provision that would have penalised a second offence of sharing one’s faith with up to four months’ imprisonment was removed during the code’s passage through the Majilis, as this is already punished under the proposed new Code of Administrative Offences. This has likewise been passed by the Majilis and is now being considered by the Senate. It includes a wide range of punishments for exercising the right to religious freedom.

Both new codes have been condemned by 119 Kazakh and international human rights groups and individuals, who issued a joint statement, describing the proposed laws as “considerably restricting and harming human rights”:

In complete contradiction with the Constitution and the norms of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Kazakhstan’s laws unequivocally make the profession by an individual of a religion dependent on having several dozen, hundreds or even thousands of fellow-believers.

The draft Criminal Code harshens punishment for violating this undemocratic provision.

They also highlighted how even registered groups would be vulnerable under the proposed administrative code; they would face suspension for “the slightest violation of a technical nature”.

In addition to the new criminal and administrative codes, a new criminal implementation code bans the construction of places of worship in prisons. Prisoners can have access to religious literature but only that which has been vetted by the state’s “religious studies expert”.

The proposed new codes are an attempt further to tighten controls on religious practice in Kazakhstan, which is already greatly restricted. In October 2011, a controversial new religion law came into force that required all religious groups to re-register. This made it impossible for smaller congregations to gain state approval, and over half of previously recognised religious groups, including Protestant churches, saw all their congregations liquidated.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief recently called on the Kazakh government to end the mandatory registration of religious groups.

– forum 18

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