Kazakhstan: Jail for religious freedom under draft laws

April 4, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-asia

People who share their faith with others and leaders of unregistered churches could be jailed in Kazakhstan under proposed new laws that increase the penalties for those exercising religious freedom.

The new laws are expected to go before the Kazakh Parliament in JulyKazakhstan, April 02, 2013: The draft of a new Criminal Code has been finalised and is expected to be approved by the government next month before going to parliament in July. It makes exercising freedom of religion or belief a criminal offence, whereas until now, breaches have been classified as administrative offences mostly punishable by a fine.

Three new articles introduce new penalties, including jail terms. One of them concerns the leadership of, participation in and financing of unregistered or banned religious groups. Violators could be punished with fines, “corrective labour”, community service or prison: up to three months for leaders and financial backers; up to two months for participants.

Another article concerns unregistered “missionary activity”, including the use of unapproved literature or other informational materials. This carries the same types of penalties, but the terms are more severe. For example, an offender could be jailed for up to four months.

The third new article could also be used against Christians. This punishes the creation of or participation in a religious or social organisation whose activity involves, for example, the incitement of citizens to refuse to carry out their civil obligations or to carry out illegal activities. Penalties include a heavy fine and up to six months behind bars.

Ruslan Toktagulov of the General Prosecutor’s Office said that the aim of these new laws is to prevent “extremist” activity.

So far this year, 18 people are known to have been found guilty of offences currently classified as “administrative” for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. Some were fined for leading unregistered religious communities, others for handing out religious literature on the streets and others for sharing their faith. These could all become jail-able crimes if the new laws are approved.

Kazakhstan is also preparing a new Code of Administrative Offences, but a draft is yet to be published. The Justice Ministry’s Isidor Borchashvili, who is leading the working group that is preparing the draft, said that the new code “will give more freedom”.

This seems highly unlikely given the way the Kazakh government has been tightening restrictions on its citizens’ rights. The proposed new laws follow a harsh Religion Law that was introduced in 2011 and that imposed severe limitations on religious freedom.

– barnabas team

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