Kyrgyzstan tightens restrictions with changes to religion law

December 29, 2012 by  
Filed under newsletter-asia

Literature will be examined for “ideas of religious extremism”Kyrgyzstan, December 27, 2012: is adding harsher censorship rules to its Religion Law, while other proposed amendments would make it much more difficult for smaller religious groups to obtain state registration.

President Almazbek Atambayev signed on 7 December the censorship amendments, which had previously been approved by the Kyrgyz Parliament, the Zhogorku Kenesh.

The 2009 Religion Law allowed for some state examination of religious literature and banned the distribution of religious literature and other materials in public places. But lawyers from various religious communities said that the amendments would have the effect of imposing total censorship on all religious literature.

The new article says:

Control on the import, production, acquisition, transportation, transfer, storage and distribution of printed materials, film, photo, audio and video productions, as well as other materials containing ideas of religious extremism, separatism and fundamentalism is conducted by the plenipotentiary state organs for religious affairs, national security and internal affairs.

It is not clear how materials will be vetted; one senior official said that an “ad hoc expert group” would be created to assess each suspected infringement.

Human rights defender Ivan Kamenko warned that “implementation is likely to be chaotic, selective and arbitrary” with groups deemed “non-traditional”, which include Protestants, most likely to face problems.

He said that if a religious organisation was found to have literature branded “extremist”, the organisation itself could also be declared “extremist” and thereby banned under the Religion Law.

Religious groups other than those that are part of the Muslim Board and Russian Orthodox Church already suffer discriminatory state censorship; the amendments seem likely further to restrict their exercise of religious freedom.

Under other proposed amendments to the Religion Law, which are at a less advanced stage than the censorship clause, religious communities would be required to have 200 adult founders in one locality to be legally allowed to exist; students would not be permitted to travel abroad for religious education without state permission; and foreigners would be banned from taking part in religious activity without a state licence.

Since the Religion Law came into force in January 2009, the government has repeatedly tried to harshen its provisions. It already requires religious organisations to register with the state. and many groups have had their applications arbitrarily declined.

State approval would become even more elusive, especially for smaller groups, if the amendment that requires 200 local adult founders is passed; the current law does not specify where they must live.

– barnabas team

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