Protestant Churches closed under strict religion law in Kazakhstan

December 19, 2012 by  
Filed under newsletter-asia

All churches and religious groups had to re-register under the new law

All churches and religious groups had to re-register under the new law

Kazakhstan, December 18, 2012: Over half of Kazakhstan’s officially-recognised religious groups have seen all their congregations liquidated following a year-long re-registration process required under a controversial religion law. Protestant churches are among those affected.

The deadline for applications was 25 October, since when the courts have been enforcing closures.  To be eligible for registration under the new law, which came into force in October 2011, a group must have a minimum membership of 5,000 nationally, 500 regionally and 50 locally, making it impossible for smaller groups to obtain state approval.

Many groups have complained that the re-registration process was “complex”, “burdensome”, “arbitrary”, “unnecessary” and “expensive”.

Under the new, strict guidelines, 60% ofKazakhstan’s 46 previously recognised religions have been deregistered, leaving just 17. And around a third of all faith-based civic organisations are also facing the cut.

The law favours the country’s “traditional religions”, which include Islam, Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Judaism and Buddhism. But the authorities are suspicious of certain Protestant groups, which they classify as “non-traditional”.

Among the churches that have been liquidated is Light of the World Pentecostal Church. It was accused of providing “false information” in its registration document after one of its founder-member signatories died, even though this happened after the papers had been submitted.

The church’s pastor, Pavel Semlyanskikh, said that the authorities had used various excuses not to re-register Light of the World and had repeatedly required them to make changes to their documents. He said that the death of one of the signatories “cannot be an excuse since we provided 54 names as founders as against the officially required 50 names”.

Although the church removed the deceased person’s name from the application and resubmitted it on 24 October, the head of the Regional Justice Department said that Light of the World had not made the corrections in time, despite the deadline being 25 October.

Pastor Semlyanskikh said that the authorities “just wanted to strip us of our registration under any excuse and as soon as possible”.

Some Protestant churches say that they have been “deceived” or “compelled” to agree to their liquidation in court with promises that they will be allowed to function as branches of other registered groups, or apply for registration as new organisations. But subsequent applications have not been granted.

One church in southern Kazakhstan that had this experience said its members were pressured by the authorities to withdraw their signatures from the documents. They believe that the church was denied registration because it comprises predominantly ethnic Kazakhs.

In addition to the re-registration requirement, the religion law includes rules on the vetting of religious literature and tightens guidelines for the training of clergy.

The government has argued that it is necessary to defend the state from Islamist extremism.

– barnabas team

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