Christians in Kazakhstan are concerned that draft legislation being discussed in Parliament’s upper house today (Thursday 29 September) would severely limit religious freedom.
If it were passed, one of the two draft laws would make illegal the activities of any group refusing to submit to a proposed tough new registration system. The same would apply to any religious group failing to meet its complex and strict registration criteria.
This is of particular concern to congregations of the Baptist Council of Churches, which do not want to seek state registration, reports the Forum 18 news service.
All religious communities would be forced to re-register within a year – or face ‘liquidation through the courts’, according to Forum 18.
The dominance of Orthodox Christianity and Islam of the Hanafi school in Kazakhstan is underlined in the proposed new legislation. This too has led non-Orthodox Christians to fear that they might be denied registration. What’s more, all religious groups wanting to build or open new places of worship would require both local and central government approval.
Non-Orthodox Christians also fear that the other draft legislation would have serious implications for the religious freedom of particular groups, such as children and missionaries, and for the freedom to print religious literature. They also say the draft legislation would violate Kazakhstan’s international human rights commitments.
Christians have been alarmed as much by the content of the draft legislation as by the ‘unprecedented’ speed with which it is passing through the country’s legislature. Both laws passed through Parliament’s lower house in one day, 21 September, with some minor amendments. The legislation is due to be considered at a plenary session of the Senate, the upper house of Parliament, on Thursday – but it is not certain whether it will be adopted on the same day.
The Baptist Council of Churches and the Baptist Union are calling on all their member churches in Kazakhstan to pray and fast this week.
Non-Orthodox Christians have long faced discrimination in the workplace and in society at large in Kazakhstan – and people who have converted to Christianity from another faith have sometimes faced persecution.
Release International (Sources: Forum 18, Mission Network News)