Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Kazakhstan: Harsher Religious Laws planned as 89-year-old Baptist prisoner of conscience fined


President Nazarbayev instructed the government "within a two-month period to draft a package of legislative initiatives in the sphere of countering terrorism and extremism, production, storage and sale of weapons, in the area of regulating migration and religious associations"

Times of Ahmad | News Watch | UK Desk
Source/Credit: Forum 18 News
By Felix Corley | June 14, 2016

Kazakhstan's President orders harsher Religion Law drafted by mid-August, as fines for exercising freedom of religion or belief continue. 89-year-old Baptist Yegor Prokopenko was again fined for leading his community, while an Atyrau giftshop owner was fined for offering four Korans for sale.

At the age of 89 and a half, former Soviet-era Baptist prisoner of conscience Yegor Prokopenko has again been fined for leading a meeting for worship. He is believed to be the oldest victim of Kazakhstan's policy of fining those who exercise the right to freedom of religion or belief without state permission. Two Protestants in the same city were fined for drinking tea in a cafe after a Sunday meeting for worship. A giftshop owner in Atyrau was fined for offering four copies of the Koran for sale without a state licence, which the judge deemed would have "harmful consequences". With Kazakhstan's president ordering harsher restrictions in the Religion Law to be prepared by mid-August, with likely new associated punishments in the Code of Administrative Offences, exercise of the right to freedom of religion or belief seems set to be punished even more widely.

Kazakhstan's 2011 Religion Law already violates the country's international human rights obligations. It bans meetings for worship by communities without state approval, meetings for worship in venues that have not been approved, distribution of books about religion and other religious items without state approval or in venues that do not have state approval for religious literature distribution, and discussing religion with others if the individual does not have state approval as a "missionary". These bans are backed up by punishments in the Administrative Code (see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1939).

In addition, 32 individuals are known to have been given criminal convictions since December 2014 for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. Most of these have been imprisoned. Many have also had their bank accounts frozen (see F18News 8 June 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2186).

Wide-ranging legal amendments ordered

Following violence which began in the north-western city of Aktobe [Aqtobe] on 5 June, President Nursultan Nazarbayev was quick to blame "followers of the non-traditional religious movement of Salafism". He told a meeting of the Security Council in the capital Astana on 10 June that in response legal changes would be made to a range of laws "to ensure national security".

President Nazarbayev instructed the government "within a two-month period to draft a package of legislative initiatives in the sphere of countering terrorism and extremism, production, storage and sale of weapons, in the area of regulating migration and religious associations", according to the presidential website. He added that it is "necessary" to include the entire legislative package in the legislative plan for 2016.

When the new restrictive version of the Religion Law and amendments to other laws were adopted in 2011, they too had not been in the legislative plan for the year. However, they suddenly reached parliament in September 2011, were adopted that same month and signed into law in October (see F18News 13 October 2011 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1624).


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