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Article Kazakhstan: New Law on Religion Enacted

(Oct. 17, 2011) On October 13, 2011, President Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan signed into law a series of amendments and supplements to a number of Kazakhstan's legal acts, addressing the issues of freedom of conscience and the activities of religious organizations. (President Nursultan Nazarbayev Signed the Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan “On Introduction of Amendments and Supplements to Certain Legislative Acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan on the Issues of Religious Activities and Religious Associations” Aimed at Bringing the Range of Legislative Acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan into Conformity with the Law “On Religious Activities and Religious Associations,” President of Kazakhstan website (Oct. 13, 2011).) The newly passed amendments have not yet been published; it was reported that they are expected to enter into force on October 24, 2011, and because they will substantially change and restrict the existing practice of religious activities, an updated version of the national Law on Religious Activities and Religious Associations, which has already been issued, is expected to be in force at that time. ( Felix Corley, Kazakhstan: President Signs Two Laws Restricting Freedom of Religion or Belief, FORUM 18 NEWS (Oct. 13, 2011).)

According to observers, the major novelties of this law are newly established registration requirements for religious organizations, restrictions on distribution of religious materials, and new rules for opening places of worship. When the new law enters into force, religious organizations will be able to register with Ministry of Justice authorities at the national, regional, or local level if they have at least 5,000, 500, or 50 adult members, respectively. Unregistered religious activity will be banned. The activities of regional and local religious organizations are limited to the geographic area corresponding to their administrative units. (Felix Corley, Kazakhstan: Parliamentary Adoption of Restrictive Laws Imminent?, FORUM 18 NEWS (Sept. 23, 2011).)

The new law states that all founders of religious communities must be Kazakh citizens. Missionaries must have an invitation from a religious community registered in Kazakhstan and personal registration as a missionary. Missionary activities will be limited to the territory in which the religious group that invited the missionary is registered. The law prohibits religious organizations that use violence, harm people's health, break up families, encourage citizens not to carry out their legal obligations, force people to join, ban members from leaving, or force them to hand over their property to the organization of its leaders. A review of religious organizations' practices will be conducted by registering authorities. (Id.)

Distribution of religious literature is allowed only in places of worship and other special premises designated by registering authorities. All imports of such literature are subject to prior approval of the Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA), a government agency in charge of monitoring activities of registered religious communities. The Law also restricts places where people can worship. Creation of a place of worship by a religious community, other than the location originally designated at the time of initial registration, is subject to approval of the ARA and the local administration. (Id.) Prayer rooms and the conducting of prayers are not permitted in government buildings. (James Kilner, New Laws in Kazakhstan to Restrict Religious Groups, THE TELEGRAPH (Sept.29, 2011).)

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) officially expressed its concerns about the passage of restrictive religion legislation in Kazakhstan and the Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights commented that “in its current form the new legislation would constitute a step back in Kazakhstan's compliance with OSCE commitments.” (Press Release, OSCE, OSCE Human Rights Chief Expresses Concern over Restrictions in Kazakhstan's New Religion Law (Sept. 29, 2011).)

Prepared by Nerses Isajanyan, a Law Library Intern, under the guidance of Peter Roudik, Director of Legal Research. Mr. Isajanyan is a postgraduate Muskie Fellow doing his practical training at the Law Library of Congress.

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