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Kazakhstan: Life of Non-traditional Religions

In 2018, 20 people in Kazakhstan were sentenced to prison terms for peaceful expression of religious views, according to the international religious freedom report. According to it, Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses were persecuted among Christian groups.

20-year-old Zhanara lives in Shymkent and wears a headscarf since childhood. She received a scholarship in a college but later quitted it because she was not allowed to wear a headscarf and long dresses. 

Zhanara. Photo: CABAR.asia

According to item 14, article 47 of the law of the Republic of Kazakhstan “On education”, students and pupils must follow the internal regulations, other requirements specified in the bylaws of the educational institution and educational services contract.

I was forbidden to wear a headscarf, although my family is open to it. I am a Muslim and I think I should wear a headscarf. The only job I could have was a salesperson. Many employers don’t want their workers to wear headscarves, be true Muslims.

Requirements to mandatory school uniform for secondary schools, including a ban on wearing religious things, were approved by ex-minister of education and science Aslan Sarinzhipov on January 14, 2016.

See also: Clothing of Discord. How Kazakstan Struggles against Wearing Hijabs at Schools

Since then, conflicts related to the denial of access to girls wearing headscarves to schools have emerged everywhere. However, the peak was reached last September 1, when school administrations throughout the country denied access to girls wearing headscarves.

Photo: CABAR.asia

Almas, a 21-year-old resident of Almaty, has been raised since birth in the Bethlehem Evangelical Christian Baptist Church (“House of Bread”), where his parents serve. He reads the Bible, attends services regularly, and works the rest of the time in church.

He tries not to talk about his religious views. He says that society does not understand him, and his peers laugh.

“I often come across the irony of others.”

“Every person believes in something. Even a hard-core atheist can believe in miracles or in fate. Without religion, life makes no sense, but I often come across the irony of others. The followers of non-traditional religious movements are carefully monitored and regularly checked. Although we are completely harmless, we do not force anyone to serve,” Almas said.

According to the Committee on Religious Affairs, 18 faiths and more than 3,700 religious associations are registered in Kazakhstan.

On May 29, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo presented a report on religious freedom in the world in 2018 in Washington. The report analyses the situation with respect for religious freedoms and emphasises that last year 20 people were sentenced to prison terms for peaceful expression of religious beliefs in Kazakhstan. The paper said that Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses were persecuted among Christian groups.

Fined for songs

Valentine Vasilyeva. Photo: CABAR.asia

Valentina Vasilyeva, a resident of Taldykorgan, has been serving and working for free in the Agape Protestant church for 15 years already.

“I used to smoke, drank alcohol, had numerous problems. Now my life is getting better. My son is a disabled person, he also often visits Agape. We do not use TV, Internet, instead we sing songs, have fun.We are planning to open two more churches in Kazakhstan. But if youare not a representative of traditional religions, you are the target – they are constantly interested in our activities. Many of my friends have been fined, for example, for singing our songs on the beach,” she said.

In 1992, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Kazakhstan adopted the Law “On freedom of religion and religious associations”. 19 years later, in 2011, a law on religious activity was adopted. And last year it was amended. In particular, comprehensive measures were taken in respect of individual citizens with radical religious views, as well as:

  • A ban was introduced not only on the use and public demonstration of the attributes and external signs of destructive religious movements, but the spread and propaganda of the ideology of destructive religious movements were prohibited.
  • Religious organisations are required to publish their financial statements in the media.
  • A new rule has been introduced providing for administrative responsibility for insulting the feelings and dignity of both believers and non-believers.
  • It regulates the behaviour of civil servants and employees of budgetary organisations in the religious sphere.
  • It simplified requirements for registration of regional religious associations.
  • Old legislation provided for fines and suspension of activities for religious offenses. In order to improve state-confessional relations for the purpose of humanisation, administrative punishment for offenses in the religious sphere now apply as an alternative administrative penalty – a warning.
  • The financial activities of religious associations must be transparent.
  • Minors under 16 years of age are prohibited from taking part in religious rites, divine services and ceremonies if they are unaccompanied by their parents, or one of parents is against it.

“We cannot interfere in the work of religious associations unless they violate the law.”

Freedom of conscience and religion is one of the key constitutional principles in Kazakhstan. The situation with religious freedoms in the country worsened in 2012, according to the annual report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedoms. The law on religious activities, adopted in Kazakhstan in 2011, is called repressive by the authors of the report.

Yerzhan Nukezhanov. Photo: CABAR.asia

However, according to the chair of the Committee on Religious Affairs, Yerzhan Nukezhanov, 85 per cent of Kazakhstanis are satisfied with the religious situation in the country.

He noted that according to the Constitution of Kazakhstan, no one can be discriminated against on the grounds of origin, social, official and property status, gender, race, nationality, language, religion, beliefs, place of residence or on any other grounds.

“We are a tolerant country, we cannot interfere in the work of religious associations unless they violate the law. Once in three years we have a congress of world religions, where the most pressing problems are discussed. There are no unresolved issues in this area. There are only minor violations, most likely ignorance of law. Representatives of religions always help each other in difficult situations,” Nukezhanov said.