Hundreds of small religious groups have been stripped of their registration in Kazakhstan as a senior religious affairs official says that their activity is “now banned” under new rules.
A number of churches from a range of Christian denominations, including Baptist, Presbyterian and Seventh-day Adventist, are among the 579 groups that have been deregistered.
The Kazakh parliament passed a new Religion Law last year CC BY 2.0 by msykos
Kairat Lama Sharif, chair of the Agency of Religious Affairs, described the 13 per cent fall in the number of officially-recognised religious groups as “a positive dynamic in the systematisation of the total number of religious associations”. He said that the number would probably decrease further as the new Religion Lawis enforced.
A religious group must now have at least 50 adult members to be registered. Leaders of small churches have received official warnings to stop their activity and hand back their registration certificates.
Saule Ibrayeva, chair of Akmola Region’s Agency of Religious Affairs, said:
The activity of small religious groups in the territory of Kazakhstan is now banned since there is no such form of religious association of citizens.
We have a new law and as it does not allow for the existence of religious associations which have fewer than 50 members, then they should either re-register with 50 members or stop their activity as a religious association.
Small churches are still meeting for services, but they face harassment from the state. Kulyan Seydahmetova, head of Bulandy District Internal Policy Department, said that officials “regularly visit these communities and check up on their activity”.
A representative of one church said, “Now our believers are afraid each time they gather for worship… We are worried about possible punishments from the authorities.”
Although the new Religion Law came into force in October 2011, no regulations have yet been drawn up for the re-registration process.
Deregistered groups, which must make any necessary amendments to their charters and re-register with the authorities by 25 October this year, have complained that they cannot do so until the regulations are in place. They fear that there will be only a short time to do so once these have been adopted.
And for many, it will not be possible to collect the 50 signatures required, because they do not have sufficient members or at least not enough willing to give their personal details to the authorities.