FCO Human Rights Report 2019
APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2019
Kazakhstan has over 18 million people. Two-thirds are ethnic Kazakhs and Uzbeks (seen as having a Muslim background) with the rest including ethnic Slavs (mainly Russians, seen as having a Christian background)283. Serious systemic violations of many human rights take place in the country. All exercise of freedom of religion and belief without state permission is illegal, all mosques outside state control are banned, and all forms of Islam apart from Sunni Hanafi Islam are banned. There is strict censorship of all religious books such as the Bible and Koran, as well as objects such as Russian Orthodox icons – including strict limits on where they can be bought or given away, which are enforced with police raids. Religious communities of under 50 people are illegal. All discussion of faith by people without state permission, or not using state-approved texts, or outside state-approved locations, is banned.
People who give their names as founders of religious organisations applying for legal status can face harassment. For example, after Aktau’s Hare Krishna community lodged a registration application in November 2018, officials tried to force them to complete detailed questionnaires requiring, among other information, “the reason for supporting the Krishna religion”. In the most recent known case, police in Oskemen suddenly began harassing the founders of the city’s New Life Protestant Church in May 2019, as it was seeking re-registration under a new name. Officers visited several founders late at night, threatening one woman in her late 70s to try to make her open the door. If officials succeed in reducing the number of founders to below 50, communities are blocked from obtaining legal status.
From January to December 2018, at least 171 individuals, religious communities, charities and companies were prosecuted for exercising freedom of religion and belief. The offences prosecuted included sharing faith with others without state permission, meeting for worship without state permission, offering religious literature, icons or other items without state permission, Muslims praying in mosques in banned ways such as saying the word Amen aloud, allowing children to be present at or conducting religious rites against the wishes of one parent, and allegedly inadequate security measures at a place of worship. Fines normally accompany raids on meetings by police and other officials, with all the participants being questioned and some being fined between three weeks to four months’ average wages.
Prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion and belief are primarily alleged to be adherents of the Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat. Independent observers in the country state that its activities peacefully encourage greater Muslim religious observance. The regime has repeatedly refused to explain what, if any, crime the alleged Tabligh Jamaat adherents have committed, with one verdict claiming that it is “intolerant” towards Shia Islam – even though the regime itself has banned all Shia mosques and literature. In the most recent case, eight Muslims were jailed on 5 August for between five and a half and eight years for participating in a WhatsApp religious discussion group monitored by the KNB secret police.
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