– in defiance of its binding international legal obligations – demands that
groups of people can exist as a religious community and exercise freedom of
religion or belief only if they have state permission. Permission to exist is
gained via state registration. Yet even religious communities who try to
register or have registered are prevented by officials from exercising their
freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. The most recent
known examples of communities facing such official obstruction are a Protestant
church in Atyrau and an independent mosque community in Petropavl, both of
which are yet again seeking registration, and a Hare Krishna community in
Kostanai which is already registered.
Kostanai Hare Krishna community’s leader, Sergei Geller, has lodged an appeal
to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee. This calls among other
things to be able to exercise freedom of religion or belief without fear of
criminal or administration punishment, and for Kazakhstan to end its
requirement that religious communities can only exercise freedom of religion or
belief with state permission. Kazakhstan’s Mission to the UN in Geneva
confirmed it had received correspondence – however was unable to explain why it
had not replied by a 5 December deadline (see below).
Denial of binding international obligation
Religion Law imposes a complex and restrictive state registration system,
including state checks on a community’s beliefs and demands for at least 50
people willing to identify themselves in writing to the authorities as
founders. Many people are afraid to do this, for fear of state reprisals (see
Forum 18’s Kazakhstan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1939).
Ivanov, Head of the Culture Ministry’s Religious Affairs Committee’s Division
of relations with Christian and other non-Muslim organisations claimed – in
defiance of the facts – that the demand for compulsory state registration of
religious communities is not in violation of Kazakhstan’s international
obligations. The demand also does not violate the Constitution, he claimed to
Forum 18 on 18 December.
on exercising human rights without state permission does violate international
law, as UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Heiner
Bielefeldt made clear during his March-April visit to the country (see below).
This is also clearly laid out in the Organisation for Security and Co-operation
in Europe (OSCE)/Venice Commission Guidelines on the Legal Personality of
Religious or Belief Communities (see
Kazakhstan is both an OSCE participating state and a Venice Commission member
Church seeking registration
Gospel Church in the Caspian Sea port of Atyrau [Atyraü] in north-western
Kazakhstan has made repeated attempts to apply for state permission to meet to
exercise freedom of religion or belief. Its first application in 2014 was on 17
January and its most recent on 14 October 2014.
do not want to violate the Religion Law and be punished, but the authorities
put pressure on our members so we cannot get registration,” Nurlubek
Zhalgasbayev, the Church’s leader, told Forum 18 on 10 December. “Now we
don’t know what to do.”
complained that the applications were each time turned down because the Justice
Department in Atyrau arbitrarily removed names from the list of founders,
bringing the number below the required 50 adult citizens.
Zhalgasbayev and his Kazakh-language Church have long faced pressure for
exercising freedom of religion or belief without state permission. It has
repeatedly sought state registration in vain since before 2005 (see F18News 30
May 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=572).
time we [in 2014] applied to the Justice Department with the list of 50
founders, Atyrau Anti-Terrorism Police officer Askar Rakhimov visited and
compelled some of the founding members to write statements he dictated,”
Pastor Zhalgasbayev continued. Anti-Terrorism Police officer Rakhimov forced
those founders to “confess that we had unauthorised meetings, or that they
did not understand the full responsibility of being a founder and only signed
because the Church or a family member asked them to”.
time the Anti-Terrorism Police reduced the list of founders by these means, the
Justice Department rejected the Church’s applications for registration as
“there is a problem with the list of founders”.
were presented by the police with statements written by Church founders that
they either were not Church members or just joined the Church and were asked to
sign as founders”, Nurlan Kuzenbayev, Deputy Head of Atyrau Justice
Department told Forum 18 on 18 December. “They therefore wished to
withdraw their signatures”, he claimed. Asked why the authorities demand
that religious communities must register and then pressure them not to
register, he replied “you must ask that question to the police”.
Religious communities cannot meet “until they receive registration, which
is what the Law demands”, Kuzenbayev stated.
“Police did not pressure me”?
Police officer Rakhimov visited a number of those who had signed the Church’s
registration application as founders, several who asked not to be named for
fear of state reprisals confirmed to Forum 18 between 10 and 16 December. Some
he visited in their workplaces or homes, while others he stopped on the street.
Rakhimov compelled them to write the statements Pastor Zhalgasbayev described.
statements included phrases such as “Atyrau Police did not pressure
me” and that they “wrote the statement of their free will”.
After writing these statements, the founders withdrew their names from the list
Police officer Rakhimov asked “many questions about our church, members
and leaders, why I attend the church, and why I decided to be a founder”.
person refused to write a statement, Rakhimov said that “only he can
decide what I should or should not do”. He then warned that they will be
“in trouble” unless they write the statement. “I was afraid, and
wrote what he dictated to me,” the individual told Forum 18. “I don’t
even remember exactly everything that I wrote.”
told Forum 18 that Anti-Terrorism Police officer Rakhimov shouted at them at
work, in the presence of their supervisor, that “unless I withhold my
signature as a founder I will be dismissed from my job”. The person later
declined to be a founder.
compelled one person who is not a Church member to write a statement that
“the Church is a destructive sect”, and withdrawing the signature of
a fellow family member (without consulting the family member).
deceived me into writing a statement that we are a group of believers who
regularly meet for worship, by promising that he will help with the
registration of our Church,” one Church member told Forum 18. “But I
didn’t know that he was lying to me, and that his purpose was to get a written
confession from me that we violated the Religion Law.”
Police officer Rakhimov claimed to Forum 18 on 10 December that he visited
people “because we received a complaint from neighbours of the church
member in whose home they held unauthorised meetings”. He refused to
answer why he put pressure on people, claiming instead that “those
meetings disturbed neighbours”.
denied that he threatened people and forced them to write statements he
dictated, claiming that “they all wrote of their free will”.
Investigation – but of the police or their
the founders the Anti-Terrorism Police pressured into writing statements have
written to the head of Atyrau Regional Police Arman Jalmukhanbetov, to whom
Rakhimov reports, withdrawing their statements. Those founders told
Jalmukhanbetov that they wrote them under pressure, and do not agree with what
they wrote. The Justice Department has, however, ignored these protests.
was claimed to Forum 18 on 15 December as being “busy in a meeting”.
On 16 December Berik Aymurzin, Deputy Police Chief and Head of the police
Investigations Division, claimed not to have heard of the case – even though
Forum 18 had been told by Atyrau Police that Aymurzin was able to discuss it.
Police officer Rakhimov told Forum 18 that “we had a commission, including
the National Security Committee (KNB) secret police and Regional Administration
officials, and they investigated the Church’s complaint against our
Police Chief Aymurzin refused to tell Forum 18 whether the authorities will
respond to citizens’ complaints about the police, or discipline Rakhimov.
refused to say why the KNB secret police is involved, or whether the KNB or
Justice Department asked him to investigate the Church, claiming that “I
am not competent to answer you on this.”
religious communities are thought to be under surveillance by the ordinary
police and KNB secret police. Many communities are reluctant to discuss this –
including KNB attempts to recruit informers – for fear of state reprisals.
There have also been apparent attempts to smear or blackmail members of some
religious communities (see Forum 18’s Kazakhstan religious freedom survey
No freedom of religion or belief “unless
they have registration”
Police officer Rakhimov refused to say why a religious community cannot meet
for worship while applying for registration, claiming that “it’s not our
fault – the Justice Department rejected their application”. He then
claimed that people cannot meet together to exercise their freedom of religion
or belief “unless they have registration from the Justice
Church may be targeted for more state action, Rakhimov indicated, claiming that
people had “complained to the Prosecutor’s Office that the authorities are
not taking the case seriously, and not punishing the Church for illegal
activity”. One person Rakhimov claimed had done this denied to Forum 18
that they had done this.
what charges are being brought against the Church, Rakhimov then claimed that
“I cannot hear you” although Forum 18 could clearly hear him. He then
put the phone down, and has not answered calls made since 10 December.
Zhalgabayev stated that “we are afraid to worship or pray together because
we may be punished”. He also noted that “we also are hesitant to
apply for registration, because we fear that the authorities will put more
pressure on our members”.
Mosque community still trying to register
Din-Muhammad Mosque community – which caters mainly to ethnic Tatars in the
northern city of Petropavl – is once again trying to obtain state registration,
despite being formally liquidated and its Mosque confiscated.
Mosque was built in 1852 and forcibly closed by the state on 5 February 2014,
the state claiming it “is to be handed over to another religious
organisation”. But the Muslims of the mosque community have decided to
carry on holding namaz (prayers) together and to continue to exist. Marat
Zhamaliyev, deputy head of the regional Finance Department, told Forum 18 on
the day of the liquidation that “we’re not liquidating the mosque, we’re
liquidating the community”. He insisted that the juridical community had
been liquidated by a court and therefore did not exist. The Din-Muhammad Mosque
may be the last remaining publicly-accessible mosque independent of the
state-backed Muslim Board (see F18News 5 February 2014
live under constant fear that any time we will be thrown out of the Mosque
since, according to court documents, it no longer belongs to us”, Imam
Rafael Ryazapov of the Mosque community told Forum 18 from Petropavl on 15
“Unlawfulness of court decisions”
Supreme Court on 11 September rejected our petition to review the previous
Court decisions supporting the authorities’ refusal to register us”, Imam
Ryazapov stated. Two complaints to Kazakhstan’s General Prosecutor’s Office
about the “unlawfulness of court decisions” were also rejected on 29
October and 27 November.
Mosque community has strongly opposed the state’s efforts to close them down,
contesting the authorities’ long-standing “legal” and extra-legal
harassment of them (see eg. F18News 2 October 2013
failure to overturn court decisions, harassment of founders and arbitrary
application rejections similar to that experienced by Atyrau’s Full Gospel
Church, the Din-Muhammad Mosque community is still trying to get state
registration. “We have collected new documents as a community under a
different name, and are planning to submit our documents for registration in
early 2015”, the Imam told Forum 18.
whether the Mosque community can obtain registration, Yernar Seydimbekov, Head
of North-Kazakhstan Regional Justice Department, which is responsible for
registration, replied to Forum 18 on 18 December “why not if their
documents are in accordance with the Laws of Kazakhstan and their teachings
receive positive expert opinion?” Asked what the authorities did not like
about previously applications, he claimed he does not remember. He then stated
“let them submit their documents and we will see”.
Denial of freedom of religion or belief’s
strong impact on Muslims
demand that religious communities can only exist or function with state
permission has a strong impact on Muslims. The government has allowed only one
Muslim religious community in all of Kazakhstan to gain state registration: the
state-backed Muslim Board. Only mosque communities under its control are
allowed to function, even though nowhere in the country’s published law is this
other Muslim communities and organisations – including Ahmadi Muslim
congregations, independent mosques (such as the Tatar-Bashkir mosque in Petropavl),
and mosques catering to specific ethnic communities (such as Azerbaijanis,
Chechens, or Uighurs) – are banned from exercising their right to freedom of
religion or belief (see Forum 18’s religious freedom survey of Kazakhstan
independent Tabligh Jamaat Islamic missionary movement is particularly targeted
by the state. Mamurzhan Turashov was given a three-year prison term on 2
December in south Kazakhstan, and a similar criminal trial began in Taldykurgan
on 9 December of five apparent Tabligh Jamaat adherents. Twenty suspected
Tabligh Jamaat adherents were detained in Almaty in late November. Officials
have refused to discuss any aspect of the cases with Forum 18. Tabligh Jamaat
was banned in February 2013, even though the KNB secret police admitted that
Tabligh Jamaat literature did not have “extremist, terrorist, or any other
calls against Kazakhstan’s laws”. However, the KNB claimed that “all
their activity could be characterised as subversive in the ideological sphere,
forming in the population anti-social or anti-civil positions” (see
F18News 12 December 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2023).
Registered community appeals to UN Human Rights
Hare Krishna community’s leader Sergei Geller has appealed to the UN Human
Rights Committee, after he was one of two Hare Krishna devotees fined for
participating in a community meeting in his private flat in Kostanai in June
2013. The Human Rights Committee received the complaint on 5 June 2014 resolved
that Kazakhstan should respond to the Committee and Geller by 5 December,
Yelizaveta Moksheva, a lawyer from the Kostanai branch of the Kazakhstan
International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law who prepared the
complaint, told Forum 18 on 18 December. “However, we have not received
any response from the state”, she observed.
Koishybayev, a Prosecutor’s Office official attached to Kazakhstan’s Mission to
the UN in Geneva to liaise on such complaints, confirmed that Kazakhstan had
had official correspondence from the Human Rights Committee on Geller’s case.
But he was unable to explain why his government did not respond on Geller’s
complaint on time. “I know that the deadline was 5 December,” he told
Forum 18 from Geneva on 19 December. “We are preparing our response and
the government is due to present it to the United Nations by the end of next
week.” He said he was unsure whether the response was being prepared on
behalf of the government by the Prosecutor’s Office, or by the police.
Raided and fined for meeting
state registered religious community was holding a private meeting to resolve
internal issues, but not at the community’s registered address. The Hare
Krishna community had invited to officials – from the police and the regional
administration – to observe the meeting. After the officials left, the meeting
was raided by police and in September 2013 a visiting Hare Krishna devotee was
fined for “illegal missionary activity” for attending the meeting.
The same month Geller was fined for organising an “illegal religious
meeting”. The community’s activity was also banned for three months,
though this ban was overturned on appeal (see F18News 30 December 2013
12 May 2014 UN appeal notes that although the law does not require it, the
Regional Religious Affairs Department has insisted since 2008, that the
community informs it, the ordinary police, the KNB secret police and the Justice
Department of every meeting for worship or other purposes. Indeed, at the
September 2013 court hearing both the prosecution and the judge accused him of
holding an “illegal” meeting because of an alleged failure to inform
the authorities – even though at the meeting two officials were present at the
invitation of the community. The prosecution refused to specify what law
required such notification.
Nugurbekov, Head of the Regional Administration’s Religious Affairs Department,
claimed to Forum 18 on 18 December that he did not know whether the Regional
Administration or the KNB secret police had demanded prior notification of Hare
Krishna meetings – even though his Department’s officials have been at such
meetings. “If they did it is wrong”, he stated.
also learnt just before the court hearing that prosecutors had considered
bringing a criminal case against him under Criminal Code Article 164, which
punishes “Deliberate actions aimed at the incitement of social, national,
clan, racial, or religious hatred or antagonism, or at offence to the national
honour and dignity, or religious feelings of citizens, as well as propaganda of
exclusiveness, superiority, or inferiority of citizens based on their attitude
towards religion, or their genetic or racial belonging, if these acts are
committed publicly or with the use of the mass information media”.
Punishments range from a fine to imprisonment of up to seven years. However,
prosecutors decided not to use this charge against Geller.
Presbyterian Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev and atheist writer Aleksandr
Kharlamov are still being investigated on criminal charges including Article
164, to punish them for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief.
Both have been detained in a psychiatric hospital for no medical reason.
Article 164 and other articles of the Criminal Code which punish the exercise
of freedom of religion or belief are (along with similar articles of the Code
of Administrative Offences) being replaces with similar articles in the new
Criminal and Administrative Codes which mainly come into force on 1 January
2015 (see F18News 9 July 2014
from the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law
attended Geller’s appeal hearing. She noted that the judge was
“prejudiced” against both him and the Hare Krishna community.
Government’s violations of international law
UN appeal states, among other things, that he was punished for exercising his
right to freedom of religion or belief even though this right is laid down in
the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights’ (ICCPR) Article 18
(“Freedom of thought, conscience and religion”). Kazakhstan ratified
the ICCPR in 2006, and it is legally binding on the state. Geller argues that
the government’s restrictions are not permitted under Article 18. He also
maintains that the government is treating his community differently from
others, in violation of ICCPR Article 26 (“Equality before the law”).
Geller notes that both the state-backed Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox
Church are able to conduct meetings for religious purposes outside registered
places of worship without official permission.
also noted that the local Administration has published (using material from the
Culture Ministry) and sponsored the distribution of brochures and other
leaflets describing the Hare Krishna community (and other communities they
regard as “non-traditional”) as dangerous.
appeal calls on the UN Human Rights Committee to declare Geller’s punishment
for exercising his right to freedom of religion or belief a violation of his
rights under the ICCPR, and to affirm his right to exercise freedom of religion
or belief without fear of criminal or administration punishment. It also calls
for the Human Rights Committee to recommend that Kazakhstan change the Religion
Law to end the requirement that religious communities can only exercise freedom
of religion or belief with state permission. Geller also asks the Human Right
Committee to recommend an end to the Kostanai Administration’s unlawful demands
that it be notified before each Hare Krishna meeting.
UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or
Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Heiner Bielefeldt
criticised the government’s demand for state permission to exercise human
rights at the end of his March-April visit to Kazakhstan. “Registration
procedures should in any case be based on the clear understanding that freedom
of religion or belief, due to its nature as a human right, inheres to all human
beings and can never be rendered dependent on any specific acts of State
approval or administrative registration. (..) registration should be an offer
by the State, not a mandatory legal requirement”.
that: “A main problem concerning the administration of religious
registration is that non-registered religious groups can hardly exercise any
collective religious functions in Kazakhstan”. Continuing, he observed
that: “Any of their activities, even the common performance of prayers and
rituals in private homes, are deemed illegal and can incur serious
Special Rapporteur Bielefeldt also stated that during his 11–day visit, he had
heard “credible stories about police raids in the premises of some
non-registered groups, leading to confiscation of literature, computers and
other property” (see F18News 22 April 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1950).