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March 2, 2012

Kazakhstan: Small Churches Banned

Screen shot 2012-03-02 at 12.58.21 PMA religion law adopted last October has been used to revoke registration from religious groups of fewer than 50 adults, and small churches are now struggling to maintain legal status. In the past, authorities fined those who met without registration, but the new religion law officially bans all unregistered religious activity. The number of religious groups in Kazakhstan has declined 13 percent, from 4,551to 3,972, since the government began enforcing the stricter regulations. A complementary law increased penalties for religious offences.

In February, government officials demanded that 579 religious groups forfeit their registration certificates and cease all religious activity. Even though the churches complied, local officials continue to visit the communities to ensure enforcement of the new regulations.

Under the old religion law, religious communities were registered under the Ministry of Justice either as legal entities or as small Religious Groups without legal status.

Kulyan Seydahmetova, a local official at the Internal Policy Department (IPD), explained that the small groups are illegal under the new law because it includes no specific provision for small religious organizations. “No such form of activity is defined there; therefore, these groups cannot exist in this form,” Seydahmetova said. “In order to be able to continue activity, they must re-register as legal entities.”

The now illegal small Christian churches are concerned that they will not be able to collect the required 50 signatures in the short time allowed for re-registration. If they have not applied for re-registration by Oct. 25, the courts will shut them down.

The government has also used the new law to close churches and prayer rooms in prisons throughout Kazakhstan. Aliya Kadnova, an aide to the deputy head overseeing the prisons, said, “They are illegal — that’s why they are being closed down.”

Source: Forum 18 News Service