Kazakhstan prosecuted 279 individuals, groups and organisations last year for conducting activities related to religion, according to news agency Forum 18.
The ‘offences’ included attending worship meetings, importing religious literature, telling other people about a faith, praying, allowing a parent to bring a child to a religious meeting, and inadequate security measures.
Punishments – including fines of up to 680,000 tenge (US$2,100), jail sentences, bans on activity, deportations and seizure of goods – were handed out in 258 cases. Of these, 101 were given to Christian individuals or groups. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims and commercial traders with no known religious affiliation were also targeted.
In one case a woman was punished for attempting to sell online a 1910 Russian Orthodox Bible. The court ruled that the Bible “did not contradict the Constitution, laws or other legal acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan”, but still fined the seller and banned her from selling religious books for three months.
Seven cases were brought against individuals when it was suspected that a child had participated in a religious service without the permission of both parents.
Kazakhstan’s prime minister, Bakhytzhan Sagintayev, is expected to soon make changes to the country’s laws on religion that will “even more flagrantly break its binding international human rights law obligations to protect freedom of religion and belief and other human rights”, including further restrictions on the attendance at religious services of children under 16, according to Forum 18.
If the amendment is adopted in its current form (currently with the Majilis, Kazakhstan’s lower house of parliament), all religious organisations will have to re-register with the justice ministry – a “very bad” move that will allow regional administrations to “liquidate” religious organisations that no longer meet the requirements of the law or failed to register, according to Forum 18.