Kazakhstan is set to pass a new set of restrictions on freedom of religion or belief that violate international human rights obligations, according to regional news service Forum 18.
The proposed amendments to Kazakhstan’s religion law are currently with the Prime Minister and are expected to be signed into law within the next few months.
Among the restrictions is the requirement for almost all religious communities to re-register, as well as stricter rules and punishments relating to religious education, proselytism and censorship.
One of the most significant changes will be that one parent or guardian must give permission for a child under 16 to attend a religious service, and also accompany that child. The child cannot attend if one parent objects, and it is down to the religious organisation to make sure no children are there without parental approval.
The proposed changes will see “Kazakhstan even more flagrantly break its binding international human rights law obligations to protect freedom of religion and belief and other human rights”, according to Forum 18. Many of the restrictions will also mirror those in other countries within the region – Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan.
Christians and other religious communities in Kazakhstan already face severe restrictions when expressing their faith. In September a Protestant church community was banned from meeting because they sang religious songs at a summer camp. As it was a first-time offence the state could only punish the church with a three-month ban, but the amended law will allow fixed fines to be imposed at the first offence rather than the second.
Kazakhstan’s clampdown on religious freedoms over the last few years has seen churches frequently raided and property seized. Meanwhile in July the Supreme Court forced the Jehovah’s Witnesses to suspend operations in the country.
The latest amendments apply to the Kazakhstan Religion Law ratified by President Nursultan Nazarbayev on 11 October 2011 – the same day that Kazakhstan applied for full membership of the Venice Commission, whose primary task is to help member states improve and protect their human rights.
To read more about the proposed restrictions, see Forum 18’s full report.