The constitution provides for religious freedom; however, other laws and policies restrict religious freedom. The constitution defines the country as a secular state and provides the right to decline religious affiliation.
The government’s religion law narrows the legal provisions for religious freedom found in the constitution and enforces registration requirements. On October 13, the government passed a new law on “religious activities,” which instituted a more restrictive mandatory reregistration requirement, mandated a tiered hierarchy for religious organizations, and provided for government inspection of religious literature and bans on religious ceremonies in government buildings, military, law enforcement, and secular education institutions.
According to the law, all religious organizations must reregister by October 25, 2012 with both the central government and local governments of individual regions (oblasts) in which they have congregations. In order to register locally, a religious organization must have at least 50 members and submit an application, along with the members’ names and addresses, to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ). Under the new law, communities can only practice within the geographic limits of the locality in which they register, unless they have sufficient numbers to register as regional or national organizations. To register as a regional religious organization, groups must have 500 members in each of two separate regions while national registration requires 5,000 members with sufficient representation in each of the country’s oblasts. These requirements make it very difficult for smaller religious groups to register and nearly impossible for any religion except state-approved Islam or Russian Orthodoxy to register at the national level.
Under Article 3 of the new law on religion, everyone is free to follow his or her religious or other convictions, disseminate them, and take part in religious activities. The law states that the government shall not interfere in the determination by citizens, foreigners, or persons without citizenship with respect to their attitude towards religious beliefs or their religious affiliation, or the rearing of their children consistent with their convictions unless such upbringing harms the child’s health, infringes on the child’s rights or is directed against the country’s constitutional framework, sovereignty and territorial integrity. The law bans forced conversion of persons into a religion, forced participation in a religious organization’s activities, or compelled religious rites. The law bans religious activities related to coercion of citizens, foreigners, or persons without citizenship, that harm their health, force them to break marriage or family relations, or harm their morale. The law also bans religious organizations that use various methods including charity, blackmail, violence or a threat of using violence, material or other dependence, to induce persons to engage in their activities. The law as written, without any accompanying implementing legislation, gives the government broad grounds to deny religious organizations legal status. At year’s end, the government had yet to draft implementing regulations.
In October, the government amended the Code of Administrative Offenses to punish any violation of the new religion law.
The Religious Affairs Agency (RAA), a new agency established during the year, has a number of functions, including the formulation and implementation of state policy in the area of religious freedom. The agency also studies and analyzes the status of religion, the operation of religious organizations, and the activities of missionaries. It drafts legislation and regulations, conducts expert analysis of religious materials, considers problems related to violations of the religion law, initiates proposals with law enforcement on banning the operation of religious organizations or individuals who violate the religion law, coordinates actions of local government in regulation of religious problems, and provides official interpretation of the religion law. During the year, the RAA engaged in staffing, opening regional offices, and drafting bylaws and regulations that would establish a mechanism for implementation of the new law.
The government may deny registration based on an insufficient number of adherents or inconsistencies between the provisions of a religious organization’s charter and the law. In addition a registered organization, including a religious group, may have all activities suspended by court order for a period of three months for defiance of the constitution or laws, or for systematic pursuit of activities that contradict the charter and bylaws of the organization as registered. Police, prosecutors (procurators), and citizens may petition a court to suspend the activities of a registered organization for failure to rectify violations or for repeated violations of the law. The Administrative Code stipulates a three-month suspension for organizations that hold illegal gatherings, disseminate unregistered religious materials, or construct religious facilities without a permit. During a suspension, the organization is prohibited from speaking with the media; holding meetings, gatherings, or services; and undertaking financial transactions other than continued contractual obligations, such as paying salaries. If a religious organization engages in activities prohibited by law or it fails to rectify violations that led to a suspension, the organization is banned.
The law allows authorities to suspend the activities and fine the leaders of unregistered groups. If a religious organization engages in illegal activity or fails to rectify violations resulting in a suspension, its leader is subject to a fine of 485,400 tenge ($3,302), or 809,000 tenge ($5,503) if the organization is registered as a legal entity. If an organization engages in activities not specified in its charter, its leaders are subject to fines of 323,600 tenge ($2,201), or 485,400 tenge ($3,302) if the organization is registered as a legal entity. If an organization holds gatherings or conducts charity activities in violation of the law; imports, publishes and/or disseminates illegal religious literature or other materials; or constructs an unregistered building, its leaders are subject to fines of 161,800 ($1,101) tenge or 323,600 tenge ($2,201) for legal entities.
During the year, government officials continued to express concern regarding the potential spread of political and religious extremism. The Committee for National Security (KNB) continued to characterize the fight against religious extremism as a top priority of the internal intelligence service and to expand its monitoring of civil society and religious organizations. The extremism law, which applies to religious groups and other organizations, gives the government broad latitude in identifying and designating a group as an extremist organization, banning a designated group’s activities, and criminalizing membership in a banned organization. Procurators have the right to inspect annually all organizations registered with state bodies, and they regularly conducted such inspections.
Local and foreign missionaries must register annually with the MOJ and provide information on religious affiliation, territory of missionary work, and time period for conducting that work. All literature and other materials to support missionary work must be provided with the registration application; use of materials not vetted during the registration process is illegal. A missionary must produce registration documents and power of attorney from the sponsoring religious organization to be allowed to work on its behalf. The MOJ may refuse registration to missionaries whose work “constitutes a threat to constitutional order, social order, the rights and freedoms of the individual, or the health and morals of the population.” Foreign missionaries are required to obtain a permit from migration police designating them as missionaries and carry it with their passports. The constitution requires foreign religious associations to conduct their activities, including appointing the heads of religious associations, “in coordination with appropriate state institutions.” Foreigners may not register religious organizations.
Foreign missionaries must obtain and present RAA approval to the MOJ when applying for a missionary visa. The RAA can reject missionaries based on a negative assessment by religious experts, or if it deems that the missionaries represent a danger to the country’s constitutional framework, a citizen’s rights and freedoms, or a person’s health or morals. Missionary visas permit a person to stay in the country only for a maximum of six months per 12-month period. Missionary visa applicants must obtain RAA consent every time they apply for visas.
The government does not permit religious instruction in public schools. Homeschooling is permitted only in certain circumstances, which do not include religiously based motivations. Parents may enroll children in supplemental religious education classes provided by registered religious organizations.
The new law requires organizations to “take steps to prevent the attraction and/or participation by underage children in the activity of a religious association” should a parent or legal guardian object. The law bans religious or proselytizing activities from children’s holiday, sport, creative or other leisure organizations, camps, or sanatoria. Implementation of this provision of the law has not revealed the extent to which organizations must prevent underage persons’ involvement in religious activity. Educational licensing regulations do not permit religious groups to educate children without approval from the Ministry of Education. In accordance with the regulations, a religious organization whose charter includes provisions for religious education may be denied registration if it does not obtain approval.
The elections law prohibits political parties based upon ethnicity, gender, or religious affiliation. The criminal code prohibits the incitement of interethnic or interreligious hatred; this law has on one occasion been subject to broad interpretation that included some religious teachings.
Under the revised legislation, the government observes the following religious holidays: Orthodox Christmas and Kurban-Ait, but does not consider them national holidays unless they fall on a weekday.