The constitution provides for religious freedom; however, some laws and policies restrict religious freedom.
The constitution defines the country as a sovereign, unitary, democratic social state based on the rule of law with separation of religion and the state. It also provides for freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion or religious beliefs. The constitution prohibits the establishment of religious political parties and the pursuit of political goals by religious organizations. It also prohibits the establishment of any religion as a state or mandatory religion. Furthermore, religious organizations and clergy are prohibited from interfering in the activities of state bodies.
The 2008 Religion Law includes provisions that restrict religious freedom. During the October 2010 Universal Periodic Review conducted by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the government agreed to review the law to ensure that it did not infringe on the freedom of religion. As of the end of the year, however, the government had not addressed this issue. While the 2008 law affirms that all religions and religious organizations are equal, it introduced some significant restrictions. It prohibits the involvement of minors in religious organizations, “insistent attempts to convert followers of one religion to another (proselytism),” and “illegal missionary activity,” which is not specifically defined.
While the law provides for the right of religious organizations to produce, import, export, and distribute religious literature and materials, in accordance with established procedures, all religious literature and materials are subject to examination by state “experts.” There is no specific procedure for hiring or evaluating these experts, and they are typically employees of the State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) or religious scholars contracted by that agency. The law prohibits the distribution of religious literature and materials in public locations, or by visiting individual households, schools, and other institutions.
The 2008 Religion Law also requires the registration of all religious organizations, including schools, with the SCRA. The SCRA is responsible for promoting religious tolerance, protecting freedom of conscience, and overseeing laws on religion. The SCRA can deny or postpone the certification of a particular religious group if it believes the proposed activities of that group are not religious in character. Unregistered religious organizations are prohibited from actions such as renting space and holding religious services, although many held regular services without government interference.
Organizations applying for registration must have at least 200 adult citizen members, a significant increase from the 10 members required prior to the passage of the 2008 Religion Law, and must submit an application form, organizational charter, minutes of an institutional meeting, and a list of founding members to the SCRA for review. The SCRA recommends rejection when a religious organization does not comply with the law or is considered a threat to national security, social stability, interethnic and interdenominational harmony, public order, health, or morality. Applicants whose registration is denied may reapply and may appeal to the courts. The registration process with the SCRA is often cumbersome, taking anywhere from a month to several years for completion. Each congregation must register separately. During the year, some Protestant churches continued to refuse to register in protest of the restrictions in the 2008 Religion Law.
If approved, a religious organization may choose to complete the registration process with the Ministry of Justice to obtain status as a legal entity, which is necessary to own property, open bank accounts, and otherwise engage in contractual activities. If a religious organization engages in commercial activity, it is required to pay taxes.
In February 2009 the then minister of education signed a decree that officially bans students from wearing religious clothing, particularly the hijab (traditional Islamic headscarf worn by women) in public schools. In March 2009, after local NGOs and parents gathered signatures in protest of the decree, it was changed from an official ban to a recommendation. During the year, several Islamic organizations including Mutakallim, Dil Murok, and Sumaia protested some schools’ use of this recommendation as a basis to refuse admission to girls wearing headscarves. As a result, the new education minister, Kanatbek Sydykov, presented the protesting organizations with a semi-official letter specifically stating that “headscarves are not prohibited” in schools. The organizations then distributed the letter to the schools, and the issue appeared to be resolved. Nonetheless, the decree “recommending that hijabs not be worn to school” was not reversed.
Missionaries of various religious groups may operate with restrictions and are required to register annually. Since 1996 the SCRA has registered more than 1,326 foreign citizens as religious missionaries, 56 of whom were registered during the year. The SCRA reported that it refused to register one missionary during the year, although it did not disclose the specific reason. Any religious entity founded by a foreigner must reregister each year with the SCRA, although the process is much less cumbersome than the initial registration. The SCRA reported registering 75 new religious organizations (mosques and churches) during the year.
The 2009 Law on the Universal Duty of Citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic on Military and Alternative Service requires individuals in alternative service as conscientious objectors based on religious grounds to make monetary contributions to a special account belonging to the Ministry of Defense (MOD). Some religious groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, objected to this requirement, stating that giving funds to the MOD violated their religious principles. As of the end of the year, the government continued to prosecute conscientious objectors who refused military service and who would not pay the MOD.
The government expressed concern publicly about groups it viewed as having “extremist agendas.” The government was particularly concerned about politically motivated Muslim groups, whose followers it labeled “Wahhabists.” In 2003 the Supreme Court sustained a ban on four political organizations, citing extremism and alleged ties to international terrorist organizations: Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), the Islamic Party of Turkestan, the Organization for Freeing Eastern Turkestan, and the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Party. In 2008 the Pervomaisky District Court of Bishkek identified one additional religious group, Jamaat al-Jihad al-Islamias, as a terrorist organization. There were no reliable estimates of membership in extremist Islamic groups.
The 2008 Religion Law allows for the teaching in public schools of religious courses that the state deemed mainstream if the lessons did not conflict with the country’s laws.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Kurman Ait (Eid al-Adha), Orozo Ait (Eid al-Fitr), and Orthodox Christmas. The government traditionally sends greetings to Muslims and Orthodox adherents on their major holy days, which are printed in the mass media.