The constitution defines the country as a secular state and provides for freedom of religion and belief or freedom to decline religious affiliation. Other laws and policies, however, mandate restrictive registration requirements for religious organizations and missionaries, require government inspection of religious literature, and prohibit religious ceremonies in government buildings (including those belonging to the military or law enforcement) and in secular education institutions.
According to the law, in order to register at the local level, a religious group must submit an application listing the names and addresses of at least 50 founding members to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ). Communities may only practice within the geographic limits of the locality in which they register unless they have sufficient numbers to register at the regional or national level. Only groups registered at the national level have the right to open educational institutions. To register regionally, groups must have 500 members in each of two separate regions, while national registration requires at least 5,000 total members with sufficient representation in each of the country’s oblasts (regions). According to the Religious Affairs Agency (RAA), there are approximately 3,100 registered religious organizations in the country, representing 17 major groups. Several other religious groups, including the Church of Scientology and the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, exist in the country but have been denied registration or have not sought registration.
To obtain legal registration, the law requires that mosques affiliate with the Sunni Hanafi SAMK, a national organization closely tied to the government and led by a chief mufti based in Almaty. Muslim groups choosing not to be subject to the SAMK’s direction are denied registration. By joining the SAMK, Muslim communities relinquish their rights to appoint their own imam and to hold services in a language other than Kazakh. They also forfeit their property and 30 percent of their mosque’s income to the SAMK.
The law allows everyone to follow his or her religious or other convictions, take part in religious activities, and disseminate his or her beliefs, with significant restrictions. The law states that the government shall not interfere with the choice of religious beliefs or affiliation of citizens or residents, unless those beliefs are directed against the country’s constitutional framework, sovereignty or territorial integrity. The law also states that the government shall not interfere with parents’ rights to rear their children consistent with their religious convictions, unless such an upbringing harms the child’s health or infringes on the child’s rights. The law prohibits forced conversion of persons to any religion, forced participation in a religious group’s activities, or forced participation in religious rites. The law also prohibits coercive religious activities that harm the health or morale of citizens or residents of Kazakhstan, or force them to end marriages or family relations. Unregistered missionary activity is prohibited, as are certain methods of proselytizing, such as the use of charity, blackmail, violence or the threat of violence, or the use of material threats to coerce participation in religious activities.
The law allows registration to be denied to religious groups based on an insufficient number of adherents or inconsistencies between the religious group’s charter and any national law, as determined by an “expert analysis” conducted by the RAA.
Police, prosecutors, and citizens may petition a court to suspend the activities of a registered group for failure to rectify violations or for repeated violations of the law. The Administrative Code stipulates a three-month suspension for registered groups that hold illegal gatherings, disseminate unregistered religious materials, systemically pursue activities that contradict the charter and bylaws of the group as registered, construct religious facilities without a permit, or otherwise defy the constitution or laws. During a suspension, the group is prohibited from speaking with the media, from holding meetings, gatherings, or services, and from undertaking financial transactions other than continued contractual obligations, such as paying salaries. If a religious group engages in activities prohibited by law or fails to rectify the violations that led to a suspension, the government may ban the group.
The law also allows authorities to suspend the activities and fine the leaders of unregistered groups. If a religious group engages in a prohibited activity or fails to rectify violations resulting in a suspension, its leader is subject to a fine of 485,400 tenge ($3,160) if the group is not registered, or 809,000 tenge ($5,267) if the group is registered as a legal entity. If a group engages in activities not specified in its charter, its leaders are subject to fines of 323,600 tenge ($2,107) if the group is not registered, or 485,400 tenge ($3,160) if the group is registered as a legal entity. If a group holds gatherings or conducts charitable 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 tenge ($1,053) for unregistered groups or 323,600 tenge ($2,107) for legal entities.
The RAA is responsible for the formulation and implementation of state policy on religious freedom. The agency also studies and analyzes the status of religions, the operation of religious groups, and the activities of missionaries. It drafts legislation and regulations, conducts analyses of religious materials, considers problems related to violations of the religion law, cooperates with law enforcement to ban the operation of religious groups or individuals who violate the religion law, coordinates actions of local government to regulate religious problems, and provides official interpretation of the religion law.
The extremism law, which applies to religious groups and other organizations, gives the government discretion to identify and designate a group as an extremist organization, ban a designated group’s activities, and criminalize membership in a banned organization. Prosecutors have the right to inspect annually all groups registered with state bodies, and regularly conduct such inspections.
Local and foreign missionaries are required to register annually with the MOJ and provide information on their religious affiliation, intended territory of missionary work, and time period for conducting that work. All literature and other materials intended to support their missionary work must be submitted together with their 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 in order to work on behalf of the organization. The MOJ may refuse registration to missionaries whose work “constitutes a threat to the constitutional order, social order, the rights and freedoms of individuals, or the health and morals of the population.”
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 from its religious experts, or if it deems that the missionaries represent a danger to the country’s constitutional framework, citizens’ rights and freedoms, or any person’s health or morals. Missionary visas permit a person to stay in the country for a maximum of six months per 12-month period. Missionary visa applicants must obtain RAA consent every time they apply for a visa. In addition to a religious visa, foreign missionaries must obtain a permit to speak about their religion with those outside their own religious group. They must carry this document with them at all times. The constitution requires foreign religious groups to conduct their activities, including appointing the heads of local congregations, “in coordination with appropriate state institutions.” Foreigners may not register religious groups.
The law does not permit religious instruction in public schools. Homeschooling is not permitted for religious reasons. Parents may enroll children in supplemental religious education classes provided by registered religious groups.
The law requires organizations to “take steps not to attract anyone under the age of 18, and/or to prevent anyone under the age of 18 from participating in the activities of a religious association” should a parent or legal guardian object. The law bans religious or proselytizing activities in children’s holiday, sport, creative or other leisure organizations, camps, or sanatoria. The extent to which organizations must prevent underage persons’ involvement in religious activity is not specifically outlined and has not been further defined by authorities. Educational licensing regulations do not permit religious groups to educate children without approval from the Ministry of Education.
The election law prohibits political parties based upon religious affiliation. The criminal code prohibits the incitement of interethnic or interreligious hatred.