Members of law enforcement and security services actively enforced restrictions on religious freedom while investigating alleged religious extremism. The government also enforced strict registration requirements for religious groups.
Authorities maintained bans on thirteen “religiously-oriented” groups, including Al-Qaida, the Taliban, the Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkistan, the Kurdish Peoples’ Congress, the Organization for the Release of Eastern Turkistan, Hizbut-al-Tahrir (HT), the Union of Islamic Jihad, Islamic Party of Turkistan, the Unification (Mun San Men) Church, Takfir Jihadist, Jaysh al-Mahdi, Jund al-Khilafah, and Ansarullah. The latter four of these groups were added to the proscribed list in October 2012. On August 1, the Supreme Court upheld the ban on the Mun San Men Church as well as an SCRA decision earlier in the year to close the public association “Federation of Families for Unity and Peace in the World” for being “a camouflaged division of the Mun Church.” The SCRA stated it made the decision to close this church “to prevent the activities of totalitarian sects and destructive cults on the territory of the republic, which pose a threat to the morals and health of the country’s citizens and affect human rights and dignity and freedom.”
The government continued to restrict the activities of Muslim groups it considered threats to security. For example, it classified the banned HT as “extremist”, although HT’s philosophy professed nonviolence and its members committed no violent acts. Membership in HT as well as any activity on behalf of the group remains illegal. Authorities used their powers broadly to enforce the ban. The Ministry of Interior estimates there are 3,000 HT members and 20,000 supporters in the country. The ministry reports that arrests of HT members increased by 20 percent compared to 2012. In 2012, the authorities arrested 1,822 HT members, detained 40 HT members for trial, and sentenced 23 to prison terms. Law enforcement officials also seized 719 electronic texts, 1,202 pieces of “extremist” literature, and more than 2,000 leaflets. HT members are mostly active in the South, where 70 percent of the arrests of HT members occurred. The authorities also observed HT activity in Talas and Chui Provinces.
There were 2,393 officially registered religious groups, educational establishments, and places of worship. The government denied registration to approximately 500 religious organizations. Twelve foreign citizens were registered as missionaries.
Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to experience harassment and discrimination. Police and secret police officers raided eight worship meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, claiming they were illegal because the local communities had no individual registration. The SCRA also issued two official warnings that individual communities broke the registration law. During the year officials denied for the second time a registration application by a Jehovah’s Witness community in Jalal-Abad. Since 2011, the SCRA had refused to register Jehovah’s Witness communities in Naryn, Osh, Kadamjai, and Jalal-Abad.
On May 19, more than 10 officials, including representatives of the State Committee on National Security, the Ministry of Interior, and the SCRA, raided a religious meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Osh. The officials subjected male and female Witnesses to threats of sexual violence and intimidation. The officials also seized Bibles, religious literature, and other personal effects.
Officials in the Osh and Jalal-Abad districts justified their actions by stating that Jehovah’s Witnesses could not peacefully manifest their religious beliefs, individually or in association with others, without registering as a local religious organization. On August 13, the ombudsman characterized the actions of the police as “outrageous and illegal.” While the government did not pursue criminal charges against the police officers involved, officials from the Osh police department stated that senior officials reprimanded and warned the police officers that took part in the raid.
In May 2012, the Supreme Court had upheld a lower court’s decision affirming the SCRA’s denials of registration to Jehovah’s Witness communities in 2011. In September 2012, Jehovah’s Witnesses filed a complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva alleging that the registration denial was a violation of their rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. That complaint remained pending at year’s end. On March 26, Jehovah’s Witnesses lodged a further complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee about the denial of registration to their Kadamjay community. According to Open Viewpoint Foundation, a central-Asian based NGO, and Freedom House, the SCRA frequently refused to inform religious groups about why it denied their registration or re-registration.
Bishkek’s Ahmadiyya Muslim community continued to challenge the SCRA's 2012 denial of the religious community’s re-registration application. In 2012, Bishkek’s Inter-District Economic Court denied their requests for re-registration consideration, a decision the community then appealed to the City Court. On January 30, the City Court officially denied the community’s appeal for the ability to re-register based on the SCRA’s claims that the group represented an extremist threat.
Because of the re-registration denial, by year’s end the Ahmadiyya Muslim community had been unable to meet legally for worship since July 2011.
Several other religious groups experienced difficulties registering. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) initially applied for registration with the SCRA in 2004, but had not received approval by the end of the year. Nearly all Christian denominations reported long delays – up to several years – in their registration applications. Government officials attributed the delays to erroneous or insufficient applications and understaffing.
Religious groups with fewer than the required 200 members found it difficult to gather members because the government prohibited meetings of unregistered groups. Other religious groups, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, succeeded in registering in some cities, only to be told that their registration did not apply in other cities.
According to the Open Viewpoint Foundation, other religious communities complained that authorities used discrepancies in existing legislation as an excuse to avoid registering them or to force them to re-register, which was typically a lengthy process. As a result, some groups reportedly abandoned the effort to register.
The Open Viewpoint Foundation reported several complaints that the government refused burial rights in religious cemeteries to persons who were neither Muslim nor Christian. Existing legislation provided no solution to this situation. In an article published in Interfax on March 6, the reporter quoted SCRA officials as saying that the controversy over Protestant burials represented “a serious threat to the interreligious concord in the society.”
The SCRA continued its practice of regularly monitoring religious services of registered groups, taking photographs, and asking questions.