Keston News Service Summary: Armenia, Kazakhstan & Russia

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Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2001 12:19:12 +0300 (EEST)
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Subject: Keston News Service Summary: Armenia, Kazakhstan & Russia

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Keston News Service Summary: Armenia, Kazakhstan & Russia

KESTON NEWS SERVICE – SUMMARY 17-21 September 2001
Summaries of recent reporting on violations of religious liberty and
religion in communist and post-communist lands.


to celebrate 1,700 years since the proclamation of Christianity as its
state religion, the female pastor of Yerevan's Warriors of Christ
charismatic church is about to enter her third month in a remand
prison in the capital. On 13 July, according to a 29 August statement
from the church, up to 30 armed police officers confiscated all the
church’s movable property, and four days later 46-year-old church
leader Shogher Khachatryan was arrested on suspicion of swindling.
Church members claim the arrest is linked with the authorities' fear
of the church's growing prominence and the possibility of it
evangelising during the forthcoming papal visit.

When Jehovah's Witness Gevork Palyan was sentenced to one year's
imprisonment on 12 September by a Yerevan court for refusing military
service on religious grounds, he was the latest in a long line of
conscientious objectors to face imprisonment in Armenia under Article
75 of the Criminal Code (refusal to perform military service). An
amnesty this summer has seen many of them freed, although Armenia
continues to ignore its Council of Europe commitment to end punitive
measures against conscientious objectors and introduce a law on
alternative service. One official told Keston News Service in Yerevan
that no alternative service law is in preparation.

Witness Levon Markaryan has been found not guilty of the charge of
`infringement of the person and rights of citizens under the guise of
performing religious rituals'. The judge delivered the verdict orally
yesterday morning (18 September) in the court at Armavir. 'It is a
great victory for the Jehovah's Witnesses in Armenia,' Markaryan's
lawyer Rustam Khachatryan told Keston News Service from Yerevan in the
wake of the ruling. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in
Europe (OSCE) welcomed the verdict, but the prosecutors have vowed to

Ahead of Pope John Paul II's arrival in the Kazakh capital Astana in
the evening of 22 September, attention has turned to the religious
situation in the Central Asian state. Although Kazakhstan signed an
agreement with the Vatican in September 1998 regulating relations
between the Church and the state, Catholic leaders report bureaucratic
problems over visas for foreign priests and registration of parishes.
Keston News Service has found that, more generally, religious liberty
concerns in Kazakhstan focus on proposed amendments to the country's
1992 religion law - the most recent of five restrictive drafts was
rejected last month - and actions by officials – such as pressure on
unregistered religious groups to seek registration - that go beyond
the terms of the law. (see full report below)

Salvation Army's appeal against a Moscow court ruling that its branch
in the Russian capital is to be liquidated has been held up because
the judge has not issued the ruling in writing, the organisation's
lawyer told Keston News Service on 20 September. He said the Salvation
Army would lodge its appeal with Moscow city court as soon as it gets
the text of the ruling. The liquidation ruling will not come into
force until after this new appeal is heard. 

Monday 17 September 2001

by Igor Rotar, Keston News Service

Ahead of Pope John Paul II's arrival in the Kazakh capital Astana in
the evening of 22 September (he leaves for Armenia in the morning of
25 September), attention has turned to the religious situation in the
Central Asian state. Although Kazakhstan signed an agreement with the
Vatican in September 1998 regulating relations between the Church and
the state, Catholic leaders report bureaucratic problems over visas
for foreign priests and registration of parishes.

More widely, religious liberty concerns in Kazakhstan focus on
proposed amendments to the country's religion law - the most recent of
five restrictive drafts was rejected last month - and actions by
officials – such as pressure on unregistered religious groups to seek
registration - that go beyond the terms of the law.

Kazakhstan's Constitution asserts the secular nature of the state
(article 1) and guarantees its citizens freedom of conscience with the
proviso that this guarantee should not hinder the fulfilment of duties
to the state (article 22). There is a ban on political parties based
on religion, while the appointment of leaders for religious
organisations by foreign religious centres has to be agreed with state
agencies (article 5). Religion is separated from the state:
interference by the state in religious affairs, and by religious
groups in state affairs, is forbidden by law.

Along with the constitution, the main document defining the rights of
believers is the religion law, adopted on 15 January 1992. 'The Kazakh
law on freedom of conscience and religious associations conforms to
international legal standards and in principle we have no complaints
against it,' Birgit Kainz, human rights officer at the Almaty mission
of the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE),
told Keston News Service on 7 September. 'But the problem is that it
is far from being put into practice universally. State officials
frequently ignore legal standards and infringe the rights of

The Catholic spokesman for the papal visit in the Apostolic
Administration of Almaty, the former capital, spoke of some of the
concerns of his Church. 'I don't mean to say that Catholics are being
discriminated against on a government level. The case is rather that
we are being worn down by the bureaucratic red tape wielded by
officials who simply have a poor knowledge of the law,' Father Raymond
Conard told Keston. 'There have been cases when our missionaries have
been refused visas without reason, and our parishes have not been
registered on the basis of dreamt-up excuses. In the end we have
managed to get the law to be observed, but that took a lot of time.'

According to the Almaty-based lawyer Roman Podoprigora, who
specialises in religious liberty issues, a clear pattern can be
discerned: the further they are from the capital, the more frequently
officials break the law, violating the rights of believers. 'In Almaty
and Astana, cases where the rights of believers have been flouted by
state officials are comparatively rare,' he told Keston. 'In the
provinces, local officials act more crudely and are not afraid of
publicity. The low level of legal culture among the population is a
serious problem. Even in Russia it's become commonplace for believers
insisting on their rights to challenge the authorities in the courts
and win. But in our country, each such case is regarded as a

The two most numerous nationalities in Kazakhstan are Kazakhs and
Russians (making up 52% and 36% of the population, respectively). As
the traditional Kazakh religion is the Sunni branch of Islam, while
for Russians it is Orthodoxy, it is these two religions that the
majority of the country's inhabitants profess.

The head of the Almaty Helsinki Committee, Ninel Fokina, told Keston
on 6 September that the authorities break the constitutional principle
of non-interference by the secular state in religious affairs and
publicly favour these two main religions, Islam and Orthodoxy. In
support of this view, she reports that senior state officials, right
up to President Nursultan Nazarbayev, regularly visit mosques and
Orthodox churches (and almost never visit other religious places of
worship), make speeches in them, and greet the population on religious
feast-days. The chief mufti of the country and the Orthodox archbishop
are invited to almost all state ceremonies, unlike representatives of
other faiths.

The state television channels Khabar 2 and Kazakhstan 1 run special
broadcasts about Islam, but there are no programmes devoted to other
religions. 'We feel like second-class people. I will only believe that
believers of all confessions have equal rights in Kazakhstan when at
official events not just the mufti and the Orthodox archbishops, but
also representatives of other religions stand alongside the president
of the country,' Protestant pastor Roman Dudnik, who is president of
Emmanuel Christian Society for Evangelisation and Charitable Activity,
told Keston on 6 September in Almaty. He accused the authorities of
deliberately trying to limit the spread of Protestantism. Dudnik
believes such a policy has its own logic in Astana: 'If today people
may freely choose a creed, then tomorrow they will be able to choose a

A Baptist missionary from the United States, who preferred to remain
anonymous, told Keston that the conversion of Kazakhs to Protestantism
evokes the greatest opposition among officials. 'The authorities
believe that you do have freedom of choice: you can become Orthodox if
you were Russian by birth, and Muslim if you were Kazakh by birth, and
Catholic or Protestant if you were German by birth.' The missionary
says some 8,000 Kazakhs have become Protestants (the overall
population of Kazakhstan numbers around 8 million). 'Astana is
interpreting this as a virtual threat to national security.'

Such views are shared by Bashir Damir Muratuly, a spokesman for the
country's Hare Krishna community. 'I am a Kazakh by nationality and of
course, the fact that I have become a follower of Krishna has made my
compatriots unhappy,' he told Keston on 7 September. 'However, I
almost always manage to explain to simple people why I have changed my
religion, and as a rule they start to respect my choice. To the
authorities I remain, as a follower of Krishna, a second class

Kainz of the OSCE has a somewhat different view. 'Harsh opposition to
proselytism does indeed exist, but I wouldn't say it was a deliberate
state policy. Rather, this phenomenon reflects the feelings of the
majority of the population, and the state officials who take decisions
are part of that population. For example, even an educated journalist
related to me with "horror" that there was a danger that a whole
Kazakh village might convert to Protestantism.'

Fokina believes the position for adherents of non-traditional
religions has deteriorated markedly since 1998, when the government
drafted amendments to the existing religion law directed at
'strengthening the controlling functions of the state and regulating
the activity of those non-traditional religious associations that
arouse the most disquiet among the local agencies of authority'.

On 9 December 1999, the Ministry of Education sent a circular letter
to schools, instructing them not to allow visits to pupils by
religious associations, organisations or faiths; not to accept
humanitarian or other forms of aid from religious associations; and to
ban the rental of buildings to religious associations. Although this
circular was revoked on 19 December 2000, even today many school
directors interpret it as an instruction. The director of school 154
in Almaty has forbidden pupils from attending meetings of Khanaan
Presbyterian Church (see KNS  27 February 2001). The director, Verner
Masalim, frightened pupils at the school parade, alleging that 'sect
members make mincemeat of children' and use drugs to turn church
members into zombies. Masalim told Keston on 9 February that he had
heard nothing about the revocation of the circular. Seven months
later, the situation of the Khanaan church remains unchanged. The
church's pastor, Lyubov Sanyukovich, told Keston on 5 September that
the school's pupils are still afraid to attend religious meetings.

Since the end of 1998 the government has produced five drafts of the
proposed new religion law, the latest presented to parliament last
March. The draft contained numerous clauses restricting religious
freedoms. Under this draft, registration of Islamic religious
associations had to take place on the recommendation of the Spiritual
Administration of Muslims in Kazakhstan, which also had to approve the
construction and/or opening of Islamic places of worship, and the
number of people required to qualify for the creation of a religious
association was increased from 10 (under the current law) to 50.

The draft also proposed making the regulations for registration more
stringent: it extended the list of documents required for submission
at registration and introduced the requirement for an expert opinion
by a specialist on religion. According to a report published in July
2001 by the Almaty Helsinki committee 'Threats to religious freedoms
in Kazakhstan: legislation and practice', 'of the other innovations in
the draft law, the most repellent were: a demand for the licensing of
religious educational activity and a ban on missionary activity that
had not passed through an obligatory registration process, the nature
of which was not defined by the law. Nevertheless the draft law made
provision for criminal punishment for missionary activity that had not
been registered (or that was in breach of registration), extending to
imprisonment of up to one year.'

At the same time as the new draft law was presented, the authorities
began a mass investigation into the activity of religious
associations. Throughout the spring the National Security Committee
(the former KGB), the Tax Police and the Ministry of Justice carried
out a thorough investigation of religious organisations. Registration
of all religious organisations was halted. 'Not one of them has been
registered this year,' Fokina told Keston.

Thanks to the intervention of the OSCE and pressure from local groups,
the draft law was revoked last month. However, Fokina believes that
the 'fly-wheel' of the 'machinery of repression' has already been
released and will keep going for at least six months before the
situation stabilises.

Others draw some comfort from the withdrawal of the March text of the
draft law in August. 'This shows that the religious situation in
Kazakhstan is changing for the better,' Kainz told Keston. 'But it is
far too early to draw final conclusions. It is possible that a new
draft law will appear in the near future, and we don't yet know to
what extent it will conform with international legal standards.' (END)

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