KYRGYZSTAN: Restrictive Religion Law passes Parliament unanimously
Kyrgyzstan's proposed new Religion Law has been adopted unanimously by the country's parliament today (6 November), Forum 18 News Service has found. The Law will go to President Kurmanbek Bakiev around 15 November, who then has at least a month to sign it or return it to Parliament. The Law as passed states that 200 people will be needed to register a religious organisation, contrary to assurances that Deputy Zainiddin Kurmanov, the main author of the Law, gave a visiting delegation from the European Parliament. Deputies significantly harshened this part of the Law, by voting unanimously that the identity of all 200 founders must now also be confirmed by local keneshes (elected local administrations). "How can we gather 200 people to sign official papers for the State Agency for Religious Affairs, and then get them to go to local keneshes with their passports to be identified?" the Baha'i community complained. "People are usually reserved about signing official papers." Christian leaders are also very concerned about the new Law. No changes were made to bring the Law into line with either Kyrgyzstan's international human rights commitments, or the Kyrgyz Constitution.
The Law as passed states that 200 people will be needed to register a religious organisation, contrary to assurances that Deputy Zainiddin Kurmanov, Chair of the parliamentary Committee for Constitutional Law, Legality and Human Rights, gave a visiting delegation from the European Parliament. Kurmanov is the main author of the Law (see F18News 5 November 2008 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1213). Deputies significantly harshened this part of the Law, by voting unanimously that the identity of all 200 founders must now also be confirmed by local keneshes (elected local administrations).
The Baha'i community told Forum 18 on 6 November that this harshening of the Law was very significant. "How can we gather 200 people to sign official papers for the State Agency for Religious Affairs, and then get them to go to local keneshes with their passports to be identified?" the Baha'is complained. "People are usually reserved about signing official papers."
Alexander Schanz of the Lutheran Church told Forum 18 they are worried about the new Law. "At this stage we can only pray about the situation, and many churches are praying at the moment," he told Forum 18 on 6 November. His concerns were echoed by other Christian leaders, who did not wish to comment publicly.
Despite earlier claims of Deputy Kurmanov, no changes were made to bring the Law into line with either Kyrgyzstan's international human rights commitments or the Kyrgyz Constitution, which the Law openly breaks (see F18News 5 November 2008 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1213). Yildiz Kamchibekova, a senior aide to Kurmanov, told Forum 18 on 6 November that he did not take part in the vote as he was "on a business trip." However, she added that had Kurmanov been in the parliament "he also would have voted for the Law."
Alisher Sabirov, the Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Ethics and Procedure, told Forum 18 on 6 November that the Law will be sent to President Bakiev around 15 November. The delay is because of the need to finalise the text according to amendments made by deputies in the second and final debate.
Kamchibekova, Deputy Kurmanov's aide, claimed to Forum 18 that Parliament must formally approve the final text of the law after amendments are incorporated into it. However Deputy Sabirov, whose Committee is responsible for parliamentary procedure, denied this claim. "Kamchibekova is leading you into confusion," he told Forum 18. "There will be no more votes on the text, and it should be published on the Parliament website by Monday 10 November."
Kamchibekova – who is responsible for preparing the final text – stated that it will be ready in "a maximum of 5 to 10 working days". She also stated that it will then be published on the parliamentary website. Religious communities and human rights defenders have frequently complained about the secrecy surrounding the various proposed texts of the Law, and the absence of meaningful public consultation (see F18News 5 November 2008 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1213).
Dostan Dostan, an aide to the Kyrgyz foreign minister, State Secretary Nur uulu Dosbol – who also advises President Bakiev on social issues – told Forum 18 on 6 November that it is too early for them to comment on whether the president is likely to approve the law. "The law was just adopted by Parliament today," he told Forum 18. "We need to see what is in it." (END)
For background information see Forum 18's Kyrgyzstan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=222.
More reports on freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Kyrgyzstan can be found at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?query=&religion=all&country=30.
A survey of the religious freedom decline in the eastern part of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) area is at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=806, and of religious intolerance in Central Asia is at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=815.
A printer-friendly map of Kyrgyzstan is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=kyrgyz.
5 November 2008
Kyrgyzstan's restrictive new Religion Law is due to be voted on for the second and final time tomorrow (6 November), Forum 18 News Service has learnt. If the draft Law – whose exact text is unavailable for public discussion - is passed, it will go to President Kurmanbek Bakiev for signature. One human rights defender pointed out that, as the draft Law openly breaks the Kyrgyz Constitution, this would be a very strong ground for the Law to be turned down. Provisions that have caused concern to religious communities and human rights defenders include: a ban on children being involved in religious organisations; a ban on "aggressive action aimed at proselytism"; a ban on the distribution of religious literature, print, audio-video religious materials; and de facto compulsory re-registration of all registered religious organisations. Representatives of various religious communities have complained to Forum 18 about both numerous provisions and the secrecy surrounding the whole legislative process. The Law breaks Kyrgyzstan's international human rights commitments and has been strongly criticised by an OSCE / Venice Commission legislative review.
16 October 2008
Kyrgyzstan's Parliament has passed without discussion the first reading of a restrictive draft Religion Law, which may, according to some, pass its final reading on 21 October. However, others have told Forum 18 News Service that the second and final reading will be later. It is unclear what is in the current text, as officials refuse to release the latest version. Deputy Zainidin Kurmanov told Forum 18 that the latest text is on the parliamentary website, but other deputies state that they do not know what is in the draft Law. Kurmanov revealed that the draft Law includes: a ban on unregistered religious activity; a threshold of 200 adult citizens to gain state registration; a ban on "proselytism"; a definition of a "sect"; and a ban on the free distribution of literature. Kurmanov claimed he did not understand objections as "only criminals should be afraid of law and order." Protestant, Jehovah's Witness and Baha'i religious minorities have all expressed concern at the secrecy surrounding the Law, the lack of public consultation, and the restrictions thought to be in the first reading text. A joint Venice Commission / OSCE legal review of a July text of the Law is also highly critical of it. Officials claim to be organising a roundtable, but religious communities say they have not been invited to it.
2 October 2008
Kyrgyzstan's proposed new Religion Law – which ruling party deputies say will make it more difficult for religious communities to gain legal status and for people to share their faith – is set to reach the full Parliament in the second half of October, Kanybek Osmonaliev, Chair of the State Agency for Religious Affairs, told Forum 18 News Service. "There are many inadequacies in the current law," a parliamentary press officer told Forum 18. "Religious organisations function freely without any control. This law will bring control." Osmonaliev has expressed concern over the "abnormality" of a rising number of people changing faith, especially young ethnic Kyrgyz joining Christian churches. He complained of "illegal" activity by "various destructive, totalitarian groups and reactionary sects", among whom he included the Hare Krishna and Mormon communities. Fr Igor Dronov of the Russian Orthodox Church told Forum 18 of his support for the proposed new Law. "The earlier Law was too liberal and led to the spiritual destruction of the country. Thank God the state is starting to act."