24 January 2024
A draft Amending Law (seen by Forum 18) amending nine Codes and Laws on the exercise of freedom of religion or belief would, if adopted in its current form, impose new restrictions on the exercise of freedom of religion or belief. The head of the NSC secret police, Yermek Sagimbayev, has told deputies of the non-freely-elected parliament: "The initiative on the need to harshen legislation in the area of regulating religious activity has more than once been discussed at a government level."
27 September 2023
At least 3 of the 8 current known prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief have had applications for conditional early release rejected on grounds their families regard as arbitrary. In June, a Kyzylorda court rejected Dadash Mazhenov's request, apparently citing his unpaid fees for the "expert analyses" used to convict him. "These fees were just an excuse," his family told Forum 18. The Head of Labour Camp No. 68, Kaiyrbek Ilyasov, refused to discuss why Mazhenov was refused conditional early release.
26 September 2023
In September 2021, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for 9 Muslims jailed for participating in an online religious discussion group to be "immediately" freed and compensated for their imprisonment. Two years on, none has been freed or compensated. The General Prosecutor's Office, the Religious Affairs Committee, the Foreign Ministry and the government-controlled National Human Rights Centre all failed to explain why. Officials say they regard such UN opinions as "recommendations which they are not obliged to implement", says human rights defender Yevgeny Zhovtis.
15 September 2023
3 Muslim prisoners of conscience remain jailed 2 years after the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for their release "immediately". 5 other Muslim men are in jail for exercising freedom of religion or belief. Also: 6 former prisoners of conscience are serving the rest of their sentences at home under restrictions; 5 other former prisoners of conscience have bans on unspecified or specified activities; 31 others who have completed jail terms or restricted freedom sentences still have bank account access blocked.
5 July 2023
Zakirzhan Rozmetov was fined for leading evening prayers during Ramadan in a Shymkent mosque stripped of registration in 2021. "Rozmetov broke the law – he had no basis for conducting a religious event," said Alzhan Tuyakbayev, head of Shymkent's Religious Affairs Department. Courts fined other individuals up to one month's average wage in the first half of 2023 for prayer rooms in a cafe, roadside restaurant and shopping centre. Astana Police "anti-extremism" officers inspected "illegal" prayer rooms in a technohub, IT centre and concert organisation, leading to fines.
30 June 2023
The Holy Apostles Peter and Paul Orthodox parish in Oktyabrskoye held its last Sunday service on 28 May in the church where it has worshipped since December 1991. On 2 June, court executors and police ousted the parish, handing the building to the Russian Orthodox diocese. "This was done on a legal basis," officials told Forum 18. The parish moved from the Moscow Patriarchate to the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in 1997. Official documents appear to attest that the parish owned the church, not the Moscow Patriarchate Diocese.
31 March 2023
More than a third of the 143 known administrative prosecutions in 2022 punished individuals for posting religious texts and recordings on social media accounts without state permission. In one case a journalist was initially fined – changed to a verbal warning – for posting her interview with a state-approved imam. Many individuals were punished for offering religious literature for sale without state permission, either in shops or online. Two individuals were punished for having religious books, although this is not an offence. In two cases, courts ordered religious literature destroyed.
13 January 2023
For the first known time since February 2020, courts in 2022 fined six individuals several weeks' average wages for trying to import religious literature. Border guards seized the books at Shymkent Airport, Turkistan Airport and at a border crossing from Uzbekistan. A Shymkent Airport border guard insisted that his service had not imposed the two literature seizures at the airport and subsequent fines. "We didn't confiscate any books, we just took them away and handed them on to the police to be examined," he said.
18 November 2022
Kazakhstan maintains public lists of individuals and organisations allegedly connected to "terrorism or extremism", and secret "high-risk" or "suspicious" organisation lists circulated to banks. Both lists lead to blocking and denial of bank accounts and numerous other problems. "We've written more than 10 letters to various state agencies," Protestant Pastor Pyotr Shelepanov of New Life Church in Talgar told Forum 18. "But we've had no real answer." His Church describes the denial of a bank account as "incomprehensible".
9 September 2022
Secret police raided the homes of Sarsen Netekov and Nurlan Atalykov, seizing 150 religious books and accusing them of membership of the banned Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat. In March, an Atyrau court handed them one-year restricted freedom terms, bringing to 75 the number of alleged Tabligh Jamaat members known to have been criminally convicted since 2015. It also ordered the books destroyed. Asked why officers raided the men's homes and seized religious literature, the secret police in Atyrau responded: "We don't give out such information."
19 August 2022
Protestants say secret police encouraged a former church member to lodge a suit against New Life Church – now in court in Pavlodar - claiming back pay and compensation for moral damages for volunteer work in a rehabilitation centre. "This is not a state campaign against the Church," a local religious affairs official claimed, though the individual met officials and a state-backed anti-"sect" centre. Jehovah's Witnesses are appealing a decision awarding large "compensation" to two former members. An assessment of their literature, claiming it caused psychiatric harm, listed a work by Andrei Snezhnevsky, leader of Soviet-era psychiatric abuse.
19 July 2022
Muslim Anatoli Zernichenko was jailed for seven years, for posting on social media Muslim texts which prosecutors without evidence claimed promoted terrorism. Zernichenko has appealed, but no hearing date is set. The case started with the secret police hunting through his social media accounts, and the jailing rests on textual "expert analyses". Yevgeny Zhovtis of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law says this is "exactly what the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur for Protecting Human Rights while Countering Terrorism raised concerns about". There are now 10 known prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief.
23 June 2022
Freedom of religion and belief, with interlinked freedoms of expression, association, assembly, and other fundamental freedoms remain seriously restricted in Kazakhstan. Forum 18's survey analysis documents violations including: jailing and torturing prisoners of conscience for exercising their freedom of religion and belief; banning meetings for worship and sharing beliefs without state permission; state control of all expressions of Islam, including restrictions on how Muslims are allowed to pray; and religious literature and object censorship.
26 May 2022
List of: 9 individuals (all Sunni Muslim men) jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief; 4 freed early from prison and serving the rest of their terms at home under restrictions; 8 former prisoners of conscience under years-long, often vague post-prison bans on specific activity; 35 individuals who have completed their jail terms have access to bank accounts blocked for up to a further 8 years. This account blocking can also block individuals from finding work or driving.
20 May 2022
When individuals complete prison or restricted freedom sentences for exercising freedom of religion or belief and other rights, punishment does not stop. Many still face often vague bans on specific activity, including exercising freedom of religion or belief. "The Financial Monitoring Agency List says it relates to finance, but it's in fact about everything," one said. "When you want to get a job or open a bank account .. there's a block everywhere!" Restrictions include bank account blocks, driving bans and being unable to work in many jobs.
19 May 2022
Five of the nine known prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief were punished for participating in an online Islamic discussion group. The other four are also Sunni Muslims. Dadash Mazhenov and Abdukhalil Abduzhabbarov are facing torture by being held in prolonged solitary confinement. Mazhenov has been physically tortured, most recently in a January 2022 beating with truncheons which broke his jaw. Abduzhabbarov was not allowed to attend his father's funeral, while Galymzhan Abilkairov was not allowed to attend his wife's funeral.
28 April 2022
In September 2021 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called on Kazakhstan to free eight Muslims from their punishments "immediately" and compensate them for their imprisonment. They were among nine jailed for participating in a WhatsApp Muslim discussion group, and the Working Group stressed its Opinion applied to all nine. More than six months later, none has had their sentence overturned or been compensated. Five are still jailed and four transferred to sentences based at home. "Unfortunately Kazakhstan hasn't implemented the Working Group Opinion and state bodies do not even refer to it," says human rights defender Yevgeny Zhovtis.
2 February 2022
In 130 known administrative prosecutions in 2021, 113 individuals (one twice), two charities, two schools and one company were punished for worship meetings, offering religious literature and items (including online), sharing or teaching faith, posting religious material online, or praying in mosques. Beimbet Manetov of the regime's Religious Affairs Committee insisted that individuals had to be fined if they break the law. Asked why courts punish individuals for exercising freedom of religion or belief, he responded: "I can't comment on court decisions." He said amendments his Committee has prepared to reduce these administrative punishments are now with the Justice Ministry, but refused to say why these punishments should not be abolished.
5 January 2022
As the regime declares a state of emergency and bans mass meetings in some areas, legal changes from 9 January increase the obstacles for holding religious meetings away from state-registered places of worship. Human rights defenders such as the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law have documented the regime's already severe restrictions on the right of peaceful assembly and to hold demonstrations. Orthodox Christmas night services (due on 6/7 January) in state of emergency areas have been cancelled.
3 December 2021
On 2 December, the upper house of Parliament approved in revised form amendments to the Religion Law to make holding religious events away from state-registered places of worship more difficult. The amendments now return to the lower house. The Senate narrowed the type of events that would need to undergo the burdensome process of seeking special official permission in advance. A legal specialist questions whether ordinary police officers would know that the new requirements – if adopted – would not apply to religious communities meeting in rented premises. "Much will depend on the instructions of religious affairs authorities and the discretion of local or national officials," the legal specialist told Forum 18.
11 October 2021
Religion Law changes to widen state religious censorship and make holding religious meetings more difficult are now in parliament's upper house. Any religious community which does not own its own building, or wants to hold a pilgrimage or other event away from their own place of worship, would have to have advance state permission for the meeting or event – including regular meetings for worship - if the amendments are adopted.
24 September 2021
Claims that reading Jehovah's Witness texts harms mental health has led to Jehovah's Witness communities being ordered to pay over 3 years' average wages to plaintiffs. A Justice Ministry "expert analysis" was used to make the claims, which succeeded despite 63 per cent of the "analysis" being plagiarised and an academic analysis finding it "cannot be accepted as comprehensive, complete, scientifically based, or in accordance with the normative demands presented to the specialists for investigation".
16 September 2021
Courts and police have fined at least 15 people (one twice) and 3 organisations so far in 2021 for holding meetings for worship, hosting such meeting, maintaining places for such meetings, or holding other religious rituals without state permission. The fines were of between three weeks' and four months' average wage for those in formal work. After a Muslim was fined for leading Friday prayers, a police officer told Forum 18: "It is not allowed to pray at any location unless it's approved." Challenged about open surveillance of Baptists meeting for worship, an official claimed: "This isn't spying, this is monitoring," adding "we go to mosques, churches."
8 September 2021
So far in 2021, courts have fined 26 people and given 2 verbal reprimands for offering for sale religious literature or other religious objects, such as icons, vinyl records and Koran stands, without state permission. Almost all the fines were of three weeks' average wage. Oskemen Police "Struggle with Extremism Department" identified two people offering icons for sale online, who were both fined. No official would explain why this police department was concerned about icons. Nurgali Kabylov, Head of the Expertise [Censorship] Department of the Information and Social Development Ministry's Religious Affairs Committee, refused to explain why the state imposes compulsory prior censorship on all religious literature and items in defiance of its international human rights commitments.
20 August 2021
The Information and Social Development Ministry is proposing various amendments to the Religion Law and the Administrative Code. One Religion Law amendment would impose new bureaucratic procedures on state-registered religious communities wanting to hold religious meetings away from state-registered places of worship. This would affect any religious community which does not own its own building, as well as communities that want to hold a pilgrimage or other event away from their place of worship. The Prime Minister's Office ordered the Religion Law amendments be removed from the proposed Law on Social Control, but the provision remains in draft amendments from July, seen by Forum 18.
15 April 2021
Kordai District Court fined two more ethnic Dungan Muslims seven weeks' average wages each for teaching the Koran to children. The court issued eight such fines between 2018 and 2020, all to Dungan Muslims. More than half the administrative fines for teaching religion to children in Kazakhstan are in Kordai District. Police chief Maksat Erezhepov insists these prosecutions were "in line with the law". "Any actions that contradict the law will face severe measures." Both he and the regional religious affairs official deny any "ethnic factor" in the prosecutions.
9 April 2021
Courts fined at least 18 people in 2021 for distributing religious literature, texts, videos, audio and items in places and ways the regime declares illegal under its compulsory religious censorship. Most fines were of three weeks' average wages. "People don't have the right to distribute religious materials in any form whatsoever, whether text, video or audio," insists Kayrulla Kushkaliyev of Atyrau's Religious Affairs Department – which brought six prosecutions. The UN Human Rights Committee found an import ban on ten Jehovah's Witness publications violated Polat Bekzhan's rights.
2 February 2021
In 134 known administrative prosecutions in 2020, 114 individuals (one twice), three charities and one company were punished for worship meetings, offering religious literature and items (including online), sharing or teaching faith, posting religious material online, or praying in mosques. At least 14 fines were imposed in January 2021. Deputy Chair Anuar Khatiyev of the regime's Religious Affairs Committee refused to discuss why individuals should face prosecution and punishment for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief.
4 December 2020
Despite serious heart problems, 42-year-old Muslim prisoner of conscience Zhuldyzbek Taurbekov was not on 26 November freed early. North Kazakhstan Regional Court rejected his appeal against an earlier denial, even though "his illness is on the list of illnesses for which prisoners should be freed" his lawyer told Forum 18. There are 17 known prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief, all Muslim men.
14 October 2020
After being arrested in 2018, jailed, tortured, acquitted, and put on trial again, 30-year-old Sunni Muslim Dadash Mazhenov has been jailed for nearly 8 years on the same "terrorism" charges he faced in 2018. His "crime" was to post online 4 Islamic talks, which he later deleted. In 2019 he was tortured for praying in prison, but no officials have been arrested or tried for this. One official insisted to Forum 18 that prisoner of conscience Mazhenov tortured himself.
13 October 2020
Despite Muslim prisoner of conscience Zhuldyzbek Taurbekov being seriously ill and needing a heart transplant, he was sent from Petropavl Labour Camp on an over 1,000 kilometre journey to Pavlodar Labour Camp. "I am very worried about Zhuldyzbek," his mother told Forum 18. The chief doctor of Pavlodar Labour Camp medical unit confirmed that Taurbekov needs a heart transplant, and that Pavlodar has no suitable cardiology centre.
25 September 2020
Almaty's New Life Church was not represented when the City Court upheld an earlier court decision to seize two buildings the Church bought in 1993 and uses as a spiritual centre. Almaty Justice Department officials responsible for carrying out the seizure refused to answer questions. A Nur-Sultan court rejected Grace Presbyterian Church's suit to have annulled an order seizing their church, and the half-built place of worship of Agape Pentecostal Church.
29 July 2020
Nur-Sultan city administration ordered the confiscation of Grace Presbyterian Church, and of Agape Pentecostal Church's half-finished place of worship on the same site. Grace Church – which bought its building in 2001 - is challenging the order in court. "From 2002 we have dreamed of having our own building, and we just started building it," says Agape Church Pastor Igor Tsay. "And then this. It was unexpected – a shock."
28 May 2020
After a raid on Baptists meeting for worship in Pavlodar despite coronavirus restrictions, Pastor Isak Neiman was warned for violating anti-coronavirus measures. But after the warning, which he accepted, he was fined nearly two months' average wages on a second charge of leading an unregistered religious community meeting for worship without state permission. Officials in Aktobe fined a shopping centre administrator for allowing Muslims to pray in a unit there.
14 May 2020
Despite Muslim prisoner of conscience Dadash Mazhenov's credible allegations of Labour Camp torture, none of the named officials seems yet to be arrested or facing criminal trial for torture, in defiance of international law. The Coalition Against Torture has appointed a lawyer to work on the case, and noted that few prison torture cases ever reach court, with few officials found guilty.
7 May 2020
Despite the Supreme Court annulling his conviction, prisoner of conscience Dadash Mazhenov was not acquitted but put on trial again. He rejects "propaganda of terrorism" charges for posting Islamic talks online. For a new "expert analysis", the court commissioned Roza Akbarova, whose assessments have helped convict three prisoners of conscience. Muslim prisoner of conscience Zhuldyzbek Taurbekov is to be transferred to a labour camp far from specialised medical care.
22 April 2020
24 Muslims are jailed for up to 8 years to punish exercising freedom of religion or belief (though one is facing a second trial). 3 Protestants were given jail terms in absentia. 6 individuals are serving restricted freedom sentences. 16 are under post-jailing bans on activity. 27 who completed sentences still have bank accounts blocked. "Religious practice must be protected and never be criminalized as extremism," insists UN Special Rapporteur Fionnuala Ní Aoláin.
20 April 2020
Muslim prisoner of conscience Zhuldyzbek Taurbekov, who suffers from dilated cardiomyopathy, was transferred from Investigation Prison to Almaty's Cardiology Centre but after six days was today (20 April) transferred back. "Doctors say he's better, but I don't believe it," says Taurbekov's mother. Earlier in April, Almaty City Court rejected Taurbekov's appeal against a seven-year jail term for participating in a Muslim WhatsApp group.
1 April 2020
In 2020, courts ordered destroyed one Muslim and 196 Christian publications. The owners were each fined one month's average wage. Punishing an individual for importing one religious book ("Selected Hadiths") for personal use is a "clear violation" by the court, a legal specialist noted. "Normally [police] destroy books by putting them in a stove, but I can't say if they've already destroyed the book," the judge told Forum 18.
9 January 2020
In 168 known administrative prosecutions in 2019, 141 individuals (1 twice), 2 religious communities and 1 company were punished for worship meetings, offering religious literature and items (including online), sharing or teaching faith, posting religious material online, praying in mosques, inviting a child to meetings, or inadequate security measures. Yet an official claimed "We have no problems in the area of freedom of conscience".
18 December 2019
In addition to one Muslim on trial in Almaty, 24 individuals - all Sunni Muslim men - are known to be jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief. Three Protestants were given jail terms in absentia. A further 6 individuals are serving restricted freedom sentences. A further 15 are under post-jailing bans on specific activity. A further 27 who completed sentences still have their bank accounts blocked.
28 November 2019
Eight prisoners of conscience have lost their appeals against long jail terms for discussing Islam on a WhatsApp group. Almaty City Court rejected the appeals on 20 November in their absence. Even before the decision came into force, the authorities transferred them to often distant labour camps. One is in a Shymkent camp, where another Muslim was tortured.
26 November 2019
Despite a serious heart condition – possibly needing an operation - Zhuldyzbek Taurbekov's criminal trial begins at Almaty's Investigation Prison No. 18 on 3 December. Eight arrested with him 13 months ago for participating in a WhatsApp group on Islam have already been jailed. Only six people – including only one relative – are allowed to attend the "open" trial.
14 November 2019
An Almaty court has jailed three pastors in absentia for between four and five years in a case described by one human rights defender as "complete drivel". New Life Church has been told its problems will end if it pays money to officials or collaborates with the secret police.
19 August 2019
A Muslim complains of six years' intrusive police questioning about his faith: "These are my personal beliefs they are asking about." The Interior Minister denied that police questioned Yerlan – most recently on 20 July - because of his faith. The Interior Ministry says 23,000 are on a register of adherents of "destructive religious movements". Rights defender Yevgeny Zhovtis says no such category exists in law.
13 August 2019
Officials harassing founders of religious communities, possibly trying to block applications to exist. In May 2019 police began harassing Oskemen's New Life Church founders as it sought re-registration. Officers visited several late at night, threatening one woman in her late 70s. Aktau's Hare Krishna community has faced similar harassment.
5 August 2019
An Almaty Judge jailed eight Muslims for between five and a half and eight years for participating in a WhatsApp religious discussion group which the NSC secret police claimed promoted "propaganda of terrorism" or "inciting hatred". The men denied the charges. The ninth man is due for trial later as he is suffering serious heart problems.
31 July 2019
Eight Muslims face up to nine years' jailing each for participating in a WhatsApp religious discussion group. The NSC secret police initiated the criminal charges of "propaganda of terrorism" or "inciting hatred", which the defendants deny. The verdict is imminent. The case against the ninth – who is suffering serious heart problems – will be heard at a future trial.
19 July 2019
Administrative prosecutions to punish exercising freedom of religion or belief appear to be rising. At least 108 cases were brought between January and June to punish unapproved worship, sharing faith, selling religious literature and items in shops or online, or using "Amen" in mosque worship. In three cases, courts ordered seized religious literature to be destroyed.
11 July 2019
Bolat Isabayev was fined for leading a home worship meeting on the most sacred day annually for Jehovah's Witnesses. A court fined two ethnic Azeri imams in Zhambyl Region for maintaining funeral prayer rooms without state approval. Police fined or tried to fine up to 20 members of Karaganda's Revival Protestant Church after raiding a birthday party.