Due to fears of Islamic extremism encroaching on its borders, the central Asian nations of Kazakhistan and Kyrgystan are tightening the reigns on religious freedom, reports Frontier (No. 2, 2001), a newsletter of the religious freedom organization Keston Institute.
Kazakhistan and Kyrgystan have been the most tolerant of religious pluralism in the region, but recent legislation passed by its governments bring these nations closer to neighbors Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan in repressing religion. With the militant Afghan Taliban movement on its border and extremist Muslim terrorists active in nearby Uzbekistan, Kyrgyz authorities pushed through a bill making registration of religion compulsory. Unregistered religious activity is banned, including making “propaganda” that seeks to convert others and using public places for worship.
“Extremist faiths will not be registered, although extremism is not defined. A hint of what that may mean is that conscientious objection is defined as a threat to the nation. Kazakhstan officials are likewise issuing a crackdown targeting the “radicalization of the religious consciousness of Kazakh citizens.” The government is issuing amendments to its 1992 law on religion which would make the state the judge of which religious groups are “fundamentalist” as well as the granter of permission for groups — especially foreign ones — to conduct evangelism and missionary activities.
Although the crackdown is intended to prevent the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, other minority groups are feeling the chill. The article reports on one Hare Krishna community that has experienced increased harassment from local authorities since the decree was issued in February of 2,000.
(Frontier, Keston Institute, 4 Park Town, Oxford, OX2 6SH, UK)