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What Kazakhstan can teach us about religious freedom


A new “Religion Law” in October 2011 required all religious communities to re-register with the state within a year or face being closed down. Forum 18, …, reports that authorities are using the law to drive religious groups they don’t like underground or out of business.

Ahmadiyya Times | News Watch |
Source/Credit: CathNews
By CathNews | December 18, 2012

Sometimes life’s lessons come from the most improbable places. As it happens, Kazakhstan, a Central Asian republic with a grand total of 250,000 Catholics may have something to teach Catholics everywhere about the church’s mounting preoccupation with religious freedom, writes John Allen in NCR Online.

The Kazakh situation poses a biting question to the Catholic conscience: Are we in this just for ourselves or to defend religious freedom for all?

Kazakhstan isn’t exactly the front lines of today’s religious freedom fights, since for the most part nobody’s being shot. It is, however, a low-intensity combat zone, as the government under de facto President-for-Life Nursultan Nazarbayev is currently tightening the screws on any religious body perceived as a potential threat.

A new “Religion Law” in October 2011 required all religious communities to re-register with the state within a year or face being closed down. Forum 18, a Norwegian human rights organization that monitors the former Soviet sphere, reports that authorities are using the law to drive religious groups they don’t like underground or out of business.

Targets include:
    Non-Sunni Muslim communities, such as Shi’ites and Ahmadis.
    Any “independent” mosque, whatever its form of Islam, meaning one not registered with the state.
    Mosques that serve ethnic minorities, such as Tatars, Chechens and Tajiks.
    The Hare Krishna.
    Various Christian bodies, including several Baptist churches and the Grace Presbyterian Church.

According to the reports, congregations belonging to these groups have been threatened with liquidation. The imam of a mosque that refused to register with a state-controlled “Muslim Board,” for instance, said a regional official has warned him a bulldozer is on the way.

Strikingly, one religious body in the country enjoys a free pass: the Catholic church.

Catholics have been exempted from the registration requirement because of a 1998 treaty establishing diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Kazakhstan. It was finally ratified by the Kazakh legislature in September after lobbying by the Vatican. Pope John Paul II’s former Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano, traveled to the country just ahead of the parliamentary vote.

[…]

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