Jehovah's Witnesses, Baptists, Ahmadis, and Hare Krishna: the ax of religious repression and censorship of books and magazines continues to fall on the Kazakh faithful, with freedom of worship increasingly at risk, already reduced by stringent and illiberal laws. Violations against religious freedom, are compounded by the difficulty of reporting of individual episodes which emerge only weeks later. Forum18 has learned from local sources that from February to late April, in three different regions of Kazakhstan, police detained Jehovah's Witnesses, Baptists and Hare Krishnas, threatening them with punishments because they publicaly expressed their faith.
In recent days, the authorities closed the last Ahmadi place of worship in Almaty, the commercial capital of the country, depriving the Muslim religious minority of a place to meet and pray. Christian Methodist's are also under the spotlight, their center has been subjected to a series of inspections by administrative officials. The clamp down is the result of a law which came into effect last October 21 and strongly desired by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, provoking fierce controversy and resulting in the cancellation of nearly 600 permits for churches and religious denominations (see AsiaNews 23/02/2012 Kazakh government to ban 579 Churches and religious communities).
The iron fist against religions was further strengthened by a later decision, adopted by the government in February last and published the following month in legislation on censorship, drafted by the State Administration for Religious Affairs. The decree issued by the government sets strict rules for the introduction into Kazakhstan of books, magazines and other religious material and gives police the power to carry out checks, seizures and arrests.
Last March, in less than a week, five Baptists in the northern region of Akmola were stopped because "distributing Christian literature" in the street. The police requisitioned the books (one hundred in all) and local sources add, arrested two of them "as if they were criminals." The judiciary has opened an investigation and they risk a conviction in criminal court: the distribution of Christian material, in Kazakhstan, is now a crime punishable by law. Copies of the Bible in Kazakh and the Gospels in Russian were also seized.
In addition to Christians, Hare Krishnas are also in the crosshairs of the authorities on charges of distributing "extremist literature". The incident occurred in April in the east of the country. Now judges must decide whether to refer them to trial. In recent days, instead proceedings against two Jehovah's Witnesses, on trial for having spoken in public about their faith in the northern region of Kostanai, were shelved.