for Forum 18 News Service on May 1, 2008
The following was excerpted from an article by the religious freedom news service Forum 18. The full article can be read in its original context here.
In attempts to intimidate the Hare Krishna devotees to give up the land, the local authorities [Almaty, Kazakhstan] in the past demolished some of the houses on the land where the devotees used to live.
Maxim Varfolomeev of the Hare Krishna Community told Forum 18 on 18 April that the Regional Akimat has given them an ultimatum to vacate the place as soon as possible. "Otherwise the authorities pledge to pull down our temple and other buildings including living residences in our presence," Varfolomeev told Forum 18.
Serik Umbetov, the Akim of the region, gathered officials of Akimats of local districts around Karasai region, and the leaders of the Hare Krishna commune on 25 March to offer an alternative site for the commune. "The authorities through the court stripped our property rights to 49 hectares of fertile lands next to a beautiful lake which is also within an hour of Almaty city," complained Varfolomeev. "But now they won't give us a minimum of two hectares needed for building of the temple, the housing of the devotees and the shed for the cows."
At the meeting the Hare Krishna community was offered four places in different districts but found none of them appropriate, Varfolomeev reported. "One site is next to a rubbish dump, another is next to a cemetery, and the best is on a hill that would need to be levelled out," he said. All these sites are too remote and cannot be reached by public transport, which would make it very difficult for members to attend the meetings, he complained.
The new head of the Justice Ministry's Religious Affairs Committee, Ardak Doszhan, received the leaders of the Hare Krishna commune at his office in Astana on 28 March and promised to give his support to the commune, Varfolomeev told Forum 18. The authorities have not taken steps to demolish the buildings yet. "This shows us that the Akimat is trying to talk us into signing papers that we agree to the plans to move us out of the current location, so they can have a legal basis for the demolition," he said. The Commune is resolute in its decision not to give in to pressure and sign any papers. "We just want two hectares of land on even ground in an appropriate surrounding not far from the city," reiterated Varfolomeev.
Gazizat Shtabaeva of Karasai Akimat, who now oversees the land dispute, was reached by Forum 18 on 25 April but she declined to talk about the issue.
"Ryskul Zhunisbaeva who used to oversee this dispute has now resigned from her position, and I have just taken over this issue," she said. "I don't know much about it at the moment."
Ardak Zholtaev, the Assistant to the Akim, declined to talk about the issue over the phone to Forum 18 on 25 April. The telephone of the deputy Akim, Edil Kaliev, went unanswered. Kayrat Tulesov, the deputy chairman of the Religious Affairs Committee, also declined to discuss the case with Forum 18 by telephone on 25 April.
Among other religious communities, Jehovah's Witnesses, independent Muslims and Protestant churches continue to suffer in Kazakhstan. Recently a group of 15 independent Muslims were given heavy prison sentences for belonging to a terrorist organisation. 14 of the 15 Muslims were given prison sentences of between 14 and 19 and a half years at a closed trial. The fifteenth received a three-year corrective labour sentence. The terrorist allegations by the authorities were not proven, according to independent legal experts in Kazakhstan.