Kazakhstan is closing down places of worship as a controversial law on religion takes effect.
The state is enforcing closures of religious communities through the courts, Oslo-based religious freedom watchdog Forum 18 reports: Sometimes “liquidation decisions are arbitrary and flawed, often taken amid questionable legal procedures.”
The shutdowns come after a deadline passed this October for all religious groups to reregister, established by a law governing religious affairs adopted in 2011. Forum 18 said religious communities had complained that the reregistration process was “complex,” “burdensome,” “arbitrary,” “unnecessary,” and “expensive.”
The watchdog has recorded the closures of “many Muslim and Christian religious communities.” One group, south Kazakhstan’s Light of the World Pentecostal Church, was abolished for giving “false information” in its application because one of its founders died while it was applying to reregister. Representatives of one independent mosque told Forum 18 it had been closed for “failing to give extensive information about its beliefs” during a court hearing of which it was unaware. Members of a Protestant church wishing to remain anonymous put the closure of their group down to its membership being “predominantly made up of ethnic Kazakhs.” (Most ethnic Kazakhs are Muslims.) Officials at the government Religious Affairs Agency declined to comment to Forum 18.
When the reregistration deadline passed in October, Kayrat Lama Sharif, chairman of the Religious Affairs Agency, said the number of recognized religious communities had been slashed from 4,551 to 3,088, and the number of faiths recognized by the state reduced by about 60 percent, from 46 to 17.
Seven-year-old Azamat is playing with his siblings at home in a village in southern Kazakhstan, tumbling around on the sofa and giggling. His parents would have found it hard to picture the scene six years ago, when they first learned that their son was HIV-positive.
A military conscript accused of a massacre at a border unit near Kazakhstan’s frontier with China has been found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Vladislav Chelakh was found guilty on nine charges including murder, desertion, stealing weapons, and damaging military property on December 11, Bnews.kz reported. His conviction followed a month-long trial during which he has displayed erratic behavior.
Chelakh, now 20, was arrested following a May massacre at the Arkankergen border unit in southeastern Kazakhstan. When military officials investigated after losing contact with the remote post, they found 15 people dead, Chelakh’s fellow border guards and one national park ranger. The border unit had been set on fire in an apparent attempt to conceal the crime.
Chelakh was found hiding in the forest and confessed, saying that military hazing had made him “flip.” He later recanted his confession, saying he had been pressured, and testified at the trial that his post had been attacked by “serious people” in civilian clothes. He said he had fled in terror and burned down the border post to conceal evidence in fear that his story would not be believed.
Seven citizens of Kazakhstan who strayed into Turkmenistan accidentally have been jailed for seven years, reports western Kazakhstan’s Lada newspaper, quoting an unnamed relative of one of the detainees.
The group includes four law-enforcement officers who were working in the border area, and three hunters who were in their company for reasons yet to be established. The four officers had been sent to a border district with Turkmenistan on the hunt for illegal migrants and wanted criminals, Mangystau Region police chief Kayrat Otebay said following their October 19 arrest.
Otebay said the law-enforcement officers were headed to Kazakhstan’s Boget border unit but lost their way in the desert. Officials have yet to establish why they had teamed up with the three hunters, but there has been speculation the officers were giving them a lift.
Confirming the arrest a week after it happened, the Turkmen Foreign Ministry said the seven had been arrested for “illegally crossing the state border and penetrating three kilometers into the territory of Turkmenistan.” It also said they were carrying firearms.
The group received prison terms of seven years after a trial in the Caspian city of Turkmenbashi, Lada quoted the sister of one of the detained Kazakhs as saying. The newspaper, which is based in Kazakhstan’s Caspian city of Aktau, did not identify the source by name.
Respublika has been suspended by the courts, but published last week under the name Azat (Freedom). Photo: EurasiaNet.org
A prominent Kazakh opposition party, Alga!, and outspoken media outlets are fighting a legal battle against a bid to shut them down. They say authorities are attempting to muzzle dissident voices in Kazakhstan.
The move to close Alga! -- whose leader Vladimir Kozlov is serving a jail term for allegedly inciting fatal unrest in Zhanaozen last December, which he denies -- has become bogged down in a legal paradox: Alga! has been arguing in court that it cannot be closed because it does not exist, since the authorities have for years refused to register it and make it legal. Alga!’s case has been adjourned to December 11.
One media outlet, the Stan TV Internet television station, has already been ordered to close by a court, which on December 4 declared its output “illegal,” Kazakhstan’s Adil Soz media watchdog reported.
When 18-year-old Fatima Musabayeva from southern Kazakhstan was offered a job at a Moscow supermarket, she jumped at the chance. Her mother had died when she was 10, and when her father passed away in 2006, Fatima and her 17-year-old sister were left to fend for themselves.
“One Fatherland, one Fate, one Leader of the Nation” – so says the slogan beside the smiling face of President Nursultan Nazarbayev on giant billboards looming over the streets in Kazakhstan. They are promoting a new holiday on December 1: First President’s Day, when Kazakhstan will fete its longtime leader.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has wound up a four-day trip to Central Asia, where she focused on security, energy and trade. The visit disappointed campaigners who hoped for stronger public statements about what they say are serious human rights abuses in the region.
New York-based Human Rights Watch had urged Ashton to “publicly call for the release of wrongfully imprisoned activists” across Central Asia, where “numerous human rights defenders, civil society groups, and opposition activists languish in prison for their peaceful work and activism.”
There was no public mention of prisoners during the visit, which ended in Astana on November 30. After meeting President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Ashton said talks had “not surprisingly, focused on economic and trade issues” and mentioned the “security dialogue.”
“I also want to say that it is important that the country moves forward with economic liberalization and in support of civil society and human rights,” Ashton said. She did not publicly mention the case of opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov, controversially jailed last month on charges of inciting unrest and attempting to overthrow the state.
Security and energy topped the agenda on the first day of European Union foreign affairs envoy Catherine Ashton’s visit to Central Asia, disappointing campaigners hoping she would make vocal calls for improvements to what they see as the five states’ dismal human rights records.
Following the EU-Central Asia Ministerial meeting in Kyrgyzstan on November 27, Ashton cited first security (due to the region’s proximity to Afghanistan) then energy and trade as key to “the growing importance of Central Asia.”
“We face shared security challenges. We have great potential to further develop our energy, trade and economic relations,” she said, only then pointing to the EU’s desire to “support the efforts of the countries of Central Asia as you take that journey of political and economic reforms.”
She listed topics of discussion as education; the rule of law; the environment; and energy and water resources (a particular bone of regional contention). “And we talked about democratization and human rights and the development of civil society,” Ashton then added.
Human rights campaigners had been hoping for stronger language from the EU foreign policy chief, who promised ahead of her visit in an interview with Radio Free Europe to make human rights “a core part of the dialogue.”
Prosecutors have moved to silence some of the few dissenting voices left in Kazakhstan’s tightly controlled political arena, seeking to muffle media and opposition groups for allegedly calling for the overthrow of the state in the run-up to fatal violence in Zhanaozen last December.
A statement by the prosecutor’s office on November 21 accused two vocal opposition forces -- the unregistered Alga! party and the People’s Front organization, consisting of Alga! and the Communist Party of Kazakhstan -- of extremist actions and said it had filed a court case to ban them, along with a host of media outlets.
Alga! is led by Vladimir Kozlov, who on November 19 lost his appeal against a seven-and-a-half year prison sentence over the Zhanaozen unrest. Critics -- including international human rights organizations and the US government -- fear Kozlov’s imprisonment was designed to silence Kazakhstan’s battered opposition.
“The authorities are themselves radicalizing dissent, pushing it out of the legal field,” Amirzhan Kosanov, deputy leader of another -- still tolerated -- opposition party, OSDP Azat, commented on his Facebook page.