Religious life in Kazakhstan features a glaring dichotomy these days. Officials in Astana tout the country as a bastion of toleration, yet they are making it harder for those practicing what are deemed non-traditional faiths to worship openly.
In a plain single-story house in a northeastern suburb of Almaty, Pastor Vasiliy Shegay brings his flock of about 50 followers to their feet in song and prayer on a late Sunday morning. An ethnic Korean from Uzbekistan, Shegay says he left his birthplace for Shymkent, Kazakhstan, seven years ago and later moved to Almaty, where he is pastor of the Sun Bok Ym Pentecostal Church.
A pending court case is refocusing attention on the issue of religious freedom in Azerbaijan. Officials are seeking to revoke the registration of a small Christian community in Baku. If successful, it would mark the first closure of what had once been an officially recognized denomination, since new registration procedures came into force in 2009.
Authorities in Tajikistan are well known for keeping the clamps tightened on anything that smacks of Islamic radicalism, but Dushanbe also is casting a wary eye on proselytizing, non-Muslim sects. Of late, the small Jehovah’s Witnesses community in Tajikistan has become a target of particular interest for officials.
A bill under consideration in Tajikistan would allow the state to take over some responsibility from parents in setting limits for children. While officials argue that the draft legislation is primarily designed to combat delinquency, critics say the state wants to use the legislation to mold the religious outlook of young Tajiks.
The recent arrest of the leader of the outlawed Islamic Party of Azerbaijan is raising questions about the future role of Islam in Azerbaijani politics. Analysts in Baku differ on how much influence the Islamic Party has, but many share the belief that Islam could form the basis for a new generation of opposition activists.
Tajik authorities will be employing a new tool in their long-running effort to keep tabs on all things religious.
The country's Religious Affairs Committee has announced that, in cooperation with the state-backed Islamic Council, it is compiling a list of some 60 topics deemed suitable for sermons, and will soon distribute the list to imams across the country.