President Nazarbayev Signs a New Bill On Religions into Law

Oct 14. MFA

President Nazarbayev Signs a New Bill On Religions into LawPresident Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan said peace and accord “in our multinational home is the most important achievement of the county”.

President Nazarbayev spoke Thursday, as he toured the southern city of Shymkent on October 13. “Our main aim is to preserve the unity of the nation. To this end, I have signed a new law on religions,” he said.

Earlier that day, President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed a bill On Religious Activities and Religious Associations into law. The bill is largely viewed in the government as a vital and long overdue step to stop the spread of violence perpetuated by people disguising themselves as true believers in Islam.

Opponents of the law describe it an infringement on religious freedom. They cite re-registration of religious groups, the minimal numerical threshold for a group to be registered and increased oversight of religious groups as major concerns. The law also bans prayer rooms from government buildings but clearly states that worshiping, religious rituals, ceremonies and assemblies can go on unimpeded in buildings and sites of religious worship, cemeteries, and catering places.

Indeed, states differ in requirements for registration for religious groups. Great variety exists regarding registration of religious communities in European countries, with a numerical threshold at times reaching 20,000 adult members.

Today, some 4,551 religious associations are officially registered in Kazakhstan, including 2,815 Islamic, 1,283 Protestant, 306 Orthodox, 118 Roman Catholic, 25 Jewish and 4 Buddhist. In 1991, their number barely reached 700.

Unsurprisingly, the seventy years of spiritual vacuum under the Soviet Union created a high demand for a religion in the new independent state. As a result, there was a tremendous inflow of different religious movements and organizations into the country. The two most widely spread religions in Kazakhstan are Sunni Islam, practiced by the majority of about 65 percent, and Russian Orthodox, practiced by under 30 percent of the population.

Arguably the most secular country in Central Asia, Kazakhstan has recently witnessed a series of events that proved the radical Islamist organizations seek to gain ground in the country.

These developments have pushed the government to revise and draft yet another law (the previous two were rejected as unconstitutional in 2002 and 2009). The law is applicable to all religions, but is most pertinent to certain ultraconservative Islamic sects that are increasingly growing in numbers and could potentially cause security problems for the country.

The new law upholds the separation of the state and religion as a fundamental value of the secular state of Kazakhstan. This principle does allow limits to the freedom of expression in public services because the expression of an individual’s religion in Kazakhstan has to comply with the basic rule regarding the secular nature of the state. It can also burden a person’s free exercise of religion on a condition that such a burden is necessary for the furtherance of a compelling national interest.