Denial of Registration Draws Concern Among Kazakhstan Protestants

Refusal by government officials to register religious communities has brought widespread concern throughout Kazakhstan where unregistered Protestants are being fined for worshipping.

This is especially true since any religious activity in the central Asian country has been declared illegal in July this year.

In the most recently reported cases of registration refusal, Forum 18 News Service reported that two local Protestant churches were denied registration without reason.

Rustam Kairulin, pastor of the Protestant Sonbakyn church in the Caspian Sea port of Atyrau, told Forum 18 he had tried six times to register his church with the Atyrau regional justice administration but was denied.

"We were last refused registration in July this year," he told Forum 18 from Atyrau Sept. 6. "Every time, officials find some fault in our documents. But I think these are just quibbles – in fact, the authorities don't want Christianity to become widespread in the region."

A Protestant from Gulsary, a district center 200 kilometres south of Atyrau, told Forum 18 that local Protestants in the district have tried to register the Resurrection church four times but every attempt was rejected.

He also said that two officials from the Gulsary district public prosecutor’s office came to a church meeting Aug. 6 and made the church members write a statement explaining why they were joining in on activities run by an unregistered church.

Church members were warned that they would be fined if they gathered again.

"Basically, they are deliberately driving us into a trap," the Gulsary Protestant complained to Forum 18. "They find pretexts to refuse us registration, and then when we meet together they accuse us of breaking the law."

Turlat Nurzhanov, an official of the Atyrau regional justice administration dismissed the complaints and said that, “The Protestant churches are being refused registration on legal grounds.”

He said to Forum 18 that "They fill in the documents required for registration incorrectly every time. It's a lie to say that the regional authorities are hampering the spread of Christianity."

Since the Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev signed a national security law on July 8, amending the religion law and other laws in the country, religious communities that have not registered have begun to face tough situations.

Though unregistered religious communities had been under pressure from authorities prior to the month of July, since the amendments were made, authorities have allegedly gained the right to pressure them legally.

The Council of Baptist Churches was among religious minorities and human rights groups to oppose the adoption of the national security amendments, arguing that they violated the constitutional right to freedom of conscience and worship.

Aleksandr Klyushev, head of the Association of Religious Organisations of Kazakhstan (AROK), however, does not think the persecution of Protestants in Atyrau region is linked with the recent amendments to the religion law.

"I have not seen any substantial changes since the amendments to the religion law came into effect either in Astana or in Almaty," he told Forum 18. "So I think these are provincial officials acting on their own."