Kazakhstan to adopt controversial law on religion

AFP , Thursday 29 Sep 2011

Kazakhstan moves to adopt a controversial law tightening regulation of religious groups in an attempt to control a wave of what it calls religious extremism

The upper chamber of parliament, the Senate, in the majority Muslim Central Asian state voted in favour of the new law proposed by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who urged in early September to toughen measures on religious activity and migration.

Criticised by religious groups - Muslim and Christian alike - the law bans religious ceremonies in all state institutions and requires religious groups and missionaries to re-register with the government.

The law, which is likely to be swiftly signed by Kazakhstan's leader of 21 years Nazarbayev, targets unregistered minority religious groups including Muslim organisations not affiliated with the state Muslim oversight body.

Washington-based rights group Freedom House earlier this week called the law "troubling" and in violation of religious freedom.

"These provisions are very troubling, as they grossly curb Kazakhstani citizens’ right to freely practice and express their faith," Susan Corke, Freedom House’s senior programme manager for Eurasia said in a statement.

About 70 per cent of Kazakhstan's 16.5 million people are Muslims. Astana however said it was concerned with a rise of Muslim extremism.

In July, authorities said they foiled a plot by a group of extremists in western Kazakhstan to stage terrorist acts across the vast Central Asian country.

A month later the country cracked down on several blogging platforms by blocking access to them and alleging they contribute to 'terrorism' and religious extremism.

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