Kazakhstan: Religious Freedom Under Attack

General February 13, 2008

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | No. 465 |

By Anneta Vyssotskaia

Kazakhstan is one of the Central Asian countries that were part of
the Soviet Union Communist empire and later became independent
states. During the Soviet era the ruling Communist Party imposed so-
called scientific atheism on the people's minds using the education
system and official propaganda. However, with the collapse of the
Communist regime and the Soviet state, freedom of religion came to
Kazakhstan among other freedoms. Through the work of numerous
missionaries the Good News was accepted by large numbers of people,
resulting in the birth and growth of many Protestant churches. The
churches in Kazakhstan continue to grow and the number of converts
from both the ethnic and Russian population continues to increase.

However, Protestant Christians are still a religious minority in
Kazakhstan. Most of the ethnic population historically consider
Sunni Islam to be the only true religion for ethnic Kazakhs, while
the majority of the Russians living in Kazakhstan relate to the
Russian Orthodox Church. The government wants to keep strict
control of all religious life in the country, deciding which
religions are suitable for Kazakhstan and which are not. There is a
growing intolerance of Protestant Christians and some Muslim groups
as well as other religious bodies, mainly Jehovah's Witnesses and
Hare Krishna. During 2007 the authorities started to put greater
restrictions on the activities of such organisations, with 43
people of various religions charged with illegal missionary
activities.

In August 2007 Grace Presbyterian Church in Karaganda, a large
church in Kazakhstan with 2500 members, was raided by National
Security Committee secret police for 15 hours. Whilst initial
accusations of treason against the pastor and three other church
leaders were dropped, in the following months other Grace churches
in Kazakhstan were investigated and several were threatened with
closure. On 25 & 26 January the 5000-member Grace Presbyterian
Church in Almaty, one of the largest churches in the country, was
raided by secret police for 17 hours. As Forum 18 reports, a Grace
Church representative said all this was aimed at closing down the
approximately 300 Grace churches in Kazakhstan. They are now being
scrutinised by state agencies like the Financial Police, Justice
Department and National Security. Although the investigation is
still under way, there have already been several negative media
reports, such as 'Deceptive Grace' which accused church members of
spying, possessing drugs and stealing church members' property.

Whilst Kazakhstan's official policy had been to set an example of
tolerance towards all peaceful religions, President Nazarbayev,
speaking at the Nur Otan party's council meeting on 17 January,
attacked missionary activities in the country. He said: 'We are a
secular state and have no official religion. However, it does not
mean that Kazakhstan should become a dumping ground for religious
movements of all kinds.' In his opinion the existing religious law
needed to be strengthened especially regarding religious extremism.
'Thousands of missionary organisations are functioning in
Kazakhstan. We are unaware of their goals. We must curtail their
unlimited freedom, as this country does not need it.' The next day,
participants at the round table, 'Impact of non-traditional
religions on youth', expressed their concerns about the growth of
'violations of the law' by non-traditional religious bodies.

After such statements from Kazakhstan's head of state, there will
most likely be more persecution of religious organisations not
approved by the government, including many Protestant churches and
especially those having links with foreign missionary groups. There
is an urgent need to pray for the situation in the country as it
may deteriorate very quickly.

PLEASE PRAY ESPECIALLY --

* thanking God for the tremendous growth of the Church in
Kazakhstan after the collapse of the Communist regime and USSR
and for the many Russians, Koreans, Kazakhs and other
nationalities saved by God; thank him for the growing unity of
the churches.

* for the maintenance of religious freedom in Kazakhstan and that
the anticipated changes in the Law on Religion will not cause
more restriction on worship, evangelism, discipleship and social
work done by the churches.

* that President Nursultan Nazarbayev will have wisdom and
understanding and may distinguish between the positive effects
of missionary activities and actual religious extremism.

* that God will strengthen and protect the Grace Church's leaders
and members at this difficult time and bring the Church to more
unity and perfection through all this, asking him for justice in
the investigation and protection from the false accusations.

'And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will
preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to Whom be glory for ever
and ever. Amen' (2 Timothy 4:18 KJV)

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ATTACKED IN KAZAKHSTAN

In Kazakhstan there is growing intolerance of Protestant Christians
and some Muslim groups as well as other religious bodies. On 17
January President Nazarbayev spoke against missionary activities
with the country becoming 'a dumping ground for religious movements
of all kinds'. He thinks the existing religion law needs
strengthening regarding 'religious extremism'. There will most
likely be more persecution of religious bodies that are not
approved by the government, including many Protestant churches. On
25 & 26 January Grace Church in Almaty was raided by secret police
and its leaders accused of many crimes including espionage and
possessing drugs. This followed investigation of Grace churches
throughout Kazakhstan in August 2007. It appears the aim is to
close down all 300 Grace Churches. Prayer for the situation in the
country is urgently needed as it may deteriorate very quickly.

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RLP guest writer Anneta Vyssotskaia serves on the WEA Religious
Liberty Commission. Elizabeth Kendal, our regular researcher and
writer, is on another assignment.

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The WEA Religious Liberty Commission sponsors this
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specifically and regularly for religious liberty
issues, and in particular to uphold the Church
where it is suffering persecution.

RL Prayer is moderated by Ron Clough, a commissioner
of the WEA RLC and convenor of the Australian EA RLC.