Kazakhstan – Mosques and Churches Forcibly Closed

kazakhstan_map

Kazakhstan is enforcing though the courts the closures of many religious
communities after the deadline for re-registration applications expired.
Communities complain of arbitrary and flawed decisions. One Protestant
church was liquidated for providing “false information” after one of its 54
founders died shortly before the re-registration deadline, its pastor told
Forum 18 News Service. Registration requires only 50 founders. An
independent mosque was closed down for failing to give extensive
information about its beliefs in its application. The judge in the case
refused to explain to Forum 18 why her verdict said the mosque’s
representative was present in court, while the imam told Forum 18 they knew
nothing of the hearings. A Protestant Church complained to Forum 18 it was
closed down because most of its members are ethnic Kazakhs. No one at the
government’s Agency of Religious Affairs in the capital Astana was prepared
to discuss the court-ordered closures with Forum 18.

KAZAKHSTAN: MOSQUES AND CHURCHES FORCIBLY CLOSED

By Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service <http://www.forum18.org>

Kazakhstan is enforcing the closures of many Muslim and Christian religious
communities after the deadline for re-registration applications expired.
Many closed communities have complained to Forum 18 News Service that
liquidation decisions are arbitrary and flawed, often taken amid
questionable legal procedures. One community was closed down for giving
“false information” (one of the listed founders died during the application
process). Another – an independent mosque – was closed down (without being
aware of the hearings) for failing to give extensive information about its
beliefs. A Protestant church believes it was closed down because most of
its members are ethnic Kazakhs.

In some cases the authorities have enforced closures of mosques and
Protestant churches with the “consent” of these communities, with promises
that they may function as branches of other registered communities of the
same faith, or apply for registration as new organisations. Leaders of
these communities have described themselves to Forum 18 as being “deceived”
or “compelled” to agree in courts to their liquidation. But subsequently
state registration has not yet been granted, or steps to register as new
organisations have not been successful (see below).

No one at the government’s Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) in the capital
Astana was prepared to discuss the court-ordered closures of religious
communities with Forum 18 on 11 December.

Closed against their will

Communities had one year to apply or re-apply for state permission to exist
from 25 October 2011, when the Religion Law came into force. All
unregistered exercise of freedom of religion or belief by people in
association with others is a criminal offence, against the international
human rights obligations Kazakhstan has solemnly promised to implement.
Many communities have condemned the compulsory re-registration process as
“complex”, “burdensome”, “arbitrary”, “unnecessary” and “expensive” (see
F18News 21 November 2012
<http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1768>).

Among communities known to have been closed against their will have been
the ethnic Azerbaijani Fatimai Shia Muslim Mosque in Almaty Region (see F18
News 7 December <http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1778>),
Tautan Molla independent Mosque in Karaganda [Qaraghandy] Region (see
F18News 22 November 2012
<http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1769>), Light of the World
Pentecostal Church in South Kazakhstan Region, and several Protestant
churches in another southern region (see below).

Other communities across Kazakhstan known by Forum 18 to have been closed
do not wish to be publicly identified, for fear of state reprisals.

Among communities currently threatened with forced closure is the
160-year-old ethnic Tatar-Bashkir Din-Muhammad Sunni Muslim Mosque in North
Kazakhstan Region. No court case is known to have yet been opened against
the Mosque, and state re-registration has not yet been given despite the
application being made on time. The authorities have refused to answer
Forum 18’s questions on whether or not they will re-register the Mosque
(see F18News 7 December 2012
<http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1778>).

Even before the Religion Law was adopted, officials were insisting that
mosques catering for a particular non-Kazakh ethnicity, for example in the
language used, could not exist (see F18News 4 November 2010
<http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1506>). Officials were also
insisting before the Religion Law was adopted that all mosques independent
of the state-backed Muslim Board must be closed (see F18News 14 October
2010 <http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1498>).

Liquidated in their absence

Judge Indira Kuspayeva of Karaganda Regional Inter-District Economic Court,
ordered the closure of the independent Tautan Molla Mosque on 29 November.
Her decision, seen by Forum 18, was in response to the suit brought against
the Community by the Regional Justice Department. She ordered to exact the
state fee of 809 Tenge (30 Norwegian Kroner, 4 Euros or 5 US Dollars) from
the Mosque and entrust the liquidation of the Mosque to Kazakhstan’s
Finance Ministry.

Judge Kuspayeva’s decision claims that a representative, with a power of
attorney, of Imam Kinayat Ismailov of the Tautan Molla Mosque was present
at the 29 November hearing. However, the representative is not named
although the names of all other parties in the hearing are given. Both the
Imam and Sergali Kunekpayev, his Lawyer, denied to Forum 18 that any
community representative participated in the hearing.

Imam Ismailov of the Mosque told Forum 18 on 10 December he gave a letter
of attorney to Kunekpayev on 4 December to represent him in court, and that
he had not participated in the hearing. The Imam said that the Court heard
the case in his or his representative’s absence despite the fact he had
asked the Court for the hearing to be held after 29 November so that the
Mosque could be represented.

Imam Ismailov lamented that the court failed to notify him about the
hearing or the final verdict. He said that he heard about the final verdict
from Forum 18.

Judge Kuspayeva refused to discuss any aspect of the liquidation suit.
Asked by Forum 18 on 11 December why the Court made a fabricated decision
saying that Imam Ismailov was represented at the final hearing when he was
not, she responded: “I am not obliged to answer you over the phone – please
send us your written questions.”

Only four days left to appeal?

The verdict says that the defendant has 15 days to lodge an appeal from the
date of receiving the written decision. However, Imam Ismailov told Forum
18 he was “worried” since 11 days had passed since 29 November, and the
Court could “falsely claim that his ‘representative’ received a copy” of
the decision on 29 November. He said that he and Lawyer Kunekpayev planned
to visit the Court to find out whether he can still lodge an appeal.

Why was Mosque closed down?

The decision claims that Imam Ismailov’s unnamed representative argued that
he presented all the necessary documents to the authorities on 9 September
– well before the 25 October re-registration deadline. Despite this, the
decision maintains that the Justice Department’s suit to liquidate the
Mosque is “well-grounded”. The decision claimed that the Mosque’s documents
presented to the authorities “fail to contain information on the attitudes
of the Community to secular society, fulfilling one’s constitutional rights
and duties, family and health of citizen, and the Community’s name is
disputable since it does not reveal its real confessional identity, as well
as false information was disclosed about eight of its founder-citizens.”

Imam Ismailov told Forum 18 that the Justice Department had earlier alleged
that eight of the founders told it that when signing for the Tautan Molla
Mosque “they thought that they were signing for a new Mosque being built by
the Muslim Board in their District.” However, Imam Ismailov rejects this.
“Those eight people knew very well that they were signing for us, and we
asked the Justice Department to prove their claim.”

The name of the Mosque, the Imam told Forum 18, comes from the name of a
popular and respected Imam in the area from the Soviet times.

Imam Ismailov dismisses the Justice Department’s claim that the Mosque
failed to set out its views on various points. “All this is nonsense
created by the Justice Department just to come up with some kind of
argument against us,” he insisted. “We cannot give the authorities in
detail what our values are on each specific question, and we did not know
that the authorities needed such information from us.”

Can Mosque survive?

Serik Tlekbayev, Chair of Karaganda Regional Department of the ARA,
explained that the Tautan Molla mosque did not wish to become a member to
the Muslim Board. “That is why they did not receive re-registration,” he
told Forum 18 on 5 December. He would not respond to the question why
Mosques cannot be independent of the Muslim Board.

Asked whether the Mosque has any chance to receive registration as a new
organisation and continue as a community, Tlekbayev said: “I don’t know.”

Imam Ismailov told Forum 18 that his Mosque now has little choice but to
try to join the Muslim Board if it wants to survive.

Muslim Board to consider Mosques “if they agree to our conditions”

Muhammadhussein Alsabekov of the Muslim Board, Deputy Chief Mufti of
Kazakhstan, refused to talk to Forum 18 on 11 December. He referred all
questions to Zhandulla Begzhigitov, the Board official responsible for
relations with Mosques.

The Muslim Board’s Council will decide in late December whether to accept
the Tautan Molla Mosque – as well as another formerly independent Karaganda
community, Abai mosque – into the Board, Begzhigitov told Forum 18 on 11
December. “If they agree to our conditions we may accept them,” he
insisted.

Church liquidated after “different excuses”

Judge Ilyas Junusov of South Kazakhstan Regional Economic Court on 28
November approved the local Justice Department suit to liquidate Light of
the World Pentecostal Church, the Church’s Pastor Pavel Semlyanskikh
complained to Forum 18. “We have been registered here and active for the
last ten years. We are a peaceful community and have not had problems.”

Judge Junusov refused to comment on his decision. “We gave our decision,
and if the Church is not happy it can appeal, but I will not comment,” he
told Forum 18 on 4 December.

Pastor Semlyanskikh pointed out that the ARA Regional Department and
Justice Department refused to re-register them “under different excuses
since the summer”. The authorities several times “compelled us to make
corrections to our Charter, list of founders and so on,” which they did.
Then on 24 October “just one day before expiration of the re-registration
deadline”, the ARA Department summoned Church leaders. “They told us that
one of our founders is dead, and that we gave false information to the
authorities, for which they will close us down.”

Semlyanskikh explained to Forum 18 that the church member had died after
the application was submitted. “However, that cannot be an excuse since we
provided 54 names as founders as against the officially required 50 names.”
He said that the Church quickly removed the deceased person’s name from the
list, which it presented on the same day – 24 October – to the ARA
Department.

Yerlan Daulbayev, Head of the Regional Justice Department, insisted to
Forum 18 on 10 December that the Church did “not make corrections to its
founding documents before the official deadline, and consequently did not
receive re-registration.”

Asked why his Department wrongly accused the Church of giving false
information and why they did not take into account that more than 50 others
had given their names and signatures on the list of founders, Daulbayev
responded: “I cannot give such information over the phone.” He further
refused to talk to Forum 18.

Phones at the ARA Department went unanswered on 10 December.

Liquidated in their absence

Pointing out that the Regional authorities “just wanted to strip us of our
registration under any excuse and as soon as possible,” Pastor Semlyanskikh
told Forum 18 that Judge Junusov “actually already on 26 November in our
absence, liquidated us.” He said that he found out about it on 26 November
when he visited the ARA Department to ask about their status. “When we went
to the Court the officials showed us a letter from a Muslim Mosque’s
leaders asking the Court to hear the liquidation suit in their absence.”

Pastor Semlyanskikh said that they objected to this. They wrote to the
Court asking that the case be heard in their presence, and so a new date
was set for 28 November. “On that day we went to the Court, but the hearing
seemed like it was set up from before,” he complained to Forum 18. “The
Judge would not even listen or take into account our arguments.”

Judge also liquidated Muslim communities

Judge Junusov also closed down several Muslim communities on 26 November,
in decisions seen by Forum 18. Surprisingly, all the decisions said that
the communities agreed to the Regional Justice Department’s liquidation
suits, and asked to hear them in their absence.

Judge Junusov refused to say to Forum 18 why he closed so many communities
in one day. Forum 18 could not reach these Muslim communities, and it is
not clear whether they indeed voluntarily consented to their closure.

Ethnic Kazakh Church closed “against our will”

Members of a Protestant Church in a southern Region of Kazakhstan, who for
fear of State reprisals did not wish to reveal their or their Church’s
identity, told Forum 18 on 3 December that a Regional Court liquidated
their Church – along with “five or six more Protestant Churches”.

The Protestants said that some of these Churches were compelled to give
their “consent” for their closures saying that they “could either become
branches of bigger registered Churches or register as new organisations.”
However, the concerned Church was closed down “against our will”, they
said. “We do not want to go public yet because we are hoping that we can
register as a new organisation.”

The Protestants also told Forum 18 that during the application process,
their members were pressured by the local authorities to withdraw their
signatures from the founding documents.

Asked for the alleged reasons of the closures, one member of the Church
said that the authorities “claimed that we should have made all the
corrections to our documents before the deadline”. However, the Protestant
said that, they believe that their Church did not receive re-registration
“because our membership is predominantly made up of ethnic Kazakhs”. They
said that they know of Russian or Korean Protestant Churches who received
their re-registration. “The authorities refused re-registration only to
[ethnic] Kazakh Churches.” (END)

For a personal commentary on how attacking religious freedom damages
national security in Kazakhstan, see F18News
<http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=564>.

For more background, see Forum 18’s Kazakhstan religious freedom survey at
<http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1352>.

More reports on freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Kazakhstan can
be found at
<http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?query=&religion=all&country=29>.

A compilation of Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe
(OSCE) freedom of religion or belief commitments can be found at
<http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1351>.

A printer-friendly map of Kazakhstan is available at
<http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/mapping/outline-map/?map=Kazakhstan>.
(END)

© Forum 18 News Service. All rights reserved. ISSN 1504-2855
You may reproduce or quote this article provided that credit is given to
F18News http://www.forum18.org/

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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