The constitution defines the country as a secular state and provides for freedom of religion and belief, as well as for the freedom to decline religious affiliation. Other laws, however, mandate restrictive registration requirements for religious organizations and missionaries; require government inspection of religious literature; and prohibit religious ceremonies in government buildings (including those belonging to the military or law enforcement) and in secular educational institutions.
The Committee for Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Culture and Sport (CRA, formerly the Religious Affairs Agency) is responsible for the formulation and implementation of state policy on religious freedom. The committee also studies and analyzes the activities and operation of religious groups and missionaries. It drafts legislation and regulations, conducts analyses of religious materials, and considers problems related to violations of the religion law. It cooperates with law enforcement to ban the operation of religious groups or individuals who violate the religion law, coordinates actions of local government to regulate religious issues, and provides the official interpretation of the religion law.
The law allows all people to follow their religious or other convictions, take part in religious activities, and disseminate their beliefs, but with significant restrictions. It states that the government shall not interfere with the choice of religious beliefs or affiliation of citizens or residents, unless those beliefs are directed against the country’s constitutional framework, sovereignty, or territorial integrity. The law also states the government shall not interfere with parents’ rights to rear their children consistently with their religious convictions, unless such an upbringing harms the child’s health or infringes upon the child’s rights. It prohibits forced conversion of persons to any religion, forced participation in a religious group’s activities, or forced participation in religious rites. The law also prohibits coercive religious activities that harm the health or morale of citizens or residents, or that force them to end marriages or family relations. Unregistered missionary activity is prohibited, as are certain methods of proselytizing, including the use of charity, blackmail, violence or the threat of violence, or the use of material threats to coerce participation in religious activities.
The law allows registration to be denied to religious groups based on an insufficient number of adherents or inconsistencies between the religious group’s charter and any national law, as determined by an expert analysis conducted by the CRA. According to the Administrative Code, individuals participating in, leading, or financing an unregistered, suspended or banned religious group can be fined between 92,600 tenge ($508) and 370,400 tenge ($2,031).
In order to register at the local level, religious groups must submit an application to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), listing the names and addresses of at least 50 founding members. Communities may only be active within the geographic limits of the locality in which they register unless they have sufficient numbers to register at the regional or national level. To register regionally, groups must have at least 500 members in each of two separate regions, while national registration requires at least 5,000 total members with sufficient representation in each of the country’s oblasts (regions). Only groups registered at the national or regional level have the right to open educational institutions for training clergy. According to the CRA, there are approximately 3,400 registered religious organizations in the country, representing 18 major groups. Several other religious groups, including the Baptist Council of Churches and the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, have either not sought or have been denied registration. The Church of Scientology is reported to be registered as a public association, rather than a religious organization, and continues to function.
The Administrative Code stipulates a three-month suspension for registered groups that hold religious gatherings in prohibited buildings, disseminate unregistered religious materials, systemically pursue activities that contradict the charter and bylaws of the group as registered, construct religious facilities without a permit, or otherwise defy the constitution or laws.
According to the Administrative Code, if a religious group engages in a prohibited activity or fails to rectify violations resulting in a suspension, an official or the organization’s leader is subject to a fine of 555,600 tenge ($3,046) and the entity is subject to a fine of 926,000 tenge ($5,077) and its activities are banned.
The extremism law, which applies to religious groups and other organizations, gives the government discretion to identify and designate a group as an extremist organization, ban a designated group’s activities, and criminalize membership in a banned organization. New amendments introduced during the year simplify court procedures for identifying a group as “terrorist or extremist” and authorize officials to immediately terminate such groups and seize their property. Prosecutors have the right to inspect annually all groups registered with state bodies.
In order to perform missionary or other religious activity in the country, a foreigner must obtain a missionary or religious visa. These visas allow a person to stay in the country for a maximum of six months with the right to extend the stay for the same period of time. Previously missionary visas were only issued for a period of 180 days without permission to extend. To obtain a missionary visa, applicants must obtain consent from the CRA every time they apply. The constitution requires foreign religious groups to conduct their activities, including appointing the heads of local congregations, “in coordination with appropriate state institutions.” Foreigners may not register religious groups.
Local and foreign missionaries are required to register annually with the local executive body of an oblast or the cities of Astana and Almaty, and provide information on their religious affiliation, intended territory of missionary work, and time period for conducting that work. All literature and other materials intended to support their missionary work must be submitted together with their registration application. Use of materials not vetted during the registration process is illegal. A missionary must produce registration documents and a power of attorney from the sponsoring religious organization in order to work on its behalf. The local executive body of an oblast or the cities of Astana and Almaty may refuse registration to missionaries whose work “constitutes a threat to the constitutional order, social order, the rights and freedoms of individuals, or the health and morals of the population.”
Foreign missionaries must obtain and present approval from the CRA when applying for a missionary visa. The CRA can reject missionaries based on a negative assessment from its religious experts, or if it deems the missionaries represent a danger to the country’s constitutional framework, citizens’ rights and freedoms, or any person’s health or morals.
The law bans the construction of places of worship within prison territory. However, the law stipulates that in cases when a prisoner needs the help of a pastor, imam, or other clergy to perform a religious rite, he or she can invite the latter to a detention facility as long as this complies with internal regulations of the prison.
The law requires organizations to “take steps to prevent involvement or participation of anyone under the age of 18, in the activities of a religious association,” if one of the parents or other legal guardians have objections. The law bans religious or proselytizing activities in children’s holiday, sport, creative, or other leisure organizations, camps, or sanatoria. The extent to which organizations must prevent underage persons’ involvement in religious activity is not specifically outlined and has not been further defined by authorities.
The law does not permit religious instruction in public schools, colleges, or universities. Homeschooling for religious reasons is not permitted; although after-school and other kinds of supplemental religious instruction are permitted if the religious education is provided by a registered religious group.
The election law prohibits political parties based upon religious affiliation. The criminal code prohibits the incitement of interethnic or interreligious hatred.
A new criminal code taking effect on January 1, 2015, criminalizes several kinds of religious activity. It prohibits creating, leading, or actively participating in a religious or public association whose activities involve committing acts of “violence against citizens or the causing of other harm to their health, or the incitement of citizens to refuse to carry out their civil obligations, as well as the creation or leadership of parties on a religious basis.” Such acts can be punished by a fine of up to 11.1 million tenge ($60,855), or up to six years’ imprisonment. Under the current criminal code the same offenses are punished by fines between 370,400 tenge ($2031) and 926,000 tenge ($5077), or up to six years imprisonment. The new code also criminalizes the creation and leadership of social institutions which proclaim religious intolerance or exclusivity. This is punishable with imprisonment from three to seven years.
According to the new Criminal Executive Code, religious organizations can participate in monitoring prisons, including creating and implementing programs to improve the correctional system and developing and publicly discussing draft laws and regulations in the field of criminal-executive activities. Religious groups may also identify, provide, distribute, and monitor the use of humanitarian, social, legal, and charitable assistance to prisoners. They may provide other forms of assistance to penitentiary system bodies as long as they do not contradict the laws of the country. The new code allows prisoners to possess religious literature approved by a religious expert analysis, conducted by the CRA.
By current law, if a group engages in activities not specified in its charter, officials and leaders are subject to a fine of 370,400 tenge ($2,031), and the legal entity is subject to a fine of 555,600 tenge ($3,046) with a three-month suspension of the group’s activities. The same provision exists in the new code, but provides that officials, leaders, or legal entities can be fined 555,600 tenge ($3,046) and the group’s activities suspended for three months.
The current law states that if a group imports, publishes, or disseminates illegal religious literature or other materials, constructs an unregistered building, or holds gatherings in violation of the law, private persons are subject to a fine of 92,600 tenge ($508), group officials and leaders of 185,200 tenge ($1,015), the entity of 370,400 tenge ($2,031), and suspension of activity for three months. Officials and leaders of the group will not be fined in the new code.
The new Administrative Code adds “spreading the creed of religious groups unregistered in Kazakhstan” as a new offense, punishable by a fine of 185,200 tenge ($1,015) for citizens, and the same amount for foreigners or stateless persons with the additional penalty of deportation.