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. These rights may be limited only by laws and only to the extent necessary for protection of the constitutional system, defense of the public order, human rights and freedoms, and the health and morality of the population.
According to law, the CRA is responsible for the formulation and implementation of state policy on religious freedom. The committee also considers issues of potential violations of the laws on religious activity and extremism. 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. The law states 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 prohibits forced conversion of persons to any religion, forced participation in a religious group’s activities, or forced participation in religious rites.
The new criminal and administrative codes entered into effect January 1 and include additional and more severe penalties for unauthorized religious activity.
The criminal code prohibits the incitement of interreligious discord, which includes “propaganda of exclusivity, superiority or inferiority of citizens according to their relation to religion [and other] origin.” The new criminal code also criminalizes the creation and leadership of social institutions that proclaim religious intolerance or exclusivity, an offense punishable with imprisonment from three to seven years.
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. Extremism is considered by law to be the organization and/or commission of acts in pursuit of violent change of the constitutional system; violation of the sovereignty or territorial integrity of the country; undermining national security; violent seizure or retention of power; armed rebellion; incitement of ethnic, religious, or other hatreds that are accompanied by calls to violence; or the use of any religious practice that causes a security or health risk. An extremist organization is a “legal entity, association of individuals and (or) legal entities engaged in extremism, and recognized by the court as extremist.” The law provides streamlined court procedures for identifying a group as “terrorist or extremist,” reducing the time necessary for a court to render and act on a decision to 72 hours. After a legal finding of a violation, the law authorizes officials to revoke immediately the organization’s registration, thus liquidating it as a legal entity, and seize its property. Prosecutors have the right to inspect annually all groups registered with state bodies.
The new criminal code prohibits “spreading the creed of religious groups unregistered” in the country, an offense punishable by a fine of 198,200 tenge ($584). A foreigner or stateless person found guilty may also be deported.
A religious organization may be designated “national,” “regional,” or “local.” 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. Regional registration requires at least two local organizations, each located within a different oblast (province), and each local group must have no fewer than 250 members. National registration requires at least 5,000 total members and at least 300 members in each of the country’s oblasts and the cities of Astana and Almaty. Only groups registered at the national or regional level have the right to open educational institutions for training clergy.
The law allows denial of registration 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 analysis conducted by the CRA. According to the administrative code, individuals participating in, leading, or financing an unregistered, suspended or banned religious group may be fined between 99,100 tenge ($292) and 396,400 tenge ($1,167).
According to the CRA, there are 3,563 registered religious associations or branches thereof in the country, representing 18 groups.
The administrative code mandates a three-month suspension from conducting any religious activities for registered groups holding religious gatherings in prohibited buildings, disseminating unregistered religious materials, systemically pursuing activities that contradict the charter and bylaws of the group as registered, constructing religious facilities without a permit, or otherwise defying the constitution or laws.
If an organization, its leaders, or its members engage in activities not specified in its charter, it is subject to a warning and/or a fine of 198,200 tenge ($584). Under the new administrative code, if the same violation is repeated within a year, the legal entity is subject to a fine of 297,300 tenge ($876) and a three- to six-month suspension of activities.
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 594,600 tenge ($1,751) and the entity is subject to a fine of 991,000 tenge ($2,919) and its activities are banned.
The law prohibits coercive religious activities that harm the health or morality of citizens or residents, or that force them to end marriages or family relations. The law prohibits methods of proselytizing that take advantage of a potential convert’s dependence on charity. The law also prohibits blackmail, violence or the threat of violence, or the use of material threats to coerce participation in religious activities. If a group imports, publishes, or disseminates illegal religious literature or other materials, constructs an unauthorized building, or holds gatherings or conducts charity in violation of the law, private persons are subject to a fine of 99,100 tenge ($292) and the entity can be fined 396,400 tenge ($1,167) and face suspension of activity for three months.
The law prohibits religious ceremonies in government buildings, including those belonging to the military or law enforcement.
The law states the government shall not interfere with the rights of parents to raise their children consistent with their religious convictions, unless such an upbringing harms the child’s health or infringes upon the child’s rights.
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. After-school and other kinds of supplemental religious instruction are permitted if the religious education is provided by a registered religious group.
The law states in cases when a prisoner seeks the help of an imam, pastor, or other clergy to perform a religious rite, he or she can invite the latter to a detention facility as long as this access complies with the internal regulations of the prison. The law bans construction of places of worship within prison territory. Pursuant to the law, religious organizations may participate in monitoring prisons, including creating and implementing programs to improve the correctional system and developing and publicly discussing draft laws and regulations as they relate to the prison system. Religious groups may 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 law. According to the new codes, prisoners may possess religious literature, but only if approved after a religious expert analysis, conducted by the CRA.
The election law prohibits political parties based on religious affiliation.
The new criminal code 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.” The new code punishes such acts with a fine of up to 11.9 million tenge ($35,052), or up to six years’ imprisonment. These fines are a tenfold increase over the previous criminal code provision.
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 for a maximum of six months with the right to extend the stay for another six months. To obtain missionary visas, applicants must obtain consent from the CRA each time they apply. The CRA may reject missionary visa applications based on a negative assessment from CRA 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 constitution requires foreign religious groups to conduct their activities, including appointing the heads of local congregations, “in coordination with appropriate state institutions,” notably the CRA and the MFA. 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. Missionaries must submit all literature and other materials intended to support their missionary work 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.”