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Geneva, Switzerland
Kazakhstan: LWF General Secretary Concerned about Proposed Religious Law
Lutheran World President Noko Urges President Nazarbayev to Ensure Review of Draft Legislation

The General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko has called on Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev to ensure the review of a draft legislation which, if signed into law, would place harsh restrictions on religious freedom in the predominantly Muslim country.

In a letter to Nazarbayev, Noko expresses his concern about reports of the Parliament's passage at the end of November of a new law on religion, widely reported as containing harsher restrictions on freedom of religion and belief than previously obtained in the country.

The general secretary says he is aware of expressions of alarm and concern being voiced by leaders of several minority religious communities in Kazakhstan, and by representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He notes such alarm and concern might in part have been fueled by a certain lack of community participation and transparency in the process of formulating the new legislation.

According to media reports, religious communities and human rights activists in Kazakhstan are particularly concerned about the legislation which would place restrictions on missionary activities and on religious beliefs of registered communities, including a compulsory censorship of all imported religious literature. The law would reportedly also put severe restrictions on smaller religious groups and would include a requirement that children obtain written permission to participate in any religious youth event.

The head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Kazakhstan (ELCRK) Bishop Yuri Novgorodov has reportedly criticized the draft legislation saying, "If adopted, this would be a law on non-freedom of conscience." Media sources quote him saying the new law "would destroy our whole organization and our seminary, and the bishop would no longer be able to function as such."” The ELCRK is a regional church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia and Other States, which has been an LWF member church since 1989.

Noko in his letter refers to the 2003 and 2006 First and Second Congresses of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in the capital, Astana, convened by President Nazarbayev. The general secretary points out that at the second congress, Nazarbayev emphasized the experience of Kazakhstan as a predominantly Muslim country but with exceptional religious diversity. On this occasion, he affirmed that "Our model of international and inter-confessional dialogue is Kazakhstan’s contribution to the global process of interaction between different confessions,"” the general secretary writes.

Paying tribute to Nazarbayev's personal and political commitment to equality among religious communities in the country, and to peace and inter-religious harmony at home and globally, Noko says he is convinced the Kazakhstan president will act in a way that would demonstrate this commitment, and that he would address concerns about transparency and participation in the process of formulating this legislation.

Source: Lutheran World Information, Geneva/Switzerland.