Norwegian Helsinki Committee: Kyrgyz law on religion should be amended in transparent process
The 2009 Religion Law of Kyrgyzstan fails to comply with the Constitution and with international human rights standards, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee states. Moreover the law severely restricts religious freedoms, including imposing registration requirements that in effect ban registration of new religious communities other than the Orthodox Church and the Spiritual Board of Moslems. Authorities should take steps to initiate an open and inclusive process of revising the Bakiyev-era Religion Law.
Tuesday, 01 May 2012, by HRH Oslo, based on Norwegian Helsinki Committee
In 2008, The Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR Advisory Council on Freedom of Religion or Belief issued a Joint Opinion which criticised the then draft Law. It was none the less adopted a few months later. “The Joint Opinion is still valid and we encourage the use of its recommendations in a renewed revision process”, says Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.
New draft law arouses more concern
The 2009 Religion Law of Kyrgyzstan stipulates that all imported religious literature requires state examination, and includes provisions that further limit distribution of religious material. The National Security Services are in charge of this task, implying that imported religious literature is in general perceived as a security risk.
In March 2012, a draft law on amendments to the current law was introduced by a group of deputies headed by former Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uluu. The new legislative initiative arouses even more concern According to the Bakir-uluu group’s draft, the National Security Services will get the right to request assistance from the Russian Orthodox Church and the Spiritual Board of Moslems in examining religious literature.
“This is, by all means, in breach of the Constitution and international standards, which hold that all religions are equal before the Law. Establishing a system where two religious groups are involved in the examination of the texts of other religious groups is clearly giving these groups a privileged position and jeopardising the principle of religious neutrality of the state”, Bjørn Engesland pointed out.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee and local activists have addressed President Almazbek Atambayev and the Presidential Administration’s Department of ethnic and religious politics and interaction with civil society, listing a number of critical remarks on the recent religion draft law. The address states that, if adopted, the law will bring Kyrgyzstan even further away from respecting freedom of religion or belief.
According to a recent report by the non-governmental organization Open Viewpoint, “Freedom of Religion or Belief in the Kyrgyz Republic: Overview of Legislation and Practice”, no religious institutions except those affiliated with the Orthodox Church or Spiritual Board of Moslems have been registered since January 2009. The 2009 Religion Law’s requirement of minimum 200 members in order to register has proved to be an effective barrier against other religious groups registering and achieving legal status. The full version of the report is available here.
However, there are also promising signs in the ways the Kyrgyz Parliament adopts new legislation, says Engesland. A recent process on amending the Law on Freedom of Assembly has been quite transparent and open to civil society groups and activists. The draft Law that was approved by the Parliament on 12 April 2012 is mainly in line with the international standards and also takes into account the Venice Commission’s recommendations, though it still has some shortcomings. “If this law is signed by the President, it could serve as a good example for further legislation processes”, concludes Engesland.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) and several partner organizations published a report on freedom of religion or belief issues in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in 2010. The organizations are following developments in both countries, and are now in the process of updating the report. NHC staff visited the Kyrgyz Republic on 11-14 April 2012 as part of research for the updated report, and to prepare for other actions in order to influence authorities to respect freedom of religion or belief. Partner organizations in the project include the Stefanus Alliance, Forum 18 News Service and the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights.
HRH Oslo, based on Norwegian Helsinki Committee