President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
Christian freedom in Kazakhstan is severely restricted under legislation dating to September 2011.
Surveillance, raids on meetings, fines and arrests are part of the fabric of Christian life, with the authorities using the threat of Islamic extremism to tighten its control on religious freedom. The past year has seen a number of believers face fines for selling Christian literature and objects. The Russian Orthodox churches experience the fewest problems, as it doesn’t tend to initiate contact with the Kazakh population.
Christians from Muslim backgrounds also face opposition closer to home, from family, friends and neighbors. They could face house arrest, beatings or expulsion from the community. Local mullahs (Muslim leaders) also preach against them.
John is a member of Shanyrak church in Nur-Sultan. His church was charged by the police in February 2021, accused of insulting the feelings of Muslims. “This is a very serious charge and has difficult consequences,” John said. “We teach in our church to respect other religions. Our goal is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ without blaming or judging others. We are still waiting for an investigation from the police. Meanwhile laws are changing in Kazakhstan. It will be much more difficult to meet in the future. The worst possible scenario is that the church will be closed, and several people may be jailed.”
While there has been a drop in reported incidents of violence against Christians, this is almost offset by marginal increases in opposition in all other areas, including church and community life.
The past year has also seen proposed changes to the country’s Religion Law which will make it more difficult for Christians to hold gatherings away from state-approved places of worship. The revised law also states that anyone meeting outside registered places of worship will need the state’s approval before producing written religious material. However, the punishment for committing certain “crimes,” including importing Christian literature without permission, will be reduced under the new changes.
The tight control of Christians by the Kazakh government can happen across the country. Pressure on converts from family, friends and community is stronger in rural areas.
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