By Gulshat Abdulaeva
Activity of religious associations in Kazakhstan is regulated by the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan (RK), the Civil Code and the Law “About a Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations”, accepted on January, 15th, 1992 by the Supreme Council of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic.
The political leadership of the RK is trying not to interfere officially in the religious sphere and to regulate this process by adopting various laws, basically suppressing the unconstitutional actions of religious associations.
So, in 1995, in accordance with the instructions of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan N. Nazarbayev, a statute was made in the Constitution prohibiting the activities of religious and public associations, “proclaiming or in practice realizing … inciting religious hatred” (Article 5.3). In addition, in the same year, the Constitution introduced article 20.3, prohibiting “propaganda or agitation … of religious … superiority”. Later, a number of crimes against the state authorities were opened, which were condemned by the following articles of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan: Art. 164: “Excitement of social, national, tribal, racial or religious hatred”; Art. 168 – “Forcible capture of power or forcible retention of power”; Art. 170: “Calls for the violent overthrow or alteration of the constitutional order or violent contravention of the territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan”.
Tougher state policy on religious extremism and separatism in Kazakhstan began in 1994, when the new Civil Code of the RK introduced provisions on mandatory coordination with state bodies of candidacies of leaders of religious associations appointed to Kazakhstan by foreign religious centers and of mandatory accreditation of missionaries, who are not citizens of Kazakhstan, and “spiritual educational religious associations and institutions” in local authorities (Article 109).
Later, the provision on the coordination with the state bodies of issues of the activities of foreign religious associations and the appointment of religious association leaders by foreign religious centers was enshrined in the 1995 Constitution of Kazakhstan (Article 5.5). A special strengthening of control over religious processes and religious education, in particular, began after the 1999 terrorist attacks in Tashkent, when, according to official authorities, attempts were made to assassinate former President I. Karimov.
In 1999 five criminal cases were initiated against 14 clerics for committing various crimes. In order to prevent the radicalization of the religious consciousness of Kazakh citizens, the President of Kazakhstan, N. Nazarbayev, in February 2000 signed the Decree, “On measures to prevent and cross the manifestations of terrorism and extremism”.
As for the emergence of unconventional religious trends, in the early 1990s many young people of Kazakhstan went abroad to receive education, where as a national ideology, an unconventional Shiite or Wahhabi-type Islam for other Central Asian countries or other religious directions is positioned. As a result, the departed young people, being influenced by the ideology of another state, accepted it and subsequently these same teachings contributed to the formation of all kinds of Islamic movements and sects and other religious organizations that are unconventional for Kazakhstan.
Today, religious, and especially Islamic extremism has become a real political force in the Central Asian region. Kazakhstan is no exception, especially since Islam has deep historical roots here. According to the leadership of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan (SAMK), Islam in Kazakhstan (especially in the southern part) is represented not only by traditional currents – Sunnism and Shiism — but there are several dozens of Islamic currents and independent religious communities that are not submit to SAMK.
During the last four years, according to the statements of the General Prosecutor, the judicial bodies of Kazakhstan prohibited the activities of 13 terrorist and 1 extremist organizations. Also, these foreign organizations were recognized as terrorist organizations by other member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and many of them are included in the list of international terrorist organizations in accordance with the decisions of the UN Security Council.
The most numerous confessions in the RK are: Sunni Islam (Hanafi madhhab) and Christianity (Orthodoxy). Leadership in these two faiths is carried out by the largest religious centers – the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan (SAMK) and the three diocesan administrations of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC).
The positions of the Roman Catholic Church have significantly strengthened in Kazakhstan. In particular, Catholics have more than 90 Catholic communities and more than 160 Catholic visiting groups on the territory of the republic, about fifteen monastic congregations, including members of the Catholic Order Opus Dei.
Unconventional religious direction
To the non-traditional denominations in the territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan are the so-called charismatic religious associations: “Grace”, “Living Vine”, “Agape”, “New Heaven”, “Good News”, “New Life”, “Unification Church of Moon”, etc.
The activities of such foreign denominations on the territory of Kazakhstan entailed a series of negative consequences for the inhabitants of the republic.
The most significant, according to the number of believers and communities, is the religious association “New Life”, which was formed in the United States. In July 2015, pastors of the New Life Association were accused of committing a crime, stipulated by clause 1 of part 3 of Article 190 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan (large-scale fraud), appropriation of large sums of money, as well as movable and immovable property received under the pretext of donations from parishioners. However, the pastors deny everything.
The “Unification Church of Moon” is a religious movement founded in 1954 by Moon Seung Men in Seoul (South Korea). The Manitou Center is located in New York City (USA). According to research, in the theory and in the very personality of the leader of the Moon’s organization there are many borrowings from the occult. The main credo of the followers of Moon’s teachings is the so-called “bombardment of love” of everything alive, in exchange for obedience and diligence. In 1972, Moon moved to the US, where he bought a luxurious manor. It is worth noting that S.M. Moon has a rich prison biography. He was first arrested in 1955 on charges of sexual relations with all the women of his community. The special services of Kazakhstan have been engaged in the activity of “Moon” for a long time, but due to various factors, in particular, the increased conspiracy of branches, the process of disclosing the true activity of the organization is delayed. The leader of the movement is no longer alive, but his followers are active in his doubtful teaching.
The activity of another religious movement called “Alla Ayat” was noticed in Kazakhstan. In 1990, a certain Farhat Mukhamedovich Abdullayev from the Almaty region, in the past a collective farm driver, wanted to become a prophet. In August 2000, concerning to several supporters of the doctrine of the guards of the order of the Kostanay region, a criminal case was opened into the fact of illegal medical activities. The patients were treated with coding and hypnosis methods, which were more like zombies, from which people fell into an inadequate state. As it turned out during the investigation, in fact the patients were preparing for the solemn self-immolation. Many have completed their journey of “spiritual knowledge” in psychiatric hospitals. At the end of December 2008, by the decision of the specialized inter-district court of Almaty on the suit of the city prosecutor’s office, the movement “Alla Ayat” was recognized as a sect and its activity was illegal throughout the whole territory of Kazakhstan.
One of the purposes of non-traditional religious organizations is the extortion of property and other material values from parishioners and enriching their leaders, but those organizations that receive sufficient foreign funding are engaged in recruiting people and creating separate cells for destructive effects on inhabitants.
To provide such persons with psychological, legal and other assistance in all regions of the Republic, centers have been established to help those who suffered from destructive religious movements.
Among the most effectively working it is necessary to note the work of the center created in Kostanay region. The centers in Pavlodar and Aktyubinsk regions also work effectively. In addition, in order to improve the religious situation in the country, implement comprehensive and systematic measures aimed at prophylaxis and preventing radical manifestations in the religious environment. The General Prosecutor’s Office developed the State Program of Religious Extremism and Terrorism Counteraction. Any person in need of support can receive psychological, legal and other necessary assistance, as well as advice of a specialist in religious affairs, by calling toll-free number 114 of the hotline of the Republican Information and Consultative Center.
To suppress the aggressive activities of non-traditional foreign religious organizations on the territory of Kazakhstan, it is necessary to attract more professional theologians, psychologists and lawyers. To effectively persuade followers, as well as carry out preventive work to stop the spread of unconventional religious movements.
Views expressed are the author’s own.
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