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The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief has called for changes in Kazakhstan laws to bring them into line with article 18 of the Covenant and other relevant international human rights standards.

The Human Rights Council started an interactive dialogue with Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, on March 10 in Geneva, concentrating on Kazakhstan and Vietnam.

7565040-11674962The Rapporteur found that despite religious pluralism being a hallmark of Kazakh society traceable far back in history, a 2011 Law on Religious Activity and Religious Associations shows restrictive features that are not in line with international standards of freedom of religion or belief.

The most obvious problem concerns the mandatory status of official registration. Failure to obtain this status means that a religious community is deemed “illegal”, which has far-reaching negative repercussions on the enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief.

The Rapporteur’s findings state that members of non-traditional small religious communities, frequently branded as “sects”, continue to experience suspicion, mistrust and discrimination in society. Moreover, some provisions of the Criminal Code and of the Code on Administrative Offences — both the existing and the new Codes — which are aimed at combating religious hatred or religious extremism — are defined only vaguely, thus creating a climate of legal insecurity, which is further exacerbated by shortcomings in the handling of criminal procedures, long pretrial detention and related problems. Similar problems are associated with the 2005 Law on Countering Extremism.

In addition to recommending legal reforms, the Rapporteur calls for a public debate on the meaning of secularism in Kazakhstan, saying this should help to overcome the currently predominant restrictive interpretation according to which secularism serves as a tool for confining manifestations of freedom of religion or belief to predefined strictly monitored territorial boundaries.

More information at the European Inter-religious Forum for Religious Freedom website here

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