By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - Devoted Christians face a difficult Christmas season in Kazakhstan after legislators approved one of Europe’s harshest religious laws limiting worship or other faith-based events.
The legislation adds “new restrictions to religious events conducted outside a building of worship owned by a state-registered religious organization,” Worthy News learned.
Already, churches or other religious groups need state permission, but the process of obtaining registration has proven to be very difficult, Christians said.
It will also be challenging to organize evangelistic or other separate Christian events outside recognized church buildings.
Under the new law, “any activity taking place at a different location from that of the registered place of worship will require approval at least ten business days in advance.” Additionally, organizers are required to provide “a detailed explanation of what the event is to entail.”
Christian rights activists expressed concerns about the religious legislation in Kazakhstan, which became independent during the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
“The approval of these religious events rests with local officials who could withhold permission for many reasons,” warned advocacy group Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC).
The group noted that the legislation in the Muslim-majority nation now applies to any meeting held at a location not owned by a religious organization. “As a result, members of churches congregating in rented facilities are concerned that their meetings will now fall under these new restrictions. And, therefore, they require permission for each individual church event,” which is difficult to obtain.
This month the Senate amended the legislation before returning it to Parliament.
Under the changes, the approval process for an evangelistic or another irregular church event now requires precise details such as the date and time.
It also obliges organizers to say “how many people will be involved, travel routes and the number of vehicles needed, and whether loudspeakers are to be used,” VOMC explained.
However, the Senate clarified that such permission is not required for “regular meetings” at sites “not owned by the organization,” like rented facilities.
The amended law was reportedly returned to Parliament in recent days for approval.
“While thankful for some of the clarifications, religious leaders remain concerned over these newly stipulated requirements and how they are actually to be enacted,” VOMC cautioned.
Experts say that much will depend on the instructions of religious affairs authorities and the discretion of local or national officials.
VOMC said it urged its supporters to pray for the Christians in Kazakhstan facing a challenging Christmas.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has come under pressure to end perceived religious rights violations in the nation of 19 million people. He took over as president when his mentor suddenly stepped down in March 2019.
He was a colleague of independent Kazakhstan's founder, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who ruled his nation with an iron fist and faced few challenges from a weak opposition.
Tokayev has pledged to continue the autocratic policies of his predecessor and rely on his opinion in crucial policy matters.
Nazarbayev managed a transfer of power that guaranteed him a future role as chairman for life of a newly-strengthened Security Council.
His daughter Dariga has succeeded Tokayev as head of the Senate, and is seen as a potential successor.