By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest
BUDAPEST/ASTANA/BISHKEK (BosNewsLife)-- Devoted Christians in autocratically ruled Kazakhstan and neighboring Kyrgyzstan face church closures and state control over Christian materials amid a fresh crackdown by authorities on faith groups in the region, BosNewsLife learned Friday, December 14.
In Kazakhstan, where President Nursultan Nazarbayev has ruled virtually unchallenged since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, several Protestant churches were reportedly closed down in recent weeks.
Members of a Protestant Church in southern Kazakhstan said in published remarks that a regional court "liquidated" their congregation along with "five or six more Protestant Churches".
Rights group Forum 18, which is in contact with the Christians, told BosNewsLife that church members refused to reveal their exact location amid fears of state reprisals.
They also plan to set up a new group. Authorities have reportedly defended their actions, saying the Christians did not meet deadlines to correct documents.
Local Christians believe their Church was targeted "because our membership is predominantly made up of ethnic Kazakhs", adding that Russian or Korean Protestant Churches received re-registration.
They aren't alone. On November 28, the South Kazakhstan Regional Economic Court approved an attempt by Justice authorities to close down the 'Light of the World Pentecostal Church', the church's pastor said.
In remarks published by Forum 18, Pastor Pavel Semlyanskikh made clear he was surprised about the closure. "We have been registered here and active for the last ten years. We are a peaceful community and have not had problems."
Several mosques have also been closed, Forum 18 said, as part of a perceived wider crackdown on independent religious organizations and faith groups.
Christians have also complained of persecution in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, which marked last year the first peaceful transfer of presidential power in its post-Communist history.
In a surprise move, President Almazbek Atambayev reportedly signed new censorship amendments to
Kyrgyzstan's Religion Law on December 7.
Forum 18 said the legislation would "increase state control over religious literature and other materials", potentially impacting the printing and distribution of Bibles and other Christian publications.
Officials denied the law violated religious rights. "This is not censorship," said Kanatbek Mamadaliyev of the State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) in a statement. "Procedures will be adopted to implement this, but I can't say who will adopt them."
Forum 18 said the official was unable to explain what censorship categories of "extremism", "separatism", and "fundamentalism" mean.
Political analyst Ivan Kamenko said he fears the "implementation is likely to be chaotic, selective and arbitrary".
He said authorities were not expected "to check Muslim Board or Russian Orthodox literature, but faiths deemed 'non-traditional' could face problems."
There has been concern among rights groups and local Christians that especially devoted, evangelical, Christians are targeted in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia along with other groups authorities don't like. (With reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos)