Source: The Houston Chronicle
Wire Service: AP
Kazakhstan's lower house of Parliament approved controversial legislation Wednesday to increase government control over religious groups, drawing criticism from a major international group Kazakhstan is to lead in 2010.
Rights groups say the amendments to the country's law on religion will hinder religious minorities in the sprawling Central Asian country and could force some of them out of existence.
Kazakhstan, where Muslims and Christians each make up about 45 percent of the population, has sought in recent years to cast itself as an active promoter of religious tolerance. But some Christian communities — including Baptists and Lutherans, largely from the ethnic German population — have come under government scrutiny.
Foreign Christian missionary activity, which flourished after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, is also viewed with suspicion by Kazakh authorities.
All deputies in the lower house are members of President Nursultan Nazarbayev's party. But the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe urged Nazarbayev not to adopt the legislation.
Under the amendments, which must be passed by the upper house and signed into law by the president, missionary activities would be curtailed and fines for unregistered religious organizations sharply increased. The amendments also would restrict the right to publish religious literature to approved organizations.