Kazakhstan – a mostly Muslim country (around 70%) and a former Soviet republic – is defined by its constitution as being a secular state which guarantees freedom of religion. However, the country has become increasingly restrictive of religious freedom as the government seeks to tighten its control over the population.
This heightened in 2011 with the introduction of a Religion Law, including a ban on “missionary activity” and the demand that all religious groups re-register under greater restrictions.In order for a religious group to register locally, for example, it must provide the names and addresses of at least 50 members. Under amendments made in December 2016 aimed at combating extremism and terrorism, restrictions on religious literature were further curtailed. Individuals are now only allowed to import into the country one copy of each title for personal use, without prior approval. The broad-ranging nature of the religious laws tends to result in them being arbitrarily applied at a local level, leaving Christians, especially those belonging to unregistered or non-traditional (e.g. Protestant) churches, continually vulnerable to accusation.
Christians in Kazakhstan, comprising some 26% of the country’s population, are often fined for Christian activities, such as meeting to worship in an unregistered building. Forum 18 reports that the Baptist Council of Churches in Kazakhstan and other countries of Central Asia are seeking to claim their rights to religious liberty by a policy of civil disobedience. They refuse to pay fines imposed on them for practising their Christian faith. As a result some have had their property, including washing machines and cars seized, or have had restraining orders placed on their property to prevent them selling it. Some are prevented from leaving the country or put in prison for short periods.
Pray that Christians in Kazakhstan will “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10) as they face various restrictions and pressures. Ask the Lord to grant Christians wisdom, boldness and protection as they seek to meet together and share their faith with others. Pray that Christians will be treated fairly in their dealings with the police and official authorities, and that restrictions on religious liberty in Kazakhstan will ease.