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Kyrgyzstan's Religious Law

Kyrgyzstan's new legislation will make life tougher for minority religious communities operating outside the mainstream.

On November 6, the parliament of Kyrgyzstan unanimously passed a law which would significantly impact the country's minority religious communities.

According to Forum 18, a Norwegian human rights organization that promotes religious freedom, the law, which has yet to be presented to President Kurmanbek Bakiev, would require a minimum of 200 hundred members in order to register a religious organization, and the identity of all 200 hundred founders would have to be confirmed by keneshes, or elected local administrations. This legal move supersedes a 1991 law that required only 10 members for a group to be registered.

The new law would outlaw "aggressive action aimed at proselytism – converting people from one faith to another," along with individuals teaching religious doctrines privately. It would ban the distribution of religious literature, print, and audio-video religious materials in public places, on the streets, parks, as well as distribution to homes, children's institutions, schools and higher education institutions. Involving children in religious organizations would also be against the law. And finally, any unregistered religious activity would be banned.

Article 16 of the Kyrgyz Constitution states that: "Every person in the Kyrgyz Republic has the right ... to freedom of faith and spiritual and religious freedom" and to "the free expression and dissemination of thoughts, ideas and opinions." But no attempt has been made to bring the new law into line with the Kyrgyz Constitution, nor with Kyrgyzstan's international human rights commitments.

"Religious freedom has long been recognized as an inviolable human right under international conventions and treaties, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," said Ambassador at Large of the Office of International Religious Freedom of the U.S. State Department, John V. Hanford. "Based on this global consensus, the United States works to encourage all governments to uphold these common international obligations without advocating a specifically American approach to the issue."

The United States calls on President Kurmanbek Bakiev to return the legislation to the parliament for revision with further consideration regarding Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe recommendations, to ensure that Kyrgyzstan upholds its international commitments on religious freedom, as well as Kyrgyzstan's own Constitution.