Kazakhstan introduced harsh new laws on religious practice in October 2011. Churches already faced severe restrictions, but the new laws introduced even tighter controls. A complex system of registration was established for all religious organisations, and unregistered activity was banned; all groups were required to re-register by October 2012 or face liquidation. A group must have at least 50 members to be registered, and many small churches were stripped of their legal status in early 2012. Larger congregations have also been denied re-registration on various grounds.
Unregistered churches face harassment and judicial penalties; meetings have been raided and leaders and members fi ned or detained. One group of churches that refuses on principle to register with the authorities has been warned that members’ homes that are used for worship will be confiscated if the Christians continue to meet there. In October 2012 officials in Almaty filmed the worship service of one of these churches and wrote down the names of the worshippers.
Even registered churches are subject to controls and interference with their activities. Their registered status seems to provide little protection against raids, fines and the confiscation of literature. Smaller Christian groups are also enduring increased discrimination, as well as negative coverage in the state-run media. Converts from Islam suffer the usual pressure from their Muslim neighbours to renounce their new faith.
Let us give thanks to God that the Church is growing and pray for protection of God’s people and their witness in the midst of these restrictions.