ASIA/KAZAKHSTAN - Concern for extremism: a new "Agency for Religious Affairs"

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Astana (Agenzia Fides) - A new "Agency for Religious Affairs", is born in Kazakhstan, the official organ with which the government will handle the matter and its relations with religious communities. With a decree signed in recent days by President Nursultan Narzabayev, the “Committee for Religious Affairs”, which was under the control of the Ministry of Culture, has become the "Agency for Religious Affairs", directly under the control of the Presidency of the Republic. All officials who worked in the Committee have moved to the Agency, with the same responsibilities. According to local sources of Fides, this move is intended to ensure the direct control of the presidential office on legislation, regulations and the relationship between state and religions, especially for the growing concern of religious extremism in society.
As sources of local civil society report to Fides, a conference held yesterday in Astana, entitled "The current religious situation: problems and trends of development" - which brought together a number of religious leaders, observers, civil society, academics and public officials - have launched the alarm on the growing number of victims of religious extremists and terrorist movements. According to figures released by the local NGOs, in 2010 the victims of religious extremism in Kazakhstan were 940, an increase of 15% compared to 2009. 14 centers in the country are already committed at different levels for the protection of human rights and religious freedom, and for the protection of victims of violence. These centers are well-appreciated by the central government that could begin to finance them.
Recent bombings in Astana and Aktobe - remarked by some participants-are a sign that extremism and terrorism are active. A number of Kazakh citizens were found among the ranks of Taliban groups in Afghanistan. Since there are over 4,500 religious organizations in Kazakhstan, not all recorded or legal, the conference noted the need to adapt the "Law on Freedom of Religion" and to expand collaboration between government, NGOs, religious communities, centers of learning.
Kazakhstan is known for organizing every three years (in collaboration with the Organization of Islamic Conference, UN, UNESCO and the OSCE), a Congress which brings together leaders of the largest religions in the world. The country is predominantly Muslim (51%), while Christians are 13% and much of the population is atheist. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 06/04/2011)