In the wake of new visa regulations for foreigners working in Kazakhstan – which for the first time introduced a category of “missionary visa” – some religious communities have found it difficult or impossible to get visas for foreigners they argue they need to sustain their communal life, Forum 18 News Service has found. While the Catholics appear to have overcome their difficulties for foreign priests and nuns, Ahmadi Muslims have seen their two imams unable to remain, while the Jewish community fears no foreign rabbi will volunteer to work in Kazakhstan because only short-term visas are likely to be obtainable. Kazakhstan is “trying to force all foreign religious believers out of the country,” one Ahmadi commented to Forum 18.
A representative of one faith, who asked not to be identified, told Forum 18 that they are afraid to apply for missionary visas for any foreigner that they would like to invite because they are almost certain that the application will be refused. “We wouldn’t want to apply for someone who gets rejected and then gets problems trying to come in.” In a comment echoed to Forum 18 by other communities, the representative argued that people who visit a religious community from abroad are not missionaries and therefore should not be required to have a missionary visa.
The new regulations appear to be part of a government policy of increasingly trying to isolate religious communities from fellow-believers abroad. In 2005, restrictions on missionary activity by both local people and foreign residents of Kazakhstan were introduced in amendments to the Religion Law, which required prior registration of missionaries with the authorities. It defined missionary activity as “the preaching and spreading by means of religious educational activity of a religious faith which is not contained in the statutes of a religious association which carries out its activity on the territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan”.
Also amended at the same time was the Code of Administrative Offences to introduce punishment for missionary activity without permission from the state. For those who are not citizens, the punishment includes deportation (see F18News 15 July 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=608).
Numerous foreign citizens legally present in Kazakhstan have been deported or forced to leave in recent years because the authorities have objected to their religious activity. A number of foreign religious leaders have been blacklisted for re-entry to Kazakhstan after being deported or because they have been blacklisted for entry to other former Soviet republics (see F18News 30 January 2009 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1247).
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Aug 06, 2022
Brahmatirtha das Director, Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies