Representatives of Kyrgyzstan’s various religious communities and officials from human rights organizations have called on the country’s interim government, led by Roza Otunbayeva, to re-establish religious freedom as it existed “before Bakiyev,” the ousted president who fled last week to Kazakhstan.
Kanybek Imanaliyev, speaking for the new government, said, “We want to establish freedom of speech and freedom of religion. We will reform the Constitution, the laws, as necessary, the Religion Law” included.
Adopted last year, Kyrgyzstan’s infamous ‘Religion Law’ was strongly criticized by religious groups, human rights organizations and others, including the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Union.
The law imposed a ban on children being involved in religious activities and outlawed what it called “aggressive action aimed at proselytism.” It also banned the distribution of religious literature, whether in print or audio-video format. It imposed the de facto compulsory re-registration of all registered religious organizations.
The law granted privileges to the traditional Islam of Kyrgyzstan but discriminated against other Muslim and religious groups.
Under international pressure, even Bakiyev had announced his intention to change.
With the collapse of his regime, Protestants, Catholics, Baha’is, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Hare Krishna hope to see the “new government restore religious freedom at least to the level [. . .] before President Bakiyev.”
Mgr Nikolaus Messmer, SJ, apostolic administrator of the Catholic Church, said, “Days before the confrontation and the departure of the [ousted] government, we and some other members of religious communities were invited to an extraordinary congress under President Bakiyev. We had the feeling the government was about to make changes to the Religion Law.”
Speaking about the future, Bishop Messmer said he hoped “the new government will make the necessary changes. We want more freedom for missionaries, and their visa issue [. . .] resolved.”
Aug 06, 2022
Brahmatirtha das Director, Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies