BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (BP)--Christians in the central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan have been told not to meet for worship without registration, but government officials are making it nearly impossible for churches to receive approval.
Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet nation of about 5.4 million people, is 75 percent Muslim and 20 percent Russian Orthodox. In January a new religion law was enacted, and since then officials have checked up on or raided many minority religious communities, telling them they have no right to gather, according to a report by Forum 18 News Service. Officials also are cracking down on the distribution and possession of religious literature.
Forum 18, a religious freedom watch group based in Norway, said pastors and church members have been summoned for questioning regarding their worship services. The religion law requires all approved religious organizations to have no fewer than 200 members, which means church groups must collect 200 signatures in a climate where many are reluctant to be identified as Christian.
Also, in order to obtain a permit to meet in a specific building, the law says the building must be 1,090 yards away from any school and more than six miles from any mosque. Some sources have noted to Forum 18 that the large number of mosques in the country make the guidelines particularly challenging.
Church groups also have difficulty finding space to meet because public buildings are not allowed to rent to them and private owners hesitate to rent to religious organizations, the news service said. Government officials even have sought to keep house churches from meeting in private residences.
Regarding literature, the religion law imposes censorship, stating that "Religious organizations and missions can import religious literature and other printed, audio, and video materials into the Kyrgyz Republic only after passing examination by a state religious expert."
The religion law also bans, without defining, "aggressive action aimed at proselytism," Forum 18 said. Read More