2009 Report on International Religious Freedom - Kazakhstan

[Covers the period from July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2009]

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, but the Government's religion laws narrow the legal protections of religious freedom in the Constitution.

The status of government respect for religious freedom held steady during the reporting period. In comparison to the previous reporting period, the Government's criticism of "nontraditional religious groups" decreased. There was no change in the laws governing religious activity. During the reporting period, the Constitutional Council ruled unconstitutional proposed legislation that would have restricted religious freedom. The Government's enforcement of current laws led to continuing problems for some unregistered groups, as the law imposes mandatory registration requirements on missionaries and religious organizations. While the majority of religious communities worshipped largely without government interference, local officials attempted on occasion to limit some minority groups' practice of religion.

There were no reports of societal abuses based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Muslim, Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Jewish leaders reported high levels of acceptance in society. Some minority religious groups, including evangelical Christians and Scientologists, faced negative media coverage, especially while the draft religion legislation was under consideration.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The Ambassador and other U.S. officials at all levels engaged in extensive private and public dialogue to urge that any amendments to the religion laws be consistent with the country's constitutional guarantees of religious freedom and with its international commitments. U.S. government officials visited religious facilities, met with religious leaders, and worked with government officials to address specific cases of concern. Embassy officials maintained contact with a broad range of religious groups and religious freedom advocates.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 1,052,540 square miles and a population of 16.4 million, according to preliminary results of the 2009 national census. The society is ethnically diverse, and many religious groups are represented. Due in part to the country's nomadic and Soviet past, many residents describe themselves as nonbelievers; surveys from past years suggested low levels of religious conviction and worship attendance. The Government maintains statistics on the number of registered congregations and organizations but not on the size of each group. The most recent reliable statistics on religious affiliation are based on the 1999 census. Although there was a large increase in the number of minority religious congregations registered since 1999, the Government believes that percentages of the population belonging to particular religious groups have remained consistent.

Approximately 65 percent of the population, or 10.5 million, profess to be Muslim. Ethnic Kazakhs, who constitute an estimated 60 percent of the population, and ethnic Uzbeks, Uighurs, and Tatars, who collectively make less than 10 percent, are historically Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school. Other Islamic groups that account for less than 1 percent of the population include Shafi'i Sunni (traditionally associated with Chechens), Shi'a, Sufi, and Ahmadi. The highest concentration of self-identified practicing Muslims is in the southern region bordering Uzbekistan. There were 2,308 registered mosques, most affiliated with the Spiritual Association of Muslims of Kazakhstan (SAMK), a national organization with close ties to the Government. Approximately 70 mosques are not affiliated with the SAMK.

Approximately one-third of the population, comprising sizeable numbers of ethnic Russians and smaller populations of ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Belarusians, are Russian Orthodox by tradition. There were 265 registered Russian Orthodox churches. Members of a Roman Catholic archdiocese include ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Germans and account for 1 percent of the population. An estimated 1.3 percent is ethnic German, many of whom are Roman Catholic or Lutheran. The Government reported 93 registered Roman Catholic churches and affiliated organizations throughout the country. A smaller, affiliated community of Greek Catholics, many of whom are ethnic Ukrainians, had five registered churches.

According to government statistics, Protestant Christian congregations outnumber Russian Orthodox or Roman Catholic congregations, although it is unlikely that Protestant Christians account for a larger number of adherents. The Government reported 1,018 registered Protestant Christian organizations with 543 places of worship during the reporting period.

There are two Baptist groups in the country: the Union of Evangelical Christians and Baptists (Union of Baptists), with an estimated 10,000 adherents and 227 registered groups, and the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians and Baptists (Council of Churches) with as many as 1,000 adherents. The Council of Churches refused on principle to register.

Other Christian religious groups with a sizable number of congregations include Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Pentecostals, as well as Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventists. Smaller communities of Methodists, Mennonites, and Mormons are also registered.

A Jewish community, estimated at less than 1 percent of the population, has synagogues in Almaty, Astana, Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kostanai, and Pavlodar.

Government statistics included 43 other registered religious groups during the reporting period, including five registered Buddhist groups, 12 affiliates of the Hare Krishna movement, as well as the Church of Scientology, Baha'is, Christian Scientists, and the Unification Church.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion. It defines the country as a secular state and provides the right to decline religious affiliation.

The Government's religion laws narrow the legal protections of religious freedom found in the Constitution, and 2005 amendments to the laws reinforce registration requirements. They also clarify that religious groups must register with both the central Government and local governments of individual regions (oblasts) in which they have congregations. To register, a religious organization must have at least 10 members and submit an application to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ). Religion legislation continues to provide that all persons are free to practice their religion "alone or together with others."

The Government may deny registration based upon an insufficient number of adherents or inconsistencies between the provisions of a religious organization's charter and the law. In addition, under the Law on Public Associations, a registered organization, including a religious group, may have all activities suspended by court order for a period of three to six months for defiance of the Constitution or laws or for systematic pursuit of activities that contradict the charter and bylaws of the organization as registered. Police, procurators, and citizens may petition a court to suspend the activities of a registered organization for failure to rectify violations or for repeated violations of the law. During a suspension, the organization is prohibited from speaking with the media on behalf of the organization; holding meetings, gatherings, or services; and undertaking financial transactions other than ongoing contractual obligations such as paying salaries.

Administrative Code Article 375 allows authorities to suspend the activities and fine the leaders of unregistered groups; Article 374-1, a related provision added to the Administrative Code by the July 2005 national security amendments, carries significantly heavier fines than article 375. Running an unregistered religious organization is subject to a fine of $973 (116, 800 tenge) and participating in an unregistered religious organization is subject to a fine of $487 (58,400 tenge). Local authorities have broad discretion in determining whether to file charges for unregistered religious activity under articles 375 or 374-1.

The Religious Issues Committee (RIC), which operates within the MOJ, serves as a liaison between religious groups and the Government. In addition, the RIC serves as a consultative body within the MOJ to facilitate the registration of religious groups. The RIC also provides expert testimony to courts on religious issues, reviews religious materials law enforcement officials obtain in their investigations, and coordinates with law enforcement officials to monitor compliance with registration requirements.

During the reporting period, government officials continued to express concern regarding the potential spread of political and religious extremism in the country. The Committee for National Security (KNB) has characterized the fight against "religious extremism" as a top priority of the internal intelligence service. A 2005 extremism law, which applies to religious groups and other organizations, gives the Government broad latitude in identifying and designating a group as an extremist organization, banning a designated group's activities, and criminalizing membership in a banned organization. The Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) political movement remained the only group banned under the law. HT is an extremist Islamist political organization motivated by a socioreligious ideology that is virulently anti-Semitic and anti-Western and calls for the overthrow of secular governments. No apolitical religious organizations in the country have been outlawed as extremist.

The Government observes Orthodox Christmas and Kurban-Ait as national holidays.

The elections law prohibits political parties based upon ethnicity, gender, or religious affiliation. The Criminal Code prohibits the incitement of interethnic or interreligious hatred; this law has on one occasion been subject to broad interpretation that included religious teachings.

The SAMK, headed by the chief mufti in Almaty, exercises significant influence over the practice of Islam, including the construction of mosques and the administration of examinations and background checks for aspiring imams. The SAMK is the primary coordinator of Hajj travel and authorizes travel agencies to provide Hajj travel services to citizens. Religious observers report that the SAMK occasionally pressures nonaligned imams and congregations to join the SAMK to ensure liturgical orthodoxy. Notwithstanding SAMK influence and pressure, there were some registered Muslim communities unaffiliated with the SAMK.

Local and foreign missionaries must register annually with the MOJ and provide information on religious affiliation, territory of missionary work, and time period for conducting that work. All literature and other materials to support missionary work must be provided with the registration application; use of materials not vetted during the registration process is illegal. In addition, a missionary must produce registration documents and power of attorney from the sponsoring religious organization to be allowed to work on its behalf. The MOJ may refuse registration to missionaries whose work would be inconsistent with any law, including laws prohibiting the incitement of interethnic or interreligious hatred. Foreign missionaries, like all visitors, are required to register with the migration police and indicate the purpose of their stay. The Constitution requires foreign religious associations to conduct their activities, including appointing the heads of religious associations, "in coordination with appropriate state institutions." Foreigners may register religious organizations; however, the Government requires that the majority of the 10 founders be local citizens.

The Government does not permit religious instruction in public schools. Homeschooling is permitted only in certain circumstances, which do not include religiously based motivations. Parents may enroll children in supplemental religious education classes provided by registered religious organizations.

Under the national religion law, religious training of a child shall not cause damage to a child's all-around development or physical or moral health. The laws do not clarify how such damage should be assessed or which agency would make such a determination. Educational licensing regulations do not permit religious groups to educate children without approval from the Ministry of Education. In accordance with the regulations, a religious organization whose charter includes provisions for religious education may be denied registration if it does not obtain approval from the Ministry of Education.

The Government exempts registered religious organizations from taxes on church collections and income from certain religious activities. Congregations are required to pay for services such as fire company protection for religious buildings. The Government has donated buildings and land and provided other assistance for the construction of new mosques, synagogues, and Russian Orthodox churches.

Procurators have the right to inspect annually all organizations registered with state bodies, and they regularly conducted such inspections.

On November 26, 2008, Parliament passed amendments to the religion law that civil society activists and religious groups widely opposed as severe restrictions of religious freedom. The effects of the amendments include establishing more restrictive procedures for registering religious organizations; requiring all existing religious organizations to reregister; prohibiting smaller groups from preaching or teaching outside the group, producing religious literature, or maintaining worship facilities open to the public; and requiring local government authorization for the construction of a religious facility. In addition, the amendments would have significantly increased fines and penalties for violating the law. The proposed legislation was sent for signature to the President, who submitted it to the Constitutional Council for review. On February 11, 2009, the Council struck down the legislation, ruling on technical grounds that the amendments were unconstitutional.

The 2007-09 Program for Ensuring Religious Freedom and Improvement of Relations between the Government and Religions, approved by the Government in December 2007, provides a set of guidelines and plans for the Government's activities in the sphere of religion. Among other things, the program outlines plans for "increasing the stability of the religious situation" and preventing religious extremism through a variety of educational efforts and government-sponsored articles and programs in media outlets. In addition, the program criticizes increasingly active "nontraditional religious groups" for causing tension in interfaith relations and ignoring existing social, cultural, and religious traditions. The program calls for new legislation to increase control over missionaries and over the dissemination of religious materials.

On April 14, 2009, the President's Human Rights Commission (HRC), an advisory body, presented the country's first National Action Plan on Human Rights for 2009-12. One of the HRC's recommendations was that the MOJ, in collaboration with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), begin publishing annual reports on the status of religious freedom in the country. It also proposed that by 2011, the country should amend its religious legislation to bring it in line with international standards. The President signed the Action Plan in June 2009.

The Government continued to express publicly its support for religious tolerance and diversity.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

No apolitical religious groups are banned.

The Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) Islamist political movement remained banned under the extremism law. Because HT is primarily a political organization, albeit motivated by religious ideology, and because it does not condemn terrorist acts by other groups, authorities' actions to restrict HT and prosecute its members are not a restriction on religious freedom per se.

Most religious communities choose to register with the Government and are ultimately successful in obtaining registration; however, minority religious groups sometimes reported long delays. When it refused or significantly delayed registration, the Government usually claimed a group's charter did not meet the requirements of the law or cited the need to refer it for expert theological review.

The national Jehovah's Witnesses Religious Center, registered at the national level in Astana and Almaty, succeeded in registering its local group in Atyrau Oblast. On January 26, 2009, the Atyrau City Court upheld the community's right to registration, overturning seven years of denials by regional MOJ officials and the Akimat (municipal authorities).

The Grace Presbyterian Church affiliate in Atyrau was repeatedly prevented from registering in Atyrau Oblast, with the latest denial in September 2007. According to credible reporting, during this reporting period the church chose to abandon its attempts to register as an independent organization and joined a registered community that follows similar teachings.

The majority of religious groups worshiped largely without government interference; however, local and regional officials attempted on occasion to limit or control several groups' practice of religion, especially minority religious communities such as evangelical Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientologists, and Muslims not affiliated with the SAMK. The Government applied laws governing unregistered religious groups unevenly during the reporting period.

During the reporting period, the Council of Churches noted several court cases against churchgoers throughout the country for participating in the activities of an unregistered group. The Baptist Council of Churches has a policy not to seek or accept registration in former Soviet countries, and church members criticized the intrusive nature of the registration process that requires information about ethnicity, family status, religious education, employment, and political affiliation.

The Council reported several instances in which pastors were fined for unregistered religious activities and were subsequently arrested for failure to pay the fines. In all the cases, the terms were either suspended or limited to three days in jail.

In contrast with the previous reporting period, the Jehovah's Witnesses reported improved relations with the authorities but noted several cases of government interference with their attempts to conduct ceremonies and other gatherings. In July and August 2008, district courts ordered three chapters of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Southern Kazakhstan to suspend their activities for alleged breaches of the administrative code. In three separate instances, the courts ruled that the chapters broke the law by convening for religious activities outside their registered addresses and ordered them to suspend their activities for six months. The Jehovah's Witnesses filed appeals with the HRC and the Prosecutor General's (PG) Office. The PG supported the Jehovah's Witnesses' appeal and formally protested the court decision, stating that the chapters had not violated the law. On November 20, 2008, the South Kazakhstan Oblast Court repealed the decision of the lower courts, allowing the Jehovah's Witnesses chapters to resume their activities.

The Church of Scientology reported several instances of government interference. On May 1, 2009, the head of the Almaty Mission was formerly charged with unlicensed commercial activities. A court date had not been set by the end of the reporting period. On February 16, 2009, the Karaganda Regional Economic Court ordered the Karaganda branch of the Church of Scientology closed, stating that the Church engaged in illegal commercial activities. The court also accepted the procurator's argument that the Church's Scriptures were not religious material and were potentially harmful. The Church filed an appeal, and the case was pending at the end of the reporting period

According to media reporting, local school authorities and the Akimat in Pavlodar filed a complaint the with Procurator General's Office (PGO) against the parents of a 12-year-old girl who did not attend school on Saturdays. The girl's family is Seventh-day Adventist, and the parents argued to the school that their faith forbade work on Saturdays. The PGO had not responded to the school authorities' request by the end of the reporting period.

There were reports that local representatives of the KNB or police disrupted religious meetings in private homes during the reporting period. Several groups reported that local law enforcement representatives attended their services, although their presence generally was not considered disruptive.

Although the law is vague on the definition of missionary activity, authorities frequently interpreted any religious activity by visiting foreigners as missionary activity and expelled those who were not registered as missionaries.

On January 27, 2009, Almaty Airport Border Security officials denied entry to the leader of the Almaty Hare Krishna Society, a U.S. citizen, and ordered him deported. The deportation order related to an incident in May 2008 in Aktobe, in which the leader had a meeting with followers that the Aktobe police considered unauthorized missionary activity. The Hare Krishna Society leader avoided a summons to appear for police questioning, and Aktobe authorities later initiated an administrative case against him, tried him in absentia, and sentenced him to deportation without the ability to return. In March 2009, following RIC intervention, the PGO rescinded the ban, and the Society's leader was able to reenter the country.

On January 30, 2009, Jehovah's Witnesses filed a complaint with the PGO requesting a formal review of the case against a U.S. citizen, who was a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses, and a Canadian citizen, both of whom had been deported in May 2008 after courts ruled that they had violated the terms of their business visas by conducting missionary activities without registration. The PGO had not responded to their request by the end of the reporting period. According to media reports, 17 Baptist missionaries from Uzbekistan and Russia were detained in Southern Kazakhstan and fined or deported for illegal missionary activity.

Where religious groups operated legal entities, such as collective farms, restaurants, or orphanages, authorities conducted health, sanitation, and other inspections relevant to the nature of the entities' operations. Authorities conducted public safety inspections of premises used for religious worship to ensure compliance with building and fire codes. These inspections also provided authorities with information about the registration status of the groups.

During the last six months of 2008, while the amendments to the religion law were under review in Parliament, several media outlets published or broadcast stories critical of nontraditional religious groups such as evangelical Protestant Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientologists, and Hare Krishnas, depicting them as dangerous sects harmful to society. The president of the Almaty Law Academy publicly urged law enforcement on December 1, 2008, to "step up the fight" against sects. On December 15, 2008, the national Liter newspaper published an article depicting the followers of the Ahmadi Islamic movement as "zombies" and alleging that numerous "sects," such a Scientologists, Wahhabis, and Hare Krishnas, "are destroying people's lives." Several religious freedom advocates maintained that the Government sponsored the negative stories as part of its program to inform the public about the purported dangers of religious extremism and to lay the groundwork for amendments to the religion law. The number of such publications dropped off significantly after the Constitutional Council ruled the religion legislation unconstitutional.

In contrast with the previous reporting period, the Karasai regional government near Almaty moved toward an agreement with the Almaty Hare Krishnas over resolution of a property dispute regarding a plot of land they had been using in the Almaty region. In March 2009 local authorities offered the Krishnas land close to Almaty for their temple and promised to find pasture land for the community's cows. Negotiations were ongoing at the end of the reporting period. The Government maintained that the dispute was a property dispute unrelated to the religious affiliation of the Hare Krishnas. Several other Hare Krishna communities registered in the country operated without similar problems, although they did not own any property.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

On December 24, 2008, the KNB press office announced that in 2008, 30 Hizb ut Tahrir (HT) members had been arrested and seven of them were sentenced to prison. On April 22, 2009, five more alleged HT members were sentenced to prison for "inflaming social, ethnic, racial, and religious hostility" and for creating and participating in "illegal public and other unions." The trials were conducted behind closed doors in Almaty and Taldykorgan. No official information on the names of the convicted or the charges against them was released. Human rights advocates protested the closed trials.

As in the previous reporting period, there were no reports of prolonged detention of members of religious organizations for proselytizing. On occasion, authorities took action against individuals engaged in proselytizing who were not registered as missionaries; however, such actions were limited to the confiscation of religious literature, fines, brief detentions, and deportation.

On January 9, 2009, an Almaty district court found Elizaveta Drenicheva, a Unification Church member and Russian citizen, guilty of "instilling a sense of inferiority in citizens based on their tribal association" and sentenced her to two years in jail. The case was based on several religious lectures Drenicheva gave, in which she articulated the Church's teachings on creation, original sin, and resurrection. Authorities arrested Drenicheva on January 9. The procurators argued that by creating a distinction between those who devote themselves to the Church and those who do not, Drenicheva's lectures caused those who do not follow the Church to feel inferior. Human rights activists and international observers sharply criticized the decision as an infringement on freedom of conscience. On March 10, the Almaty Court of Appeals vacated the two-year prison sentence against Drenicheva. It upheld a lower court's ruling that Drenicheva was guilty of "propagating the inferiority of Kazakhstani citizens," but ruled that a jail sentence was too harsh. Drenicheva was instead fined approximately $8 (1,273 tenge), a fine she did not have to pay because of the time already spent in detention awaiting the appellate ruling.

According to media reports, members of Tablighi Jama'at Muslim movement, an apolitical Islamic missionary group with origins in South Asia, were detained in Atyrau and Zhambyl regions for illegal missionary activities. The Tablighi Jama'at movement is not registered in the country.

On October 8, 2008, officials from the Committee for National Security (KNB) raided the premises of the Church of Scientology's Almaty mission, Medeo mission, and Almaty mission district office, as well as the homes of several of the Church's executives. The officials confiscated computers, personal files, and, at a later point, religious materials and attributes. Authorities claimed the Church had engaged in illegal commercial activities by selling books of religious teachings and had used its status as a religious organization to avoid paying taxes.

During the reporting period, the Government continued to investigate an apparent treason case, involving raids, brief detentions, and a tax evasion trial, against leaders of Grace Presbyterian Church, following an August 27, 2009, KNB raid on the Church's headquarters in the city of Karaganda, a Grace Church in Ust Kamenogorsk, and several church-owned private homes. This followed a January 2008 raid on the Almaty Grace Presbyterian Church, a separate congregation. The Government released few details of the investigation and forbade church officials to discuss the case. Authorities did not formally detain any church officials or close the churches. At the end of the reporting period, no church officials had been charged with treason, although church officials and religious freedom advocates remained alarmed at the breadth and scope of the continuing investigation. In May 2008 a local Karaganda court decided against Arina Kim, the wife of Grace Presbyterian Church leader Igor Kim, and levied a fine for failure to pay taxes on charitable contributions.

There were no further developments following the February 2007 "Operation Religious Extremism" law enforcement sweep by Northern Kazakhstan Oblast authorities that resulted in the arrest, brief detention, prosecution, and fining of eight pastors and church leaders for violating religious registration laws.

When individuals were found guilty of violating articles 374 or 375 of the Administrative Code, courts imposed a fine. Council of Churches members usually refused to pay fines for nonregistration. There were reports that courts enforced payment of fines in several cases by seizing property, including private homes owned by pastors and used for worship.

There were no demolitions of Hare Krishna homes during the reporting period, in contrast to previous reporting, in which the Karasai local government outside Almaty forcibly demolished 25 Hare Krishna homes in November 2006 and June 2007 as part of its campaign to seize title to land used by the Hare Krishna movement.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country.

Forced Religious Conversions

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or who had not been allowed to be returned to the United States.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

The Constitutional Council ruled in February 2009 that the proposed amendments to the religion law were unconstitutional. In the months preceding this ruling, in response to concerns about the restrictive nature of the legislation, the Government had received expert legal assistance from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe/Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) and had incorporated some of its suggestions into the text of the legislation.

An additional 107 religious groups registered with the Government during the reporting period. Some groups lost registration status, however. With the Atyrau group's registration, local Jehovah's Witnesses achieved registration in all 14 oblasts.

The Government made efforts to promote religious tolerance in its ranks. Human rights training that NGOs provided to law enforcement officers in cooperation with the Government continued to include information on religious rights under the law.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The country is multiethnic, with a long tradition of tolerance and secularism. Since independence, the number of mosques and churches has increased greatly. However, the population is sometimes wary of minority religious groups and groups that proselytize. There were several reports of citizens filing complaints with authorities after their family members became involved with such groups.

Members of the extremist HT political movement continued to print and distribute leaflets that supported anti-Semitism, among other beliefs.

Leaders of the four religious groups the Government considers "traditional" – Islam, Russian Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Judaism – reported general acceptance and tolerance that other minority religious groups did not always enjoy. During the reporting period, there were no reports that mistrust of minority religious groups led to violence.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. U.S. officials emphasized that bilateral cooperation on economic and security matters is a complement to, not a substitute for, meaningful progress on human rights, including religious freedom.

The Ambassador and other embassy officers, as well as Department of State officials in Washington, remained engaged in dialogue with the Government to seek assurance that the draft religion law amendments would be considered through a transparent legislative process and that any amendments ultimately adopted into law reflect the country's international commitments to respect individuals' rights to peaceful expression of religious beliefs. The Ambassador and other embassy officials coordinated with other embassies and international human rights organizations to encourage the Government to have the legislation reviewed by the Constitutional Council, which ultimately ruled it to be unconstitutional.

Embassy and other U.S. Department of State officials visited houses of worship, met with religious leaders, and worked with government officials to address specific cases of concern.

The Embassy maintained contact with a broad range of religious communities and religious freedom advocates and reported on violations of their constitutional and human rights. Department of State officials met with government officials and members of faith-based groups in the country. Senior U.S. government officials met with senior government officials to raise religious freedom concerns. Embassy officials worked to connect religious communities with in-country legal resources to assist with registration concerns.

Embassy officials attended public events in support of religious communities and participated in roundtables and other public debates on matters of religious freedom and tolerance. U.S. government representatives in the country and in Washington were in regular contact with NGOs that followed religious freedom topics, including the Almaty Helsinki Committee, the Association of Religious Organizations of Kazakhstan, and the Kazakhstan Bureau of International Human Rights and Rule of Law.

The Embassy's Democracy Commission Small Grants Program provided support to a program in Shymkent promoting religious tolerance.


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