Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev [official website, in Kazakh; BBC profile] on Thursday signed into law a controversial bill dissolving religious organizations and requiring re-registration, drawing criticism from international observers. The bill dissolves current registrations and establishes a procedure requiring groups to meet membership thresholds [AP report]—at least 50 members to register locally, 500 members to register regionally and 5,000 members to register nationally—in order to be able to re-register in the predominantly Muslim country. The law also limits where a person may worship [Telegraph report] and bans prayer rooms from government buildings altogether. Norweigian religious advocacy group Forum 18 [advocacy website] criticized the new law for unnecessarily limiting freedom of religion [statement]. Recently, Kazakhstani lawmakers have been unsettled by religious extremists [VOA report] plotting acts of terrorism across Central Asia's largest economy and hope the new law will help lessen religious militancy. Nazarbayev, who proposed the new measures, signed the law nearly two weeks after the upper house of the Kazakhstani parliament [official website] passed the bill [JURIST report].
Human rights groups have closely scrutinized Kazakhstan's adherence to its international human rights obligations. In April, Nazarbayev discharged six justices [JURIST report] of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Kazakhstan [official website] for corruption. Kazakhstan submitted to a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the UN Human Rights Council [official websites] in February 2010. Kazakhstan accepted 121 of the recommendations [Kazakhstan UPR materials] to reduce human rights violation, particularly with respect to freedom of the press. In August 2009, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction [JURIST report] of publisher Ramazan Esergepov, who was sentenced to three years in jail for revealing state secrets in his newspaper. A representative of Freedom of the Media at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) [official websites] said that revealing public corruption [press release] is "the main duty of the journalists acting in the public interest," and that "[c]riminal sanctions for 'breach of secrecy' should only apply to the officials whose job descriptions stipulate the duty to protect sensitive information, but not to citizens."