Dark Clouds Atop Very High Mountains
Protestants of Kyrgyzstan fear sharper laws on religion
M o s c o w -- The Protestants of Kyrgyzstan, a once-Soviet republic high in the mountains of central Asia, are very concerned about new legislation greatly restricting religious freedom. A new law “Regarding the Rights of Citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic on Freedom of Conscience and the Confessions” is to be passed in the upcoming weeks. It already has the sanction of most public offices. Alexander Shumilin, head of the Kyrgyz Baptists, writes: “We are grateful to God for the many souls who have found him. He has warmed them, awakened them to new life and holds them in his arms. But recently we see new clouds gathering on the horizon.” Should the new legislation become law, congregations will need to face up to the following restrictions:
No congregation with less than 200 official members will receive government recognition. Mission activities should only be carried out by nationals. A religious organisation with foreigners in leadership positions will be considered a foreign entity and require annual state approval.
Not only seminaries and Bible schools, but also Sunday Schools and private elementary schools will need to register with the State Ministry for Religious Affairs. Teaching content will also be checked by this ministry.
The distribution of Christian literature will be restricted to church buildings and specified bookshops. Every religious activity outside of the church building will require special permission.
Any construction measures or purchase of real estate demands permission from the above ministry.
Only clergy will be offered the opportunity of work in lieu of military service.
Humanitarian and charity work will be possible only if the sponsors´ names and intentions are not made public.
Though Kyrgyz Baptists do not belong to the usual international Baptist organisations (EBF and BWA), they do participate in the Moscow-based “Euro-Asian Federation of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” operating within the region of the former USSR. Its President is even a resident of Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan: Alexander Shumilin. Kyrgyzstan has maintained an officially-registered Evangelical Alliance since November 2006. Not all Protestant groups are members, yet virtually all attended its recent Round Table discussions. A meeting between Protestant and state representatives took place on 11 January. The congregations are requesting prayer regarding the next get-together with government officials on 8 February.
Krygyzstan, independent since 1991, has a population of 5,08 million. Approximately 65% of its inhabitants are Kyrgyz, a Turkish people belonging largely to the Sunni branch of Islam. Roughly 100.000 ethnic Germans lived in the country at the outset of the 1990s, but that number has dwindled to 12.000. The percentage of Russians is listed as 12,5%. Krygyzstan hosts 3.100 Baptists gathered in 84 congregations.
Dr. William Yoder
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 30 January 2008
A release of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. (Which does not imply that each member of the RUECB-leadership team shares all views expressed in the text.) Text may be published freely. Release #08-04, 440 words.