Chakra Announcements

Kazakhstan Governor Sues To Confiscate ISKCON Land

by Mark Zugsmith

Posted April 24, 2006

Litigation by the Hakim (Governor) of the Karasai district of the Almaty region, in coordination with the Almaty Regional Territorial Department of the Land Resources Management, against the religious organization International Society for Krishna Consciousness, started in spring of 2005. The major complaint, dated May 16, 2005, is regarding three plots of land totaling 47 hectares or 116 acres, where ISKCON is located and registered.

The plaintiff requests the court to declare all the purchase and sale deals for this land null and void. They accuse the former owners of the land plots of committing forgery by having the functional purpose of the land changed in the original transaction regarding the property in 1999. The power to change the purpose of land usage is held by the district Hakim (Governor), and individuals cannot execute this activity independent of the Hakim's approval.

The fallacy of their argument is that the purchase and sale agreement was compiled by a notary, which is an office recognized by the government to certify documents and transactions in accordance with legislation of the country. The Land Committee submitted to the court a copy of the sale and purchase agreement dated 1999 where the functional purpose of the land is changed. But the former owner has brought the original document, where the functional purpose is not changed and which is compiled in accordance with the law. Where the land committee got their copy, we don't know, but it is of a questionable origin, and it is the main argument by which the government is moving to confiscate the property of a religious organization.

In the past six years the plaintiff, the Hakim of the Karasai district, made and certified many documents for the plots of land at issue. In all of these contracts he never cited any instance of forgery on the part of the former owners or the notary who authorized the deal. Moreover, both the Governor and the Land Committee created complete chaos with the functional purpose of the land in all the documents, which they issued after the deal in 1999. In the court hearing, plaintiffs admitted the obvious fact that they made mistakes in the documents at issue. The mistakes of a government bodies should be corrected by the government. However, the state executive authorities prefer to blame members of a religious organization for the mistakes the state bodies created.

One function of the government Land Committee is to hold an annual examination of all documents which are kept in cadastral maps of the Land Committee. Since 1999 six years have elapsed, passing two limitation of action periods (the statute of limitations allows three years.) Now, when there is a desire to acquire the property, the Land Committee has stated that in all the documents there is confusion as to the functional purpose of the land. Cadastral maps on land plots with different functional purposes are kept separately in the Land Committee administration. These documents are never mixed. It is unlikely that local authorities discovered confusion in documents only now. Rather, it is a concerted efffort to gain control the extremely valuable land plots that have been beautified and developed by the Krishna Consciousness Society of Karasai District, and at the same time to eliminate an untraditional, minority religious movement -- the only religious organization in Kazakhstan to own such a large property.

When the property was originally purchased and later legally privatized according to the land codes of Kazakhstan, the investment of the society was approximately $100,000. Over the past seven years the Krishna Consciousness Society has invested over $500,000 in developing and beautifying the area. Now the land is valued at $2,000,000.

The issue of alleged forgery is in the jurisdiction of the criminal court. Law enforcement authorities have never brought forward claims of forgery in this issue. There has been no criminal action brought against the owners of the land, and there has never been any verdict issued by a criminal court stating that forgery took place. The Hakim's accusations of forgery are inconsistent and illegal.

If the legal system of Kazakhstan will heed the claim of the Karasai district Hakim, it will mean confiscation of the land of the religious organization International Society for Krishna Consciousness without any type of compensation. This is in violation of the legal codes of the Republic of Kazakhstan. (Confiscation of property without compensation is possible only in a criminal case. This is a civil case. It is not a criminal case.) It will also mean that ISKCON would be deprived of its legal address and will cease to exist in Karasai Region.

In accordance with a decision of the Supreme Court dated July 11, 2005, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness is a legitimate user and a bona-fide purchaser of the pieces of land at issue. Thus, if these plots of land are confiscated, the legal rights of the religious organization as a legal entity will be violated.

Another violation of the legal code is that the Regional Hakim wishes to bring all the conclusions of cases to the original position, which would mean that the land will return to the person from whom it was first purchased. But the Hakim is pushing the court to give the land as a profit to the land reserve of the area he is in charge of. This is a violation of the legal codes of Kazakhstan, again revealing the illegal and selfish motives of the local authorities. The claims of the Hakim are illegal, unconstitutional, and corrupt.

At the second hearing the judges admitted the inconsistency and judicial lack of substance of the claims of the Hakim and the government land agency. Nevertheless, under constant pressure of losing their employment and position, they supported the claim of the Regional Hakimat and Provincial Land Committee. This means that the land of the Krishna Consciousness Society may be confiscated at any moment if the court order is executed. The only recourse will be a hearing in the Supreme Court.

At the same time there are many claims brought against individual family members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, who own land plots and cottages in an area of land adjacent to the above-mentioned plots of land. The plaintiff, again the Hakim of the Karasai district of the Almaty region and the Almaty Regional Territorial Department of the Land Resources Management, proclaimed in the court hearings that they are preparing dozens of claims against the members of Society for Krishna Consciousness with the intention to confiscate their cottages as well.

In his complaint the Hakim unlawfully requests the court to evict the members of the religious organization and withdraw their plots of land, returning the plots to the Hakim. But the land of the horticultural association does not belong to the state; again, it shows the Hakim is acting outside the scope of his authority. The government's accusation against the summer-cottage owners is that they never had their land plots privatized and do not have proper documentation for the cottages on these plots. The paradox is that the plot owners repeatedly applied to the Hakim of the Karasai district for his permission to register the acts of ownership for their cottages and plots, but he repeatedly refused. Without his sanction for privatization one cannot produce the needed documentation for the cottages.

On February 21, 2005 an initiative group of 29 people applied to the Hakim with the purpose of receiving permission for privatization. The answer of the Hakim came on April 23, 2005, wherein he ordered that the submission of the initiative group would be considered for one month more. Then the Hakim informed the defendants about the extension of the term of considering their application until May 23, 2005, after which he brought claims against them on April 15, 2005, having neglected to consider their application.

The Hakim's motives are extraordinarily selfish, especially as he constantly accuses the cottage owners that their cottages were not privatized, yet he is the only person authorized to give such permission for privatization.

The Land Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan maintains and protects the rights of the land users. The land laws do not impose limitations on the period necessary to receive the acts of private use of land.

Each of these claims is issued to individual citizens of Kazakhstan, yet in each and every claim the connection of the defendants to the religious organization International Society for Krishna Consciousness has been illustrated. This is a direct and flagrant violation of human rights and freedoms, which are guaranteed by the Constitution of Kazakhstan. In all of the hearings the plaintiffs have openly stated that they have reviewed this case in connection to religion affiliation of the defendants. There has been a list of all practicing members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness presented to the court to confirm that defendants belong to this religion.

These are not the first complaints brought against the religious organization by the Hakim of the Karasai district of the Almaty region, and the Almaty Regional Territorial Department of the Land Resources Management. The first claims that were brought against us on November 10, 2004 were dismissed by the court because of their complete inconsistency and illiteracy. However we can see that the plaintiffs continued their attempts to compile unlawful complaints.

The local government has consistently practiced non-cooperation with the members of ISKCON. Whenever government officers have been requested to engage in negotiations they reply, "The issue will be settled in the court," but when there are powerful individuals behind a case, there is no justice in Kazakhstan.

These issues involve the lack of freedom of religious practice and lack of free expression of conscience in a nation which widely proclaims such freedoms. These issues involve the lives of sincere religious practitioners who have given their earnings to develop a community to practice their beliefs. The eviction proposed by the plaintiffs is unlawful and inhumane, and it contradicts the constitutional rights of citizens of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Please help us by contacting international human rights agencies, your government's foreign ministries, international press, and any influential officers of your governments who may be of assistance in this issue. Please give us your assistance so that the greed and self-motivation of powerful individuals will not deny to a religious community what they have legally acquired -- even their right to exist.