ISKCON Responds to Property Demolitions
Posted February 17, 2007
Contact: Vineet Chander - (201) 925-4973; firstname.lastname@example.org
Almaty - Impervious to international outcry, government officials in the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan have intensified their attacks against members of the Hare Krishna religion, a Vaishnava Hindu tradition. A local court ordered more homes belonging to the Krishna devotees to be demolished, the Associated Press reported, threatening to leave more families homeless in freezing temperatures at any moment.
The latest court ruling, sanctioning the government to confiscate the Krishna land without compensation, came as a shock to members of the community. According to a January 31 report by Forum 18, a religious rights watchdog group, the decision was rendered after the judge told Hare Krishna chairperson Viktor Golous that the case would be postponed and that he could leave. Incredulously, after Golous left the court, the judge ruled against him in his absence. Such questionable judicial practices have led many to conclude that the Hindus are being denied due process and targeted because of their faith.
"The issue at dispute has less to do with property rights than with the right of people living in Kazakhstan to exercise their religion freely," International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights Executive Director Aaron Rhodes stated in an open letter. "Since the dispute started, Kazakh authorities have been reluctant to deal with the issue in a fair and unbiased manner."
The court order is the next step in what human rights organizations have labeled a land-grab by government officials against a religious minority. In November 2006, several busloads of riot police and two bulldozers demolished thirteen homes owned by members of the Hare Krishna religion.
The surprise attack evoked outrage from the worldwide Hindu community, and elicited statements of concern from the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. In the United Kingdom, Parliament passed an Early Day Motion condemning the harassment of Hindus in Kazakhstan and calling upon Kazakh President Nazarbayev to intervene. British Prime Minister Tony Blair echoed Parliament members' concerns during his Question Time, assuring them that he would continue to push the Kazakhstan government to protect religious rights.
Kazakhstan's mistreatment of Hindus and other religious minorities was a key reason the country was refused its bid to chair the OSCE in 2009.
"[S]tate sponsored action has been focused upon members of the Hare Krishna community in a manner that suggests they have been targeted on the basis of their religious affiliation," the OSCE Advisory Council on Freedom of Religion or Belief said in a statement they released, adding that it "calls upon the Kazakh authorities to halt any further demolitions and to extend immediate humanitarian assistance to those whose homes have been destroyed."
In light of the Kazakh government's latest moves against the Krishna community, that call seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
Backgrounder - ISKCON Communications
The following are excerpts from statements raising concerns about the Kazakhstan government's aggression against the Hare Krishna community in Almaty.
"The embassy has several concerns regarding the legal basis for the actions against the Hare Krishna community. Regardless of the merits of the underlying case, the forceful eviction of homeowners in freezing temperatures and the destruction of their possessions, contradicted principles of due process and fairness. The embassy urges the Karasai district authorities to refrain from any further aggressive actions against the Hare Krishnas, and to work toward a fair, lawful, and peaceful resolution of the ongoing legal dispute."
(U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan)
"From the information available to the Advisory Council, it appears that state sponsored action has been focused upon members of the Hare Krishna community in a manner that suggests they have been targeted on the basis of their religious affiliation. In the view of the Advisory Council, this raises serious issues regarding the enjoyment of the freedom of religion and belief by members of the Hare Krishna community in Kazakhstan."
(The OSCE Advisory Council on Freedom of Religion or Belief)
"Recent steps against the Hare Krishnas and members of other religious communities indicate that the government of Kazakhstan, regrettably, is moving in the wrong direction with regard to respecting the universal right to freedom of religion or belief. This action against the Hare Krishna community is the latest in a series of developments over the past two years that signal a retreat from Kazakhstan's previously positive record of respect for the right to religious freedom."
(The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom)
"While President Nazarbayev's initiative to bring world religions together to promote tolerance is laudable, his government's harsh treatment of small and independent groups displays a sad absence of tolerance. In short, I do not believe these actions befit a country that would be a leader of nations. I urge President Nazarbayev and the Government of Kazakhstan to end these practices, withdraw the court cases to seize the Hare Krishna's land, and ensure that all individuals are compensated for their lost property."
(The Hon. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey)
"That this House, prior to the visit of the President of Kazakhstan, condemns the harassment of and discrimination against Hindu minorities in Kazakhstan... and further calls upon the President to order the Karasai District Hakimat to have all cases against the Kazakh Hindus withdrawn... and to stop harassment of Hindus in Kazakhstan."
(The United Kingdom Parliament, Early Day Motion No. 140)