In the News:
Kazakhstan Update

by Richard Wyndham

Posted January 7, 2007

Kazakh government commission denies persecution of Hare Krishna followers.

January 5, 2007 ALMATY, Kazakhstan: A Kazakh government commission on Friday ruled in favor of local authorities in a land dispute with the country's Hare Krishna community and dismissed the Krishnas' claims of religious persecution.

The commission said that the dispute, which led to the demolition of several houses used by the community, was the result of "gross" violations of land and religion laws by the Krishnas.

The commission affirmed decisions made in April by courts that found Hare Krishna members guilty of illegally acquiring land and ordered that the houses be destroyed and the land confiscated.

The Hare Krishna community denies breaking property laws and says it is a victim of religious intolerance.

Laborers with crowbars and bulldozers destroyed the community's 13 country houses at a farm outside the commercial capital, Almaty, on Nov. 21, while police prevented community members from interfering.

The U.S. Embassy has expressed concerns about the legality of razing the houses and urged Kazakh authorities to end what it called an "aggressive" campaign against Hare Krishna followers.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said after the houses were destroyed that it appeared the Krishnas were targeted because of their religious beliefs.

In its statement Friday, the government commission set up to look into the dispute said the demolitions were legal and recommended the Hare Krishna community seek to acquire land by lawful means. It said that Krishnas had broken property-registration laws and disturbed neighbors while carrying out their religious rituals.

The Krishnas, which have a small community in the Kazakhstan, issued a statement Friday calling the commission's decision arbitrary. It accused the commission of excluding them, as well as rights activists and observers from foreign organizations, from its meetings.

Kazakh authorities have long been seen as being more tolerant of minority religions than are other governments in mostly Muslim ex-Soviet Central Asia, but in recent years they have tightened laws governing religious organizations, citing concerns about Islamic extremism.