|For Immediate Release
January 6, 2009
Another Kazakhstan court protects religious minority rights
ATYRAU, Kazakhstan—The Atyrau City Court has held that Jehovah’s Witnesses have the right to legal registration in that city. The decision handed down on December 15, 2008, by Judge Sabirova came after seven denials over seven years by the local Department of Justice and the Akimat, or local government office.
The Atyrau community of Jehovah’s Witnesses consists of fewer than 50 members. It began its court challenge on December 2, 2008. Atyrau has a population of about 200,000 and is located in western Kazakhstan near the Caspian Sea. Jehovah’s Witnesses have been in Kazakhstan for about 100 years and are legally registered as a central organization for more than 10 years. There are registered communities throughout Kazakhstan; Atyrau remained the only region refusing registration, a process necessary for religious communities to meet legally for prayer and worship.
“We appreciate hearing the representative of the Department of Justice honestly telling the court today that the denial of registration was illegal and that they will now register our small congregation. It takes courage to admit an error,” said Alexander Rozinov, one of the applicants representing Jehovah’s Witnesses in court. “I hope this decision is the start of a new chapter for religious freedom in Atyrau.”
“I have been praying about this,” said 70-year-old Zoya Egorova. “I had been fined the equivalent of $1,000 for meeting with my fellow believers for prayer and Bible study. I am only a pensioner.” Over the past two years, eight members of the community were fined a total of $7,500 because they met for worship without legal registration in a private apartment. They all appeared before Judge Sabirova. Some testified about police raiding their meetings and then the imposition of the burden of severe financial penalties, only because they met for worship.
The terms of the judicial order included an agreement that the Department of Justice would register the community and a requirement that the representatives of the Department of Justice report to the Court by January 15, 2009. “We trust that the officials will follow through and there will be no further delays,” said Alexander Rozinov.
Polat Bekzhan, telephone: +7 727 226 33 63
Religious Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Republic of Kazakhstan
Gregory Olds, telephone: +1-646-269-3464
Philip Brumley, telephone: +1-845-306-0711
Office of General Counsel for Jehovah’s Witnesses