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Department Seal 2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom:
Kyrgyz Republic

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, September 5, 2000


The Constitution and the law provide for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, the Government occasionally infringes on this right. The Constitution provides for a secular state and the separation of church and state, and the Government does not support any one religion.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

Relations among the faiths generally are amicable. The Government considers radical Islam to be a threat to the country's stability.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with the Government in the context of its dialog about threats to regional security and as part of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Government Polices on Freedom of Religion

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution and the law provide for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, the Government occasionally infringes on this right. The Constitution provides for a secular state and the separation of church and state, and the Government does not support any one religion.

In 1996 the Government created the State Commission on Religious Affairs (SCRA), officially to promote religious tolerance, protect freedom of conscience, and oversee laws on religion. The Commission quickly became active and oversaw the registration of over 300 religious institutions of which 210 are Christian denominations. According to a 1997 presidential decree, all religious organizations must be registered by the SCRA, which must recognize the registrant as a religious organization; each congregation must register separately. Subsequently, a religious organization must register with the Ministry of Justice to obtain status as a legal entity--necessary to own property, open bank accounts, and otherwise engage in contractual activities. However, if a religious organization engages in commercial activity, it is required to pay taxes in accordance with the tax code. In practice the Ministry has never registered a religious organization without prior registration by the SCRA. The Ministry's registration process sometimes is cumbersome, taking a month on average, but no religious organization has been denied registration after properly completing all formalities. No application for registration of a religious organization was being delayed as of mid-2000. The Reunification Church, which is registered as a social, rather than a religious organization, has "semi-official" status.

Religious Demography

Islam is the single most widely practiced faith. Official sources estimate that up to 80 percent of the inhabitants are Muslims. There are approximately 120 mosques, each with its own madrassa for initial religious training. There also are two institutes for higher Islamic teaching. Approximately 17 percent of the population are Russian Orthodox. There are 40 Russian Orthodox churches and well over 200 churches and houses of prayer for other Christian denominations. For example, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church operates six churches in Bishkek, as well as several elsewhere in the country. Jews, Buddhists, and Catholics account for approximately 3 percent of the population, and their adherents practice their religions openly in churches, temples, and synagogues. A Roman Catholic Church in Bishkek functions unhindered. A small Jewish congregation meets in Bishkek. The group organizes informal cultural studies and humanitarian services, chiefly food assistance for its elderly. There also are examples of syncretistic religious practices. Most notably, there is a Baptist church in the Naryn region whose followers are predominantly ethnic Kyrgyz. While they worship as Christians, they have adapted Muslim modes of prayer into their Christian rituals. There is no official estimate of the number of atheists in the population.

Islam is practiced widely throughout the country, in both the urban and rural areas. Russian Orthodoxy typically is concentrated in the cities where a larger ethnic Russian population exists. The other faiths also are practiced more commonly in the cities where their smaller communities tend to be concentrated. There is a correlation between ethnicity and religion, with ethnic Kyrgyz tending more toward Islam and ethnic Russians favoring either the Russian Orthodox Church or one of the other Western denominations. Exact statistics are not available, but while the majority of the population claims to follow Islam, a significant number of these adherents appear to be only nominal believers and identify with the faith out of historical or ethnic allegiance. A significant number of the followers of the Russian Orthodox Church also appear be only nominal believers.

A number of missionary groups operate in the country, including groups from the United States, Germany, and Korea, as well as missionaries from Turkey, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. They represent a variety of religious organizations including Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Unified Church of Christ of Evangelists, and Korean Presbyterians. These organizations operate freely, although they are required to register with the Government.

The Government recognizes three Muslim holidays (Noorus, Kurban Ait, and Orozo Ait) and one Russian Orthodox holiday (Christmas, which is observed on January 7 in accordance with the Russian Orthodox calendar) as national holidays. The President and the Government send greetings to the followers of these faiths on their major religious holidays, and these messages are printed in the mass media.

To encourage religious tolerance, the Government works through the SCRA to promote interfaith dialog. The SCRA hosts meetings of religious groups to bring the faiths together in open forums. The SCRA assists various faiths to work together on programs for the protection of the poor and the elderly.

Governmental Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government authorities indicated that they would monitor the activities of the Unification Church, which is led by Reverend Moon. The Unification Church currently is not active in the country, but it has a presence through the charity organization of Reverend Moon's wife. There were no reports of interference in its activities during the period covered by this report. Religious leaders note with concern that the SCRA frequently uses the term "national security" in its statements. For example, the Commission has expressed some concern about the destabilizing presence of the Unification Church. The Ministry of Internal Affairs often plays a leading role on various religious questions.

The Government expressly forbids the teaching of religion (or atheism) in public schools.

Governmental Abuses of Religious Freedom

Muslim leaders complain that the SCRA makes decisions about religious events without consulting them. However, the Government is concerned about the threat of political extremism in the guise of conservative Islam. The Government considers radical Islam, whose followers it labels "Wahhabis," a threat to the country's stability. The Government fears that Wahhabis seek to overthrow the secular government and establish an Islamic theocracy. During the period covered by this report, the Government continued to express public concern about extremists with either radical religious or political agendas. The sentencing in May 2000 of three Uighur Islamic militants who were charged with the 1998 bombings in Osh added to the Government's concern about the "Wahhabist" elements operating in the country. An armed incursion of Islamic extremists into southern Kyrgyzstan in August-October 1999 also increased the Government's apprehension about radical Islam and the actions of its followers. According to an Amnesty International report of June 21, 2000, Jelil Turdai, an ethnic Uighur Chinese national was arrested in Bishkek for not having the necessary residence permit. After a police search of his apartment turned up religious material that was deemed fundamentalist, he was taken into custody for possessing "Wahhabist" materials, and after being interrogated by Chinese and Kyrgyz security agents he was deported back to china where his fate is unknown.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

Forced Religious Conversion of Minor U.S. Citizens

There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section II. Societal Attitudes

Relations between the faiths generally are amicable. Members of the two major religions, Islam and the Russian Orthodox Church, respect each other's major holidays and exchange holiday greetings.

There is no evidence of widespread societal discrimination or violence against members of different religious groups. However, there is anecdotal evidence of periodic tension between followers of conservative Islam and foreign missionaries in rural areas. There were no reports of these tensions escalating to serious levels; the parties involved appear to have resolved their problems peacefully over time.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights. Six representatives from Kyrgyzstan participated in the U.S. Government sponsored program, "Religious Freedom and Tolerance in the United States: Focus on Islam," in March-April 2000. The representatives learned about how Islam is perceived and practiced in the U.S.

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