Kazakhstan (MNN) — A month after two new religion laws came into effect, Kazakhs are beginning to feel the ever-tightening squeeze of restrictive legislation.
The laws introduced in October cover a great deal of ground in an attempt by the government to eradicate extremism. New restrictions imposed range from registration regulations for religious groups, to fewer rights for children involved with religious activities, to the banning of prayer rooms in public places.
The latter bit of legislation has caused an uproar in Kazakhstan over the past weeks, according to Forum 18 News and Slavic Gospel Association (SGA).
Joel Griffith with SGA explains: "We've seen increasing restrictions being enforced, and it's going across the board, from what we've seen. Not only evangelical churches and Orthodox churches [are affected], but also Islamic mosques are being shut down and prayer rooms being shut down in prisons. And they're citing basically these two laws in doing so," explains Griffith.
Forum 18 reports that prayer rooms in care facilities have already been closed. In one instance, a prayer room that was closed for renovation is simply not being reopened. The hospital claims that it needs the space for beds, but dozens of religious leaders have said otherwise.
Religious leaders argue that prayer rooms are greatly needed in hospitals when people are looking for hope in difficult circumstances. But, church leader Aleksandr Suvorov says, "The government argues that having such prayer rooms allows them to be exploited by extremists."
Griffith says this mentality could be extremely harmful to ministry—prison ministry in particular. Prayer rooms in prisons are being removed in compliance with the laws as well, which could be detrimental for Kazakh prison ministries.
"A lot of churches actually are formed behind prison walls, and these prisoners basically have their own congregations behind prison walls," explains Griffith. "It seems now like [with] some of the prayer rooms, these new laws are being cited by the government to shut them down. And obviously we're concerned if this is the case…it's obvious that prison ministry is going to be made a lot more difficult."
On top of these concerns, as the laws make their presence known throughout Kazakhstan, SGA remains uncertain about children's ministry. "It remains to be seen, now with Christmas coming up, just how are these laws going to be used to impact maybe children's ministries?"
Kazakhstan is just beginning to feel the weight of these new laws. Believers are determined to continue to spread the Gospel, but outreach is getting harder and will likely continue to do so.
"We here as Christians in the West need to not only continue supporting our Kazakh brothers and sisters, but to really engage in intercessory prayer that the Lord would change hearts and that this law would not be as rigorously enforced as it could be. If there would be a change of heart, pray that maybe the constitutional court there would overturn the law or that the law would be repealed. Certainly the Lord can accomplish anything through the power of prayer."