By Alexander Bogatik
ASTANA -- A newly adopted religious policy in Kazakhstan for 2017-2020 aims to strengthen tolerance and combat extremism in society.
The effort comes with hundreds of radicalised Kazakhstanis having gone to Iraq and Syria since 2011.
Kazakhstan is striving "to strengthen inter-faith harmony and tolerance in society", according to the planning document of the new policy.
"The state is adopting measures to maintain stability in the religious sphere ... and to form public immunity ... to extremism in any form or manifestation," reads the conception.
Kazakhstan is seeing "a rise in the number of appeals made by extremism and in threats of mass penetration ... of alien, pseudo-religious teachings", according to the document.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev June 28 approved the conception of religious policy for 2017-2020, according to his press office.
Nazarbayev's office will supervise implementation of the policy.
The document highlights "several key features of how state religious policy is developing", Zhambyl theologian Sanjar Suleimenov told Caravanserai.
"[Those features] include more work on fine-tuning laws, strengthening the secular foundations of our state and developing a system to resist extremism and terrorism," he told Caravanserai.
"Implementing the conception over the next few years is a crucial step in quelling unrest in society," said Tatyana Syshchenko, supervisor of a set of Russian-language religious courses at a mosque in Astana and editor of the muslim.kz website, told Caravanserai.
"For our multi-faith country, this is a landmark," she said. "But much careful work to meet our goals lies ahead."
The conception "will permit both religious ideas and values from all religious systems that are represented in Kazakhstan and the principles of a secular state to be gathered together", predicted Gulnaz Razdykova, director of the Pavlodar Province Centre for Analysis and Development of Inter-Faith Relations.
"We hope that adopting the conception will allow appropriate strategic and tactical planning for state religious policy," she told Caravanserai.
"Criminal justice policy plays an important role in the fight against extremism," Daulen Nuralin, a judge on the Supreme Court, told Caravanserai. "This is a general path, determined by the state. It designates the areas of focus, goals, and means to fight extremism and terrorism by way of shaping criminal law and the application [of such law]."
The government formed a task force to revise laws pertaining to religion and to liability for extremism and terrorism.
"Laws on religion need to be harmonised with worldwide trends," according to the conception. "[We need to] drawn up rules that do not allow extremism to spread through society and that prevent extremist and terrorist groups from operating in the country."
"Committing a terrorist attack, and forming and participating in a terrorist group, are considered especially serious crimes," said Nuralin, adding that Kazakhstani law already punishes those who undergo extremist and terrorist training.
"This year we will pass a legal resolution on 'The use by courts of laws on culpability for terrorist and extremist offences'," he added.
The conception contains a suggestion to introduce an elective course called "Secularism and the foundations of religious studies" in universities.
It calls for better job performance by government officials.
"It is necessary to increase the accountability of leaders of government agencies ... for the effective implementation of state religious policy," according to the conception.
In addition, according to the conception, government officials must "improve mechanisms for working with those who have fallen under the sway of radical religious movements and to involve civic groups in raising awareness".
It is "very important to raise awareness nationwide ... and to raise spiritual literacy", concluded Syshchenko. "That's how to enable the rejection of extremism and terrorism."