By Arman Kaliyev
View of the parliament buildings in the Kazakhstani capital of Astana in 2010. Lawmakers are drafting a bill that would ban among other things women wearing niqabs in public places. [John MacDougall/AFP]
ASTANA -- The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Civil Society is considering a ban on letting Kazakhstani women wear the niqab in public places, as well as prohibiting any "external attributes" affiliated with destructive ideological movements.
The proposed ban is part of a bill that the ministry is preparing to restrict various forms of behaviour the government suspects could encourage extremism.
"Enacting this [bill on banning niqabs and other external attributes] will make government agencies and civil society institutions involved in religion ... more effective and also prevent the public spread of radical ideas," Berik Aryn, vice minister for religious affairs and civil society, said in Astana last week, according to Zakon.kz.
"External attributes" include beards, turbans and prayer beads, said Murat Telibekov, chief of the Almaty-based NGO Union of Muslims of Kazakhstan.
Violators of this rule, if it takes effect, face a fine of 100 monthly calculation indexes (MCIs), amounting to almost 230,000 tenge ($690). That fine wold exceed the average monthly wage in Kazakhstan by 64%.
Caravanserai earlier reported on another part of the same proposed bill, which would reduce the number of Kazakhstanis eligible to go abroad for a religious education.
The ministry contends that this proposed prohibition does not violate the rights of citizens, arguing that similar rules have functioned in Europe for several years.
However, some religious scholars are questioning the value of such bans, arguing that they address effects rather than causes.
Punishments and other coercion do not solve the problem, said Yuliya Denisenko, director of the Astana-based Association of Centres for the Study of Religions.
"This [reaction] plays into the hands of destructive forces," she told Caravanserai. "Excessive pressure from authorities gives the local population more cause to sympathise with and support 'martyrs'."
"Above all, we need to increase public trust in the state," she continued. "We need to start this [process] with every citizen.
Presidents of Central Asian countries overall called 2017 a year of changes and said they foresee further innovations in 2018.
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