New bill aims to strengthen state oversight of religious activity in Kyrgyzstan

By Arman Kaliyev

A family rests outside the Takht-i Sulaiman Mosque on the Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain in Osh city in June. [Arman Kaliyev]

A family rests outside the Takht-i Sulaiman Mosque on the Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain in Osh city in June. [Arman Kaliyev]

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyzstan's State Commission for Religious Affairs (GKDR) has drafted and submitted amendments to the law "On Freedom of Religion and Religious Organisations", opening it up for public discussion.

The purpose of the new developments is to decrease potential risks that could destabilise relations between the state and religion, analysts say.

The law on religion is already 10 years old and has become outdated, said Indira Aslanova, an assistant professor of religious studies at Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University in Bishkek.

The new bill, she said, is more complete than the two previous efforts in 2014 and at the beginning of 2018.

Muslims pray at the Bishkek Central Mosque last December. [Ruslan Sadykov]

Muslims pray at the Bishkek Central Mosque last December. [Ruslan Sadykov]

"[In the new bill] there are no articles that contradict each other, and in general, [we have taken] steps in the right direction to bring order to religious life," she told Caravanserai.

Increasing oversight

Authorities intend to strengthen governmental oversight of religious activities across the country.

The initiative stipulates that all existing Muslim prayer rooms, houses of worship, chapels and other venues where religious rites and prayers take place are required to register with the state, Zayirbek Ergeshov, director of the GKDR, told Interfax July 3.

Worship and prayer venues are opening up "high and low, all over the place", such as in cafes, restaurants, outdoor markets and shopping malls, said Ergeshov.

"We do not know what occurs inside the walls of these houses of worship and prayer rooms," he said. "We do not even know who owns them, or what they are preaching there… Maybe they are propagandising religious movements that are banned in Kyrgyzstan."

The new amendments to the law also protect the rights of minors, reported "Nastoiashchee Vremia" (Current Time), a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty television project, July 9.

As part of the proposed changes, children will be prohibited from proselytising outdoors or working in mosques or temples. Presently, children do unpaid tasks in mosques like pouring water from a jug so that worshippers can wash their hands.

They will be able to attend religious services only with the permission of their parents or if accompanied by them.

Soliciting public opinion

The state is also introducing a procedure for the Ministry of Education and Science to license and certify religious schools.

Religious schools in the near future will have to supplement their curricula with secular subjects like history, languages and social studies.

On this point the bill goes too far, contended Aslanova.

Licensing religious educational institutions is an excessive measure, she said, given that spiritual life does not fall under the Ministry of Education's scope.

"Religious organisations provide their own kind of education, their own values, their own history, and that is why the education they give is different from secular education," she told Caravanserai.

"There cannot be a single standard for this," she said. "Maybe [we] can put forth technical requirements for registration, and the [GKDR] [will] handle that."

The government is now soliciting public opinion on the proposed reforms, which could affect their final shape. Observers expect the bill to pass no earlier than autumn, which is when members of parliament return from summer recess.

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The Ministry of Education often raises a question about pupils not wearing uniforms at school. It means that ME employees themselves violate the uniform rules by allowing students to attend schools wearing hijab. Not only that, but [they] also [violate] the Supreme law of the republic - the Constitution of our secular state. It is necessary for pupils to either wear uniforms at school or let all of them wear what they want.


Government officials are secular people. Mass media and others take part in Namaz-e Ayat and Friday namaz and [by doing so] advertise religious organisations and their activities in the republic, violating the Kyrgyz Constitution that states the republic is secular. Therefore religious activists meddle in the republic's politics and sometimes disregard the existing policies pursued by the parliament, government and even the President. The Constitution establishes separation of religion and state. Government employees are not restricted to satisfy their religious needs, but they should go [to mosque, church etc] as ordinary citizens, not in their official capacity on behalf of the state. Do not set up namazkana (dedicated places of worship) in government buildings and agencies. Government employees should walk on eggshells [discussing] this issue and satisfy only their needs as citizens. There is no need to allot land for new mosques financed by investors expanding the islamisation network. We already have scores of mosques, namazkana and madrasa in the republic. Another interesting question is school uniforms. Religious children attend schools wearing hijab and violate school uniform rules, even more so violating human rights of other pupils who wear uniforms. The Ministry of Education often raises a question about [the comment has not been finished by the reader]


Please have the [prayer venues] stop using loudspeakers - other people have rights too...


[We] must give all our children a secular education, and then let them choose what kind of higher education to get after they turn 18 years old