Government and Religious Leaders Gather In Kyrgyzstan

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan... Religious leaders and government officials gathered together January 24-25, 2002, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to discuss religious freedom concerns. Organized by leaders of religious organizations and parliament members, the theme of the conference, "Freedom on Conscience and Providing an Interreligious Mutual Understanding," was more than appropriate in this country of 4.5 million where there has not been much support for minority groups. The two largest religions are Muslims and Russian Orthodox.

Although Article 15 of the country's constitution forbids discrimination against any person on the basis of religious belief, and Article 16 guarantees each person's right to "freedom of creed, spirit and worship," the government forbids teaching of both religion and atheism in public schools, and has disallowed public meetings in some locations.

The 1996 U.S. State Department report on Human Rights states that the Kyrgyzstan does not fully protect the rights of religious freedom. However, a recent report from the International Coalition for Religious Freedom states that the government appears to be preparing to assume a more active and intrusive role into religious affairs.

Speakers at the conference highlighted the necessity for Kyrgyzstan to improve religious freedom principles in the country, and concerns were also expressed about the draft law on religious freedom. Mr. Alisher Sabirov, head of the Religious Association Committee at Parliament, has promised to organize a round-table discussion on February 10 with leaders of the various religious groups.

Representing the International Religious Freedom Association (IRLA) were Attorney Lee Boothby from the U.S., and Victor Krushenitsky of the Russian IRLA chapter.

At the conclusion of the conference, participants voted a document that calls for peaceful coexistence, and the formation of a Kyrgyz Chapter of the IRLA. The president elected to serve the IRLA Kyrgyz chapter is Mr. Alisher Sabirov, a parliament member. [Viola Hughes]