Leaders of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification in Kazakhstan breathed a sigh of relief as Liza Drenicheva departed Almaty this morning (March 18) to visit her mother in Russia. Now that she is safely out of the country she is under no threat of a second arrest or surveillance by Kazakh secret police who reportedly are watching the movements of our members there.
Meanwhile, church leaders have reached a decision to appeal the ruling of a Kazakh judge on March 11 that commuted Ms. Drenicheva's sentence but which allowed her guilty verdict to stand. In effect, the guilty verdict threatens all Unificationist members with arrest if they witness or teach the Divine Principle. That decision may mean another assignment for the international "Free Liza" Working Group. On March 11 Konstantin Krylov, a Unification Church official from Moscow thanked the international defense team that assisted the legal effort, including Dan Fefferman, head of the International Coalition for Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C., and Peter Zoehrer in Vienna, head of the Forum for Religious Freedom, and many others. The working group includes volunteers who work with members of the U.S. Senate and Congress and with media organizations in Washington, D.C.
According to the newsletter of Forum 18, a Norwegian-based human rights group with an office in Almaty, human rights defenders in Kazakhstan are cautiously welcoming news from the Kazakh Constitutional Council that President Nursultan Nazarbayev agrees with its ruling on the draft religion law and will not challenge it. However, some observers note with concern that the president's comments have not been published on his official website. Forum 18 reports that a group of senior officials in the Justice Ministry are opposed to the position of the Constitutional Council and attempted to influence President Nazarbayev to revive the harsh new law. Meanwhile, Alexander Dvorkin, who calls himself the "Russian government's top anti-cult expert" is scheduled to speak at a government-sponsored conference in Almaty. Further down the road, the government’s much-touted showcase of religious tolerance, the World Congress of Traditional and World Religions, is scheduled to take place in the capital city of Astana on July 1, 2009. All of these reports suggest that the Kazakh government is embroiled in an internal debate about how to deal with new religious movements, which, in their view, includes such groups as independent Baptists.
"This is not the end of the attempt to adopt such a Law," Yevgeny Zhovtis, head of the Almaty-based Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, told Forum 18 from Almaty on 15 March. "I think they will try again." He believes fresh attempts could come in 2011 or 2012, after Kazakhstan has completed its chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which will be at the end of 2010. "But I'm not sure that they won't try again in 2009." See http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1269.
Written by Douglas Burton