Foreign Policy Blogs

Religious Restrictions: No Thank You

I wasn't going to write a post today, it being Thanksgiving Day here and all, but then I read this article detailing recent laws in the works in all five of our CA states curtailing the freedom of religion. Yesterday, I spoke about one aspect, the wearing of the hijab in school settings in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and tried to provide both sides of the story, the government's and citizens who felt infringed upon.

But this piece's specific details regarding laws in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, which increase the required amount of members for a religious organization to operate legally, prohibit children from participating in religious organizations, and bans the distribution of religious materials in most public places, make it clear that these CA governments are going to far. I am sympathetic to their fear of religious extremism by these governments, but limiting the rights of their citizens to freely express themselves is both not right and dangerous as it may push these groups underground, where extremism may be even more likely to arise. The article details and promotes the work the OSCE, UN, and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in bringing attention to and fighting these laws restricting religious freedom. Here is a quote from USCIRF's Chair Felice D. Gaer:

“If the president signs the law as passed by the parliament, religious freedom will be eroded in Kyrgyzstan, which used to enjoy the reputation of being most democratic of the post-Soviet Central Asian republics. The United States should work through diplomatic channels, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, to persuade the Kyrgyz and other Central Asian governments to roll back legislation that provides legal cover for egregious discrimination on the basis of religion.”

Now the US and these groups need to be careful as these states’ sovereignty must be respected, but I do not see a problem in pushing them for more openness, while at the same time working with them for regional stability. In the case of Kazakhstan, their Chairmanship of the OSCE in 2010 is a great piece of leverage to use on the Nazarbayev government to provide its citizens more religious freedom. The US will need to be cautious though as these CA leaders have Russia and China to turn to.

So on this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful that there are media outlets, the United Nations, OSCE, NGOs, and the US to shine a light on the restriction of human and religious rights and slightly push these governments in a more open direction. I am also thankful to live in a country where I can practice or not practice any religion I so choose. Happy Thanksgiving everyone…Gobble, Gobble, Gobble…

 

Author

Patrick Frost

Patrick Frost recently graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science - International Relations. His MA thesis analyzed the capabilities and objectives of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Central Asia and beyond and explored how these affected U.S. interests and policy.

Areas of Focus:
Eurasia, American Foreign Policy, Ideology, SCO

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