Kazakhstan is the largest of the Central Asian states by land mass. A quarter of its 18.8 million population are Christians. Many are from a Russian background, but some are ethnic Kazakhs who have converted from Islam.
Muslim-background Christians have long been viewed with suspicion and distrust in Muslim-majority Kazakhstan, but this hostility is increasingly directed against all believers. This situation has arisen in part because of a growing sense of Kazakh nationalism that is linked to Islamic identity.
Kazakhstan’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion. However, a Religion Law passed in 2011 requires that religious groups must have at least 50 members locally, 500 regionally and 5,000 nationally in order to register – an impossibility for smaller churches. Unregistered churches are raided by police who seize property and fine or arrest and imprison Christians for worshipping unlawfully. The law also prohibits evangelising.
In 2018 the government approved amendments imposing even harsher restrictions, including a ban on religious teaching unless within a registered organisation – effectively making religious discussions in private homes illegal. Further restrictions on holding one-off religious events away from a regular place of worship were added in 2022. These include the requirement to seek permission for such an event at least ten working days in advance, as well as providing details about how many people will attend and how they will travel to the event.
A church in Almaty Region has had its bank accounts frozen almost continuously since April 2017 because a donation from abroad towards the purchase of a new church building was flagged as “suspicious”.
In early 2022 Kazakhstan suffered a wave of protests and riots that led to the deaths of more than 200 people. Protests began on 2 January over rising fuel prices, but rapidly expanded into wider anti-government demonstrations. In November 2022 the sitting president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, was re-elected in a landslide victory.
Ask the Lord to help Christians in Kazakhstan navigate onerous government regulations and pray for increased religious freedom. Pray for all those who face hostility and suspicion because of their faith, especially converts from Islam.