Kyrgyzstan has a reputation for being one of the most religiously tolerant countries in Central Asia, but that does not mean that all of its communities of faith enjoy the same rights. The 2010 Constitution provides significant protections for freedom of religion, but the laws regulating religious expression are not in line with it, imposing significant burdens on the religious groups in the Republic.
In the long term, inadequate laws could undermine the relationship between religious organizations and the state. As distrust mounts and many faith groups are forced to go underground to continue practicing, there is an increasing risk of manipulation by extremist recruiters.
To support religious freedom, build awareness of the laws regulating it, and increase public oversight, our Kyrgyzstan team launched a two-year project called Promoting Religious Freedom through Government and Civil Society Collaboration in the Kyrgyz Republic, funded by the U.S. Department of State.
The project directly addresses the gaps in the legal system. In close collaboration with local organizations, we have developed the first-ever regulations of burial practices in the country. With the Ministry of Education, we created a concept to reform religious education. We have established a methodology that helps courts cast appropriate verdicts when individuals are suspected of possessing extremist propaganda. We led a training for 38 local judges, to improve their ability to deal with cases related to religion. Lastly, we have developed a guidebook on the promotion of religious freedom for civil society organizations and led training sessions on public oversight.
In June 2016, we launched an ongoing monitoring of religious freedom in Kyrgyzstan, which includes the participation of trained activists in the monitoring of court cases. Until now, no similar activities had been conducted in Kyrgyzstan.