KAZAKHSTAN: SUMMARY OF EVENTS
By BB Govinda Swami
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness came to Kazakhstan during the Soviet era and existed underground until it’s legal registration as the Society for Krishna Consciousness ( SKC ) by the Ministry of Justice in 1994.
As the society grew in Almaty the members desired to have an Indian style farming community to satisfy the cultural and spiritual needs of the faithful, propagate a healthy lifestyle, cow protection, and bio-farming. To develop this project, members of SKC leased 47.7 hectares of land in 1999 in the Karasai district of Almaty, 40 km from the city. In 2002 SKC registered its provincial unit as a religious organization on the property. In the spring of 2004 SKC was able to purchase the land. Members of SKC grew vegetables, wheat, barley, alfalfa, cultivated a large apple orchard and took care of a herd of 32 cows.
According to article 12, of the religious laws of Kazakhstan, religious organizations are allowed to conduct their worship and ceremonies at the place of their registration. Thus the members of SKC also engaged in spiritual practices on the property.
There was an attempt to construct a temple on the property in 2004. Following the advice of local government authorities the SKC members began the work of laying a foundation. They were told that permission would be issued in the course of the construction.
However, as soon as construction began the same government authorities brought an administrative case against the community for having started illegal construction. SKC members were shocked by the change, but fully complied with local authorities and demolished the foundation.
Since the original purpose of the land was peasant farming, it did not allow for housing development, so in 1999 members of the SKC started purchasing cottages in an adjoining residential area.
Aside from the attempt to build a temple structure on the land no other construction took place. All existing buildings were present before SKC acquired the property.
Problems began in the summer of 2004 when the local government initiated non-stop investigations of the community, following a plan of the executive authorities of Almaty province to liquidate the Almaty provincial SKC and confiscate the land from both the Society and the private members of the Society.
There is a document from the Director of the Almaty Provincial Department of Justice, T. Onalbayev, providing an answer to the protocol instruction No. 5 of the Hakim of Almaty province S. Kulmakhanov dated February 14, 2005, with the detailed plan of liquidation of the Society.
Soon smear campaigns began in the media. The district government made 14 cases to confiscate the property of SKC, as well as the individual houses of its members in the adjoining residential area.
In April of 2006, SKC lost the litigation, but before a legal appeal was heard in higher court, the government attempted to destroy the homes of the members of SKC with bulldozers. The members resisted and the attempt was not successful. Local executives assured SKC members that they would return later with riot police and demolish the houses.
On the morning of November 22, 2006, electricity to the community was disconnected and later that day heavy equipment was brought back to the community. It included bulldozers, trucks, ambulances, and 200 riot police. The police cordoned off the entire area of the settlement and blocked the entrance ways of the community. Journalists, human right observers and members of the congregation who were not present on the land at the time, were not allowed in. It was a winter day, snowing, and with subzero temperatures.
The houses of the SKC members were destroyed one after the other. Mothers with infants and children were thrown, crying and appealing for mercy, out of their homes. Family belongings were loaded on the trucks and driven away. Members who tried to resist were roughed-up and arrested. All cameras and video recorders were confiscated.
Suddenly, without warning, the homes and belongings of 12 families were destroyed.
On November 26, 2006, the local governor presented SKC with 5 more cases regarding evacuation and demolition of homes.
As no homes of other local residents have been targeted, members of SKC have concluded that the harassment they are experiencing is based on religious discrimination and a desire by the government to take the choice piece of land which the SKC acquired by legal means.
11th December 2006 MFA of RK sent a letter to Ministry of Justice of RK to immediately convene the Inter-Agency Commission followed by a press conference in order to develop consistent position and find concrete proposals for resolving the conflict.
16th December 2006 MFA of RK distributed the Decision of the Commission through its diplomatic channels before official meeting of the Commission.
22nd December 2006
– Astana, Meeting of the Inter-Agency Commission for investigating the land issue of the religious organization “Society for Krishna Consciousness” in Karasai District.
– The Chairman of the Commission requested deputy Hakim Baibaktynov to accept the applications for privatization of SKC members and review them.
– Deputy Hakim of Almaty Province informed the Commission that a criminal case was initiated against members of the SKC regarding forgery.
– Chief expert of the Land Committee of Almaty Province informed the Commission that there is a list of 54 summer plots, which will be given privatization. He stressed that Priozyerye members, which SKC followers are the members of, would not be given privatization.
– The Chairman of the Commission responded that privatization should be given to everyone.
25th December 2006 Karasai District court has issued a decision to consider the registration of a summer cottages cooperative Priozyerye to be null and void.
29th December 2006
20 summer cottages owners, members of Priozyerye approached Hakimat for privatization. Their applications were refused. In a phone call the Chairman of the Commission advised to file the documents to Legalization Committee and approach deputy Hakim Baibaktynov for resolving the issue.
5th January 2007 Kazakh Government conducts Press Conference in Astana.
5th January 2007
20 summer cottages owners approached Legalization Committee for legalization. Without any reason people were refused in legalization. No written answer was given.
9th January 2007 The official statement of the Almaty Helsinki Committee and the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law “On the Situation over the Krishna’s Consciousness Community in Kazakhstan” is issued.
10th January 2007 Press-Conference of SKC in Almaty about “Situation over SKC in Kazakhstan: another angle”.
12th January 2007
20 summer cottages owners approached Legalization Committee for legalization again. The documents were not accepted on the basis of the decision of the Karasai District court, which considered registration of Priozyerye summer cottages society null and void.
16th January 2007 A new court case regarding the 116 acre plot was opened.
– The government intends to prove sales and purchase agreement of 116 acre between Zhaksybekov and Consortium of Kazakhstan and Hungarian Societies for Krishna Consciousness null and void.
– By the new claim the government is preparing a ground to cancel the Supreme Court decision of 30th June 2005 in the case between Consortium and Zhaksybekov, where the civil panel of the Supreme Court of Kazakhstan studied all the documents on the land and considered SKC a bona fide purchaser of the land and granted the right of a land use to SKC.
21st January 2007 The chairman of the summer cottages association PK “ST Ptitsevod”, Irina Zaharchuk on a general meeting of the summer cottages owners of her cooperative sold land plots of the destroyed houses of SKC members. She compiled a new list of the members of her cooperative, where she included new owners of the summer plots.
27th January 2007 In the framework of a criminal case being opened, a worker of financial police of Karasai district brought a prepared report to be signed by a SKC member.
The report described the way she purchased her apartment but her words were completely perverted, and, in the report she was presented as a victim of some foreign preacher. SKC member refused to sign it.
28th January 2007 Sunday January 28, 2007, Anatoli Portnyagin, the chief officer of the provincial land committee, policemen, workers of the Karasai District Hakimat, the former chairman of the horticultural association I. Zakharchuk and Polyakov, her advocate, were at the site of the destruction of the homes of Hare Krishna community surveyed the summer plots and distributed them among the would-be owners. All these people have been actively participating in all the cases against SKC.
The officials were seen screaming among themselves as to which plots would be given to whom.
Despite the fact that the plots of SKC members belong to a different legal entity, the government officials of Karasai District are selling the land plots using legal documents of a different legal entity, summer cottages society PK “ST Ptitsevod” instead of Priozyerye.
29th January 2007 The notifications for demolition of 3 summer cottages of members of SKC. The receivers were never officially invited to court, they have never received invitations to participate in the court hearings and they have never received the decisions of the court.
30th January 2007 The Karasai district court disputed the purchase of 116 acre of land by the religious organization Society for Krishna Consciousness.
The notice to appear in court was given to the chairman of the Society the day before, January 29, 2007. The chairman appeared in the court at the appointed time and put in an application requesting the court to adjourn the hearing because he had not managed to find an advocate in such a short time. His application was accepted. Judge Zhailybayev who conducted the case told the chairman of the Society that he could go and wait for another notice to appear in court which would inform him of the next hearing. The chairman left the court being confident that the hearing was adjourned.
Nonetheless the hearing took place the same day in the absence of the defendant who was personally sent home by judge Zhailybayev. Out of the three defendants only one was present. Zhailybayev took a decision to confiscate the lawfully acquired land from the RO Society for Krishna Consciousness. It should be noted that all the decisions on the cases against the Krishnaites conducted by judge Zhailybayev have been unfavorable for them.
1. We request that you urgently address this issue to the President of Kazakhstan, with the aim to stop the systematic demoralization and denigration of the members of SKC in Kazakhstan.
2. We demand that the government to compensate the losses it has inflicted upon the members of SKC.
3. Allow all Hindu applicants to privatize their cottages, in accordance with a legally sound and non-discriminatory procedure, and allow them to enjoy the full use of these properties without any further threat of government action.
Please accept my humble obeisances. All Glories to Srila Prabhupada.
The situation in Kazakhstan is not improving, rather, it is deteriorating.
As you are most likely aware the “Commission” proved to be ineffective in approaching a resolve for the situation.
In the conclusion of the commission it was stated that privatisation of private plots would be resumed. Since that time our people have applied and have been refused, whereas, others have been accepted for privatisation.
Just yesterday, Sunday January 28, 2006, the official from the land committee, Anatoli Portnyagin, the lawyer of the Hakim, a police officer from the hakimat, and the leader of the opposition cottage cooperative were at the site of the destruction of the homes.
They were reselling the land plots that our destroyed homes are still standing on. Though the plots belong to a completely different cottage association they were reselling the plots.
The court case regarding the 116 acre plot has been opened.
The government intends to prove that a forgery was committed at the time of the original contract. Thus all other contracts will be considered null and void. Then the government will push the general prosecutor to overturn a Supreme Court decision of 2005 that the Society for Krishna Consciousness is the proper user of the property.
Thus, 116 acres of land, purchased and privatised by ISKCON, worth millions of dollars, will be lost to the government of Kazakhstan.
One of our members has a plot and house which is slated for destruction. He approached his relative in the KGB to assist him as his case is soon coming up. Her relative said it was of no use as they know who has taken control of our property.
Representatives from different governments are in constant touch with us and one major international organisation is organising a briefing with different embassies next week in an attempt to pool thier thoughts, strategise, and assist our issue.
I took a break for few weeks. Spent time in reading, prayer, a lot of reflection and spiritual thought. As I have been warned by the Kaz devotees not to apply for a visa at this time I have been in Vrindavan, except for a few days I spent in Dubai.
Naturally I am a refreshed being here. I have again become an object of the merciful saving grace of Sri Vrindavan Dham, the Lord, and all of His eternal associates who reside in this sanctified place.
But, we are mindful that the government in Kazakhstan is moving quickly and all may be finished soon. Thus, we are asking that you please keep all of the Kazakh devotees in your prayers.
They have been strong, but are very worried that the farm which they have served at and so beautifully developed, will be soon finished. They acknowledge that they will always have spiritual service, but, if push comes to shove, the relocation of 45 devotees, 40 cows, and a really nice deity department poses a serious problem.
With affectionate regards,
BB Govinda Swami