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Kazakhstan MEDIA RELEASE – ISKCON COMMUNICATIONS

Saturday, 16 June 2007 / Published in Appeals, BB Govinda Swami / 4,318 views

By BB Govinda Swami

MEDIA RELEASE – ISKCON COMMUNICATIONS

KAZAKH GOVERNMENT DEMOLISHES HINDU HOMES Persecution of Hindu minority continues despite international outcry, condemnation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE; Date: June 15, 2007

Almaty – The government of Kazakhstan demolished twelve homes belonging to members of the Hare Krishna religion early this morning, leaving several families homeless. Government officials and twenty police officers observed while two busloads of hired laborers used sledgehammers and crowbars to systematically dismantle the homes. Later, industrial mechanical diggers reduced what remained of the structures to rubble.

Today’s attack virtually mirrored the government’s bulldozing of fourteen homes belonging to members of the Hindu minority group last winter. Both demolitions are part of what human rights advocates have characterized as blatant religious persecution.

“The authorities are showing that they will do what they want, despite the international outrage at the earlier demolitions,” human rights activist Yevgeny Zhovtis told Forum 18. According to Zhovtis, none of the other home owners in the village – many of whom have identical legal status as the Hindus – have had their homes destroyed. “Clearly they are attacking only the Hare Krishnas,” he said.

Despite their claims to the contrary, Kazakh officials appear fueled by religious intolerance. When Forum 18 asked Serik Niyazbekov, a senior religious affairs official, the basis for the government’s conflict with the Hindus, he responded by asking “Why did they choose to move here? They’re from India.”

Witnesses to the demolition described a grisly scene, with laborers breaking windows and tearing down walls even while residents – including several women and children – cried and pleaded for them to stop. Officials present ordered workers to continue the attack and to throw the homeowners’ possessions into the street.

“The houses were literally crushed into dust,” said shaken community spokesperson Maxim Varfolomeyev, who witnessed the horrific demolition.

Incredulously, today’s attack came a few days after an open letter from Aaron Rhodes, executive director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, chided the Kazakh government for “discriminatory attitudes towards the religious minority” and beseeched the Deputy Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan to “ensure that no demolition of their homes be carried out.”

“New demolitions would mean that dozens of members of the community are rendered homeless,” Mr. Rhodes warned in his prophetic letter, dated June
8. “This would make Kazakh authorities liable for violations of international human rights provisions that guarantee the right to housing and protection against forced evictions.”

Kazakhstan’s past persecution of Hindus also elicited condemnation from the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and even British Prime Minister Tony Blair. It was one reason Kazakhstan was refused in its bid to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2009. The latest attack, however, seems to indicate that local Kazakh officials are unfazed by a tarnished image. Human rights activist Yevgeny Zhovtis told Forum 18 that the local Hakim
(governor) “doesn’t care about the political damage to Kazakhstan’s reputation – or to its desire to chair the OSCE.”

In an ironic twist, a few hours before the demolition took place in Kazakhstan, at a Washington D.C. reception last night, representatives of the OSCE and human rights groups directly appealed to the Kazakh ambassador to protect the Hindu religious minority. Those appeals seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

For Hindu leader Govinda Swami, currently meeting with U.S. government agencies and human rights groups in Washington D.C., the need of the hour was to remind the Krishna devotees back in Kazakhstan to hold steadfast to their faith and take the moral highroad.

“What is being done is cruel and certainly not fair but we still have our lives,” he counseled them over the phone, “and our consciousness should certainly not become like that of the people who are doing this. We are witnessing a rude exhibition of material consciousness – never become like that. Pull together, even more than you did last November. Make sure the homeless devotees have shelter and try to gather together their belongings. And by this try to understand how special the power of community really is.”

For more information about the persecution of Hindus in Kazakhstan visit: www.KazakhKrishna.com

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