Last Updated 4 December 2016

For 75 years under the Soviet system, the Kyrgyz Republic was officially an atheist state. Experiencing ethnic tensions, political and economic woes since independence, Krygyzstan is now a parliamentary republic, though still retains many hallmarks of Soviet Russification. The population of Kyrgyzstan was estimated of 5.72 million (2013). Over 80 per cent are counted as Sunni Muslims; 15 percent Christians, mostly Russian Orthodox; the remaining 5 percent covering a range of other beliefs. The country’s large ethnic Uzbek community (up to 40 percent of the population of southern Kyrgyzstan) mostly adheres to the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam.

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Constitution and government

Generally the constitution, laws and policies protect freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as freedom of opinion and expression.  Apostasy and blasphemy are not outlawed. However, the existing legal base is somewhat underdeveloped and certain laws conflict with others, placing unnecessary restrictions on rights to freedom of religion, expression, education and association. In practice the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is restricted.

The constitution guarantees separation of the state and religion. However, in practice, maintenance of state-religion separation has been eroded citing in the face of modern challenges like religious fundamentalism, extremism, and possible threats of religious terrorism.

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion or belief, as well as the establishment of religious political parties and the pursuit of political goals by religious groups. It also forbids the establishment of any religion as a state or mandatory religion. However, on 6 May 2006, a decree recognized Islam and Russian Orthodoxy as traditional religious groups.

The Law of the Kyrgyz Republic “On the general military duty of citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic, on military and alternative service” permits substitution of military service for alternative service for citizens who are members of a registered religious organisation and whose dogma forbids the use of weapons and military service. While the upholding of the right to conscientious objection is in accordance with human rights law, the opt-out applies exclusively to members of registered religious organisations.

At the same time, in accordance with the Law “On the Status of Servicemen” the state and its bodies are under no obligation to meet the needs of the servicemen arising from their religious beliefs.

In September 2014, the State Committee on Religious Affairs (SCRA) made an attempt to tighten specifically religious freedoms, with draft amendment to the religion law, to the effect that religious organisations could only carry out activities at their legal address. The proposal was rejected by the government.

Education and children’s rights

The Religion Law allows public schools to teach religion courses that the state deems “mainstream”, largely Russian Orthodox or Muslim Board texts, if such lessons do not otherwise conflict with the country’s laws; but the same provision is not made for other religion or belief minority groups. The Religion Law also prohibits individual religious education or instruction, such as one-on‐one learning, officially in order to prevent individual missionary activity and proselytism. The 2011 Amendments to the Law “On Freedom Of Conscience And Religious Organisation” prohibits “persistent actions aimed at converting believers of one religion to another” (proselytism) as well as any illegal missionary activity.

There are also restrictions to travelling abroad for members of religious organisations, including schools. Thus, educational institutions are allowed to send people abroad for studying or training exclusively on the basis of agreements signed with foreign educational institutions, and only with approval from the government agency for religious affairs.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedoms of speech and press are guaranteed in the Kyrgyz constitution and in the nation’s laws, but observance of those rights is inconsistent. In particular, the government routinely suppresses and harasses Russian language and Uzbek language media, while allowing far greater freedom for Kyrgyz language media.

The Religious law allows for intrusive state controls (including examination of production, acquisition, transport, transfer, storage and distribution) on religious literature deemed “non-traditional” (that is, mainly literature other than Muslim Board and Russian Orthodox texts) as well as on any other printed, audio and visual materials concerning freedom of belief, thought and expression in line with the state programs on countering religious extremism, separatism and fundamentalism. For example, in September 2012 the Dutch film “I am Gay and Muslim” was banned.

According to the 2008 Religious law, it is also forbidden to distribute literature, printed, audio or video materials of a religious nature in public places. The Law permits the storage and use of religious materials only in places designated in the law, such as places of worship, libraries of religious educational institutions etc. Accordingly, individual believers have no right to keep or use religious literature in their homes, contrary to the Constitution Of the Kyrgyz Republic (Article 33).

In practice this regulation to a larger extent was aimed at religious minority groups, and could be disregarded in regards to the so called “traditional” religions: Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Registration of religious organisations

Any religious organisations not registered with the State Agency for Religious Affairs (SARA), including schools, are considered to be illegal and could be subjected to criminal penalties.

At the same time, there exist several legal restrictions to registration. In order to register a religious organisation is obliged to provide full list of all potential members (minimum 200 persons), including their personal details and information (place of work, source of income, etc). An organisation has to prove it has created religious communities in nine regions of the Kyrgyz Republic prior to registration. This also contrary to the Article 4 of the current Law On Religion, which prohibits official registration of a person’s stance on religion or their affiliation with any religious group. It also means that in effect a religious group must operate unlawfully until it is large enough to register, a paradox which can be taken advantage of to selectively deny registration: in 2006 the Karakulja church was officially denied registration on the grounds that it operated for several years without official registration.

Kyrgyz religious authorities have refused to re-register the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, because of its alleged “threat to religious security” in the country, since it is controversial and does not comply with Sharia law. NSC secret police stated they were a “dangerous movement and against traditional Islam”.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim community continues to suffer from attacks on its members. Former Chief Mufti Zhalilov publicly demanded that people: “totally boycott Ahmadis and isolate them from society by: not marrying them; not allowing them to be buried in cemeteries; and not employing them”.

In 2011 the State Commission for Religious Affairs refused to extend registration to missionary work of Kang Hyun Min (Kang Hyongmin), the pastor of Evangelical Christian Church “Grace”.

In 2012 religious community “Tenirchilik”, which represents local paganism, was also rejected in registration. The community was accused in criticising and insulting Islam. Moreover, it was stated that adepts of the religion lack tolerance, and demonstrate aggression and humiliation of other religions.

The state also sometimes voids previously registered religious organisations. In 2016 the court revoked registration of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community in four cities, officially on the basis that its activities may destabilise the local community.

Unregistered religious organisations and their members are frequently subjected to assaults and raids. In spring, 2012 in an urban type settlement Toktogul, Jalal-Abad region local residents attacked a building belonging to the Jehovah’s Witnesses community.

Religious control

The state has tightened religious freedom by increasing control over the semi-autonomous Muslim Board. The Muslim Board was instructed to select the Mufti, imams, regional imams, religious judges, and Council of Ulema members only from the Hanafi school of Islam officially deemed “traditional” for Kyrgyzstan’s Muslims.

On February 15, 2007, independently operated Channel 5 TV broadcast a program that portrayed the Church of Jesus Christ as being possibly associated with devil worship. The pastor provided a rebuttal to the program, but producers never aired it. Channel 5 producers aired opinions in support of the program’s message presented by representatives of the “traditional religious groups” (Islam and Russian Orthodoxy).

Persecution of the religious

On August 6, 2006, the special forces of the National Security Service (SNB) shot and killed three persons, including Mukhammadrafiq Kamalov, imam of the largest mosque in Kara-Suu. Immediately following the incident, government officials stated that the three were affiliated with the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and were killed in the course of an antiterrorism operation. Kamalov’s family and observers, including the ombudsman for human rights, denied security officials’ allegations about the possible involvement of the imam in religious extremist groups.

In November 2015, a provincial court in Osh doubled the five-year prison term for “inciting religious hatred” previously imposed on  the son of  Mukhammadrafiq Kamalov Rashot Kamalov, who is also a popular ethnic Uzbek imam, Rashot Kamalov accused local police of extracting numerous bribes <United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Annual Report 2015 (USCIRF)>. Rashot Kamalov was briefly detained in early 2011, but under pressure from his Kara-Suu supporters he was released. <> On 22 December 2015 Yunusjan Abdujalilov, an Ahmadi Muslim, was murdered in front of his home in the village of Kashkar Kyshtak in Osh Region.

In October 2015, two Jehovah’s Witnesses, Nadezhda Sergienko and Oksana Koriakina were freed from 31 months of house arrest on charges of alleged witchcraft in apparent reprisal for their community’s registration application. In February 2016, however, the Supreme Court returned their case to Osh for a new trial <>

Members of local communities, mainly in rural areas, often do not allow persons of non‐Islamic faith to be buried in the family cemetery, even if the deceased was indigenous to the area.’ In general, negative images of non-Muslim clergy is often created and disseminated by the local media, sometimes their lives could be threatened.


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