Kazakhstan is a member state of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

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Constitution and government

The constitution and other laws and policies protect freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as freedom of opinion and expression. However, other laws and policies restrict freedom of belief, and, in practice, the government generally enforces these restrictions. Freedom of expression is limited by government control of much of the media and harassment of journalists and bloggers who criticize the government.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

The government severely limits freedom of expression. Major broadcast media, especially national television networks, are at least partly owned by the state or by members or associates of the president’s family. The same is true for major newspapers. The independent media that does survive is heavily regulated, and frequently censored and harassed.

A 2009 law classified websites as mass media outlets, giving the authorities more powers to arbitrarily shut them down under vaguely worded extremism statutes or in the interests of state security. Since the introduction of this law, dozens of websites have been closed every year.

Don’t hurt religious feelings

Freedom of speech on religious issues is limited by Criminal Code Article 164, Part 1, in terms that are unclear and wide-ranging: Article 164 criminalises, “Deliberate actions aimed at the incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious enmity or antagonism, or at offence to the national honour and dignity, or religious feelings of citizens, as well as propaganda of exclusiveness, superiority, or inferiority of citizens based on their attitude towards religion, or their genetic or racial belonging, if these acts are committed publicly or with the use of the mass information media.” Punishments for violating Article 164 range from a fine to imprisonment of up to seven years and have been used in practice to prosecute the non-religious ostensibly for “religious hatred” (see below).

Highlighted cases

On March 14, 2013, atheist writer and anti-corruption campaigner Aleksandr Kharlamov was arrested for “inciting religious hatred”. The indictment against him claimed that Kharlamov “in his articles on newspapers and the internet put his personal opinions above the opinions and faith of the majority of the public and thus incited religious animosity”. Kharlamov states that “the principle of freedom of conscience has been violated. “I have the right to believe, and I have the right not to believe. They’re making me believe, show respect toward religion, respect God. What is this, a theocratic state? No. So [it is] violating my rights.”

In a step reminiscent of Soviet-era abuses of the psychiatric system, Kharlamov was confined to a psychiatric hospital for “psychiatric evaluation” of his opinions and writings on religion. Kharlamov reportedly lost 20 kgs during just the first three months of his incarceration. He was detained for five months including one month of forced psychiatric examination. He has since been released on bail, Kharlamov himself believes due to international pressure on the Kazakhstani government, but still faces up to seven years in prison if convicted.


“In modern Kazakhstan, under the current political and legal regime, there is no true freedom of religion, and the situation is getting worse and worse. It is evident that most Kazakh authorities support the religion of Islam and persecute non-Muslims, including atheists. However, religious Islamists create organized crime and extremist militias, religious Kazakhstans commit crimes, and participate in armed religious conflict, like in Syria. Fanatics from the religion of Islam believe that their religion is the one true one and should become the only religion on the planet.”
— Aleksandr Kharlamov