The upper house of Kazakhstan's parliament has approved tough new legislation on religious activity. Supporters of the measure say it will help combat the growing threat of religious extremism, while opponents call it a blow to religious freedom.
The measure is expected to quickly be signed into law by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who proposed the legislation. The new law would ban prayer rooms in state institutions and would require existing minority religious organizations to dissolve and re-register with the government. Some 70 percent of Kazakhstan's population of 16.5 million is Muslim.
The law would also apply to unregistered Muslim groups. Kazakh authorities have been unsettled by Islamist-inspired violence in recent months. Authorities foiled a group of religious extremists plotting terrorist acts across the Central Asian country.
In addition, last month, Kazakhstan blocked access to a number of foreign Internet sites, alleging that they contributed to terrorism and religious extremism.
The U.S.-based Freedom House watchdog group has called the provisions of the law “troubling,” saying they grossly curb Kazakh citizens' right to freely practice and express their faith.