The Hare Krishna movement has found an unlikely ally in the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The American watchdog, which monitors violation of religious freedom across the world and makes recommendations to US president Barack Obama, has severely criticised curtailment of freedom of religious groups like Hare Krishna in Europe and Eurasia.
USCIRF commissioner Felice Gaer said groups like Hare Krishna face restrictions regarding attire and are termed as “sects”. He said they are also attacked by the state-controlled media in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. “Although the Hare Krishna movement is registered at the national and local levels in Kazakhstan, its leaders face continuous harassment, including the destruction of buildings,” the USCRIF annual report, which was released in May, said.
While speaking at the organisation for security and co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Warsaw review conference earlier this month, Gaer said religion laws of many countries still impose difficult registration requirements that deny many religious communities the opportunity to function. He spoke about private groups opposing the construction of mosques in certain parts of the US and hostile legal measures aimed at preventing people from wearing religious attire in Belgium and France.
“Some laws in the OSCE region place severe restrictions on domestic, foreign and even private religious education. Others ban children from participating in religious activities. Some impose restrictions on the publication, distribution and import of religious literature. Many such laws establish onerous legal penalties for unregistered religious activity or violation of these provisions,” Gaer said.
“Campaigns have been conducted by many OSCE states against religious groups viewed as non-traditional, foreign, or sects - affecting Baptists, Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Hare Krishna, among others,” Gaer said.
The USCRIF report claims some regions of Uzbekistan like Karakalpakstan and Khorezm are notorious for anti-religious campaigns. Hare Krishna and evangelical Protestant students are expelled from universities and the state has ordered the closure of almost all churches in these regions.
Religious literature from devotees is either burnt or confiscated by the police, the report said. The Belarusian government also continues to harass and fine Hare Krishnas for distributing religious literature, according to the report.
It further noted that although the Kazakh constitution bans discrimination on the basis of religion, government officials divide communities into those they tolerate - Jews, Catholics and Buddhists - from other groups they deem sects, including independent Muslims, Ahmadi Muslims, most Protestants, Hare Krishna devotees and Jehovah’s Witnesses.