The chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom says Kazakhstan is no longer a leader in Central Asia on freedom of religion or belief.
Robert George, who heads the commission, said the upcoming trials against two activists for their religious freedom-related activities, as well as "the harsh application of highly restrictive laws that were adopted two years ago, have damaged Kazakhstan's international standing and resulted in many Kazakh citizens' religious freedoms being violated."
The cases highlighted by George involved 63-year-old atheist blogger Aleksandr Kharlamov and 66-year-old Bakhtzhan Kashkumbaev, who leads his Blagodat Baptish church in Astana.
Kharlamov has been detained for four months in a psychiatric hospital and remains jailed for allegedly "inciting religious hatred."
Kashkumbaev was arrested in May for allegedly "intentionally inflicting serious harm to health."