KAZAKHSTAN: "State prosecutor wants Yklas to serve 7 years in prison!"

State Prosecutor Asylzhan Gabdykaparov is seeking to have Protestant Christian Yklas Kabduakasov's punishment of seven years' restricted freedom turned into an actual seven-year prison sentence, Seventh-day Adventist Pastor Andrei Teteryuk told Forum 18 News Service.

The Prosecutor's protest – and Kabduakasov's appeal to have the sentence quashed – are due to be heard on 22 December at Astana City Court. The November verdict ordered that nine Christian books seized by the secret police in the case should be destroyed. "It is barbarism to destroy books," human rights defender Yevgeni Zhovtis told Forum 18. An Astana-based court bailiff - who has witnessed the destruction of religious books - explained to Forum 18 that bailiffs throw books ordered destroyed – including religious books – into the rubbish bin. "They are normally disposed off at a general rubbish dump outside the city."

The City Court in Kazakhstan's capital Astana is due to hear the appeal in the case of Protestant Christian Yklas Kabduakasov in the morning of 22 December, according to case documents seen by Forum 18 News Service. Judge Gulnara Mergenova is due to preside. Both the state prosecutor and Kabduakasov himself have appealed against the sentence of seven years' restricted freedom handed down on 9 November to punish him for talking to others of his faith. "The state prosecutor wants Yklas to serve the seven years in prison!" Astana Seventh-day Adventist Pastor Andrei Teteryuk told Forum 18 on 4 December.

Despite repeated calls, Forum 18 was unable to reach state prosecutor Asylzhan Gabdykaparov to find out why he is seeking to have Kabduakasov imprisoned. His colleagues either told Forum 18 he was out of the office or his telephone went unanswered between 2 and 8 December.

Although Gabdykaparov led the prosecution case in court, the National Security Committee (KNB) secret police spent more than a year preparing the prosecution.

The written verdict sentencing Kabduakasov orders that nine religious books seized in raids on his home and other locations – among other items - should be destroyed (see below).

The court order to destroy yet more religious books comes as Jehovah's Witnesses have failed to overturn in court repeated religious censorship on the import of their publications. Courts confined themselves to technical points, refusing to consider whether the Culture and Sport Ministry's Religious Affairs Committee had been right to ban specific Jehovah's Witness publications or not (see below).

Fines continue on individuals who offer religious literature outside the limited spaces enshrined in law where it is allowed to be distributed (see below).

"It is barbarism to destroy books"

Yevgeni Zhovtis of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law condemned the court order to destroy books seized from Kabduakasov and others in the case. "It is barbarism to destroy books," he told Forum 18 on 3 December. "And it makes the authorities in Kazakhstan - who position themselves as modernising the country - look from the cultural point of view like the Taliban or ISIS."

Zhovtis noted that he had similarly objected over the court-ordered destruction of 121 religious books, mainly Bibles, in Akmola Region in March 2013. After an outcry, that decision was then overturned (see F18News 10 April 2013

In May 2013, four books confiscated from a bookseller in East Kazakhstan Region – including two with prayers to Russian Orthodox saints Serafim of Sarov and Sergius of Radonezh – were ordered destroyed when the bookseller was fined. If it was carried out, this would have been the first known time that a court-ordered religious book destruction was carried out in Kazakhstan. Other religious literature destruction orders followed (see F18News 15 November 2013

"We will fulfil court orders to destroy books"

An Astana-based court bailiff – whose role falls under the jurisdiction of the Justice Ministry – explained to Forum 18 in late November 2015 how he and his colleagues destroy items as ordered in court decisions. Asked if this includes the destruction of books, the bailiff responded: "Whatever the court orders, we will do it - we will fulfil court orders to destroy books."

The bailiff noted that courts often order the destruction of seized alcohol and books. Asked what bailiffs do to destroy books, including religious books, the bailiff responded: "Generally we throw them into the bin. They are normally disposed off at a general rubbish dump outside the city." By contrast, bailiffs hand confiscated weapons or gold to the police.

Asked if the bailiff had personally destroyed religious books, the bailiff responded: "There are cases of destruction of religious books, though not so many. I haven't done it, but I've seen others do it, of course." The bailiff said they had not come across cases where other bailiffs had refused to destroy religious books on grounds of conscience.

Judge orders religious book destruction

The KNB secret police had been tracking Adventist Kabduakasov for a year as he spoke to others about his faith. The KNB appear to have rented the flat to which four students invited him for religious discussions, appear to have organised the secret filming of the meetings with at least two hidden cameras, and prepared the prosecution case.

The KNB secret police finally arrested Kabduakasov in Astana on 14 August, accused of violating Criminal Code Article 174, Part 2. This punishes "incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious discord" by repeat "offenders" with prison terms of between five and ten years. On 9 November at the end of his trial, Kabduakasov was sentenced to seven years' restricted freedom under Article 174, Part 1 (see F18News 9 November 2015

Judge Akmaral Isayeva's written court decision – handed down some days after the verdict was pronounced in court and seen by Forum 18 – orders Kabduakasov to pay 149,742.52 Tenge (17,000 Norwegian Kroner, 1,800 Euros or 2,000 US Dollars) in procedural costs.

The verdict also reveals that nine religious books held by Astana KNB after they seized them in August are to be destroyed. Also ordered destroyed were audio and video cassettes, CDs and computer technology, including computers and a video camera. The KNB secret police had seized the items from Kabduakasov's home, place of work and car, and other addresses.

Forum 18 was unable to reach Judge Isayeva to find out why she had ordered the religious books destroyed. On 24 November her assistant said he could not comment on her behalf. On all other occasions, the Judge's telephone went unanswered.

"We consider the destruction order absurd"

The books Judge Isayeva ordered destroyed were "Worthy Answers" (2 copies) and "Central Asia, Kazakhstan and the History of Christianity" in Kazakh, as well as "Worthy Answers", "The Call for the Great Commission" (2 copies), "Relatives, live in abundance!" and "Share your Faith with Muslims" (2 copies) in Russian.

None of these books is among the 661 items on the General Prosecutor's Office list of banned religious literature published on its website. (Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" is among the "religious" books listed as "extremist" and banned.)

"We consider the destruction order absurd," Adventist Pastor Teteryuk complained to Forum 18. "The books and other items don't belong to Yklas but to the Church and other Church members! We don't understand why they're preparing to destroy them."

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