Entries in Kazakhstan (7)


Kazakhstan: An Absurd Travesty of Injustice in Yklas Kabduakasov’s case

Verdict, p. 10
*This phrase translates as follows: "We cannot be traitors to Islam in any way."
Yklas was eventually sentenced to two years in a prison camp for uttering this phrase during a Sunday sermon for Evangelical Christian Baptists. I find it difficult to call this anything less than an absurd travesty of injustice.

In the fight against religious extremism and hatred, the state should always respect the freedom of religion and belief, which is an inalienable, boundless, and universal right. According to Paragraph 2, Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the human rights that cannot be altered or suspended, even in a state of emergency, are the rights to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, which are on par with the right to life.

Unfortunately, in modern-day Kazakhstan, we are seeing many disturbing trends in religious policy. As an illustration, I would like to present the case of Yklas Kabduakasov, the first Christian in Kazakhstan to be convicted and sentenced to a real prison term for his faith. (It should be noted that he is not the first Christian in the nation to be convicted for his faith. There have been many others, such as Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev, who was arrested under fabricated charges in May 2013, but his prison sentence was eventually suspended.)

In August 2015, Yklas Kabduakasov, who converted from Islam to Christianity, was arrested and subsequently charged under Article 174 of the Criminal Code. In the indictment, he was accused of misinterpreting the Sacred Books, the Koran and the Bible, and spreading religious discord among indigenous Muslim people. Yklas’s arrest is particularly disturbing, because Kazakhstan’s constitution guarantees the freedom of belief.

It appears that this nation is breaking its own religion laws, which brings up several questions. On what basis could investigators and experts in Kazakhstan, a secular country, expect to correctly evaluate Yklas’ religious convictions and actions? Why did Kazakh police officers ask him provocative questions about his faith when they already knew about his Christian convictions? Why did experts without any philological, theological, or religious education conduct a philological analysis of faith and religion? In addition to these disconcerting facts, after the first day of Yklas’ trial, the media publicized a report based on false information, in which they accused him of calling for war against Islam. Many subsequent articles containing false information about the trial were also published.

Below is an excerpt from the trial’s verdict, where you can clearly see the absurdity of Yklas’ sentence.

The Court has reliably determined that the convicted defendant, before the meeting with the witnesses, was actively engaged in propagandistic activities in a community of indigenous natives aimed at disseminating the teachings of the Christian religion, and the establishment of its superiority and the inferiority of the Islamic religion.

In this regard, the Court rightly took as the basis for the sentence the above testimony of witnesses who unswervingly and consistently over the pre-trial investigation and the court hearing insisted that Kabduakasov publicly distributed religious ideology aimed at inciting religious hatred.

Their statements are consistent with the case materials produced in the trial.

Thus, from the videos viewed in the courts of first and appellate instances, it follows that in Kabduakasov's statements, we can trace elements of a negative attitude towards Islam, and the superiority of the Christian religion.

For example, in an episode dated 10/04/2014, despite the fact that Kabduakasov was in the audience while Deacon K. Dyakonov was conducting divine service among the parishioners, Kabduakasov expresses his opinion about Islam in the following phrase: "Бiз саткын Ислам бела алмаймыз никак”*, which testifies to his negative attitude towards Islam and his imposition of his beliefs on the indigenous.

Verdict, p. 10

*This phrase translates as follows: "We cannot be traitors to Islam in any way."

Yklas was eventually sentenced to two years in a prison camp for uttering this phrase during a Sunday sermon for Evangelical Christian Baptists. I find it difficult to call this anything less than an absurd travesty of injustice.

The case against Yklas Kabduakasov shows that Christians in Kazakhstan are in no better position than during the Soviet era, when Christians were imprisoned for their faith, as this is still happening today.


KAZAKHSTAN: Two-month secret police detention – prosecution to follow?

Kazakhstan's KNB secret police arrested Seventh-day Adventist Yklas Kabduakasov on the evening of 14 August after searching his home in the capital Astana and confiscating religious books. Also searched the same day was the Adventist church where he worships. On 15 August an Astana court ordered he be held in two-month pre-trial detention at the secret police Investigation Prison, the court chancellery told Forum 18 News Service. Kabduakasov is challenging this detention at a hearing tomorrow morning (21 August), his lawyer Gulmira Shaldykova told Forum 18. The secret police claim he was spreading "religious discord" when discussing his faith with and offering Christian books to others. Secret police Investigator Diyar Idrishov refused to discuss Kabduakasov's case. "I was merely a witness to his arrest and am not involved in the investigation," he told Forum 18. He said Investigator Nurlan was leading the criminal case (with a possible five to ten year prison sentence), but the man who answered his phone repeatedly hung up when Forum 18 asked about the case.

Seventh-day Adventist Yklas Kabduakasov is to challenge a court decision to imprison him for two months' pre-trial detention, his lawyer Gulmira Shaldykova told Forum 18 News Service from Kazakhstan's capital Astana on 20 August. The challenge is due to be heard tomorrow morning (21 August) at Astana City Court. The 54-year-old Kabduakasov was arrested by the National Security Committee (KNB) secret police on the evening of 14 August and is being held at their Investigation Prison in the city. They claim he was spreading "religious discord" when discussing his faith with and offering Christian books to others.

Judge Nabi Pazylov of Astana's Saryarka District Court No. 2 ordered Kabduakasov's two-month pre-trial detention at a hearing on Saturday 15 August, the court chancellery told Forum 18 on 20 August. "We consider such detention cases even on a Saturday or a Sunday," the official – who did not give his name - said. "It makes no difference what day it is." He said the detention suit had been brought by the KNB secret police investigator. The lawyer Shaldykova represented Kabduakasov at the hearing.

Kabduakasov's arrest was mentioned at the weekly service of his Adventist congregation in Astana on Saturday 15 August, a congregation member told Forum 18.


Kabduakasov, who works for an Astana-based building company Stroiinvest, was stopped by the traffic police in Astana on 14 August and taken back to his home in the city, those close to him told Forum 18 from Astana on 18 August. Once there, KNB secret police officers searched his home and confiscated several Christian books. At about 6 pm, at the end of the search, the KNB officers arrested him.

At least some family members learnt of Kabduakasov's arrest only in the early hours of 15 August. Later on 15 August, the KNB secret police Investigator summoned relatives to bring Kabduakasov something to eat in prison.

The church in Astana that Kabduakasov attends was also searched on 14 August, Forum 18 understands.


KAZAKHSTAN: Jailings under Administrative Code continue as new Codes signed

On 8 July, Judge Aslambek Koshenov of Petropavlovsk Specialised Administrative Court imposed a five-day prison term on local Baptist Nizamov under Administrative Code Article 524. This punishes "failure to carry out court decisions" with a fine or imprisonment of between five and ten days. The 8 July verdict, seen by Forum 18, claims that imprisonment was necessary, pointing to "the influence of the appointed punishment on the correction of the offender" as well as "warning against conducting further offences, both by the offender and others".

"During the hearing, our brother explained that he had not fulfilled the earlier court decision because he doesn't consider himself guilty," local Baptists told Forum 18 on 9 July, calling the punishment "unjust".

Nizamov is a member of a Petropavl [Petropavlovsk] Baptist Council of Churches congregation in North Kazakhstan Region. These Baptists refuse on principle to register their congregations with the state, and are frequent targets of administrative punishment for continuing to meet for worship and share their faith without state permission. He was imprisoned for refusing to pay a fine of 92,600 Tenge, 50 Monthly Financial Indicators (MFIs) handed down by the same court on 13 February. This is about 3,000 Norwegian Kroner, 375 Euros, or 500 US Dollars, which is equivalent to about one month's average salary for those in work.

His "offence" was to attend a Sunday morning meeting for worship on 26 January raided by the police. The fine was imposed under Administrative Code Article 374-1, Part 2 ("Participation in the activity of an unregistered, halted, or banned religious community or social organisation") (see F18News 13 March 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1937).

Appeal against fine rejected, bailiff initiates action

On 11 March, Judge Abai Ryskaliyev of North Kazakhstan Regional Court rejected Nizamov's appeal against the fine, according to the decision seen by Forum 18.

After Nizamov failed to pay the fine, court bailiff Raushan Ablayeva launched moves against him to recover the money on 14 April, according to case materials seen by Forum 18. On 18 April, she issued an order banning him from disposing of any of his property. On 2 June, she issued a "temporary ban" on Nizamov leaving Kazakhstan and ordering the case to be handed to court.

One summons by bailiff Ablayeva ordering Nizamov to present himself on 18 June was headed "APPEAR IMMEDIATELY!!!!" It warned him that he would be banned from leaving Kazakhstan and have his property seized if he failed to pay. Such exit bans are routinely imposed. As human rights defender Yevgeni Zhovtis of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law has noted, this "double punishment" is not governed by any law (see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1939).

"What else should I do?"

Bailiff Ablayeva acknowledged that Nizamov had only been punished for attending a religious meeting, but insisted that it is not her role to assess the validity of court decisions. "I acted in accordance with the law," she insisted to Forum 18 on 10 July. "What else should I do?" She also defended the five-day prison term handed down. "I was there in court participating in the hearing."

Judge Koshenov's assistant refused to put Forum 18 through to him on 10 July. "We don't have the right to do so." But she defended the five-day prison term Koshenov had handed down on Nizamov. "He failed to fulfil a court order."


Trip report for Kazakh goverment

Russian Ministries’ representative Wade Kusack and other members of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable (Washington, D.C.) delegation to Kazakhstan have sent their trip report to the Kazakh government.  The report contains practical recommendations designed to help the nation improve its law on religion, increase security nationwide, and begin to rehabilitate its image in the West.

As a reminder, a five-member delegation from the roundtable visited Kazakhstan on 1-6 December 2013 at the invitation of the Kazakh ambassador to the United States.  The purpose of their trip was to continue dialogue with the Kazakh government regarding the state of religious freedom in the nation.

This dialogue began at a breakfast on 8 May 2013 at the Kazakh Embassy in Washington, D.C., which was hosted by the ambassador and attended by officials from the Agency for Religious Affairs (ARA), and 15 representatives from the roundtable.  After hearing their views regarding the 2011 law on religion, the ambassador encouraged these participants to visit Kazakhstan and increase their understanding of this complex and important issue by talking with Kazakh government officials and grassroots leaders.

In addition to meeting with Kazakh officials, members of the delegation met freely with anyone they chose in Astana and Almaty, where they participated as observers in an international conference on religion, security and citizenship.

Russian Ministries also organized a seminar on religious freedom in one of the evangelical churches in Astana. Wade Kusack highlighted the importance of prayer for those in prison, and he emphasized the importance of aiding those in need because of religious persecution. Russian Ministries’ involvement in the development of religious freedom in Kazakhstan is not only theoretical, but also very practical. During his visit, Wade advocated for imprisoned pastor Bakhtzhan Kashkumbaev and also assisted the pastor’s relatives.

Russian Ministries continues its relations with evangelical churches and engages in dialogue with the government of Kazakhstan. “Our approach to helping our brothers and sisters in Kazakhstan is very strategic,” said Wade. “We are not only helping the persecuted families, which is very important, but we are also training the Next Generation of Christian leaders how to serve Christ most effectively in their own communities, how to connect with the international community of religious freedom advocates, and how to maintain a sober dialogue with their own governments. We should not forget that promoting and procuring religious freedom lays an important foundation for national stability and security, and increases the capability of sharing the gospel.”

You can find report here


Kazakhstan: A pastor has been thrown behind bars. Christian organizations are being searched.

Bakhytzhan Kashkumbaev, the pastor of the Blagodat (Grace) Church in the city of Astana, Kazakhstan, has been charged with exerting a “psychological influence” on his congregation and using a “hallucinogenic drink” during Communion, as well as inflicting “serious damage on the health of his parishioners.” Pastor Kashkumbaev was placed under arrest, and languishes behind bars regardless of the fact that his “victim,” Liazzat Almenova, has submitted a statement to the police to the effect that the pastor did nothing to damage her health.

            The "hallucinogenic drink" turned out to be red tea from local suppliers, used for the non-alcoholic Communion, and, according to the investigators, the “psychological influence” was caused by prayers and chants. These events are taking place against the backdrop of changes in Kazakh law which were made in 2011 in regard to religious organizations. President Nazarbayev signed the law "On Religious Activities and Religious Associations" (the Religion Law) and the law “On Amendments and Addenda to Some Legislative Acts on Issues of Religious Activities and Religious Organizations” (the Administrative Law), thus widening the range of sanctions for violations of the Religion Law.

Certain provisions of the Religion Law raise significant concerns as they appear to limit the rights of certain individuals to practice their religion; to be inconsistent with Kazakhstan’s Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion; to be inconsistent with UN and OSCE human rights instruments to which Kazakhstan has committed; and to contravene the religious freedom principles enumerated in the Preamble to the Religion Law.

Government authorities have been aggressively enforcing the new Religion Law since the President signed it. Kazakhstan's senior state religious affairs official, Kairat Lama Sharif, has described the fall in the number of registered religious communities as a "positive dynamic" after 579 small religious groups (with fewer than 50 adult citizen members) were stripped of registration and deprived of their right to legally exist. And as newly de-registered groups, they have been warned by government officials to stop all activity or risk administrative and even criminal sanctions.

Targets have included Evangelicals, Baptists, Presbyterians, Seventh-day Adventists, Methodists, independent Muslim mosques, Ahmadi Muslims, Scientologists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hare Krishnas and Unificationists. Even Catholics have expressed concerns and experienced early difficulties for foreign priests and nuns, and the Jewish community fears that no foreign rabbi will volunteer to work in Kazakhstan because of new visa regulations that appear to be part of a government policy to increasingly isolate religious communities from believers outside of the country.

Let’s, however, go back to the arrested pastor, Reverend Kashkumbaev.  Someone had to go back to the mid-1970s, back to the dusty tomes used by KGB graduates, to come up with allegations of “psychological influence”, and to what end? Why did the repressions, in the light of the new law, start with Pastor Bakhytzhan? After all, there are numerous Protestant denominations in Kazakhstan which operate in relatively peaceful co-existence, and some of these have even been allowed to renew their registration.

To elucidate these issues, I turned to members of the Blagodat congregation, including the Pastor’s closest friends, and also attempted to analyze the official statements on the case. Note that all of the officials involved in this case rejected my requests for interviews

“We all understand which way the wind blows,” said one of the church members. “80% of the congregation is Kazakh, many have converted from Islam. The Pastor himself is Kazakh and was also formerly Muslim. In Kazakhstan, the thinking is – if you are Kazakh, that means you are Muslim. But if you are Kazakh and Christian, that means something is wrong.”

Many people are convinced that the Pastor is being punished for his open sermons on the Gospels, and this punishment is initiated by excessively zealous representatives of the security agencies on behalf of the Islamic status quo. “My impression is that they want to kill him,” says one woman, a member of the parish. “Bakhytzhan had a heart attack in 2010. He was taken to the hospital in critical condition, but survived, although not without an impact on his health. Now he's lying in a jail cell, but they won't let us provide him with warm clothes, or even his medications, despite the trauma he is experiencing as a result of this arrest.”

The case against the Blagodat Church is not the only sign that an era of repression has begun. Kazakh officials have engaged in widespread raids of private homes and places of worship. On Easter Sunday, a private residence was raided for hosting nine members of a small congregation of the New Life Pentecostal Church who were meeting for private worship. The raid was conducted by five police officers. Church members were summoned to the police station and interrogated for six hours. Fines were subsequently imposed on several of the members. Jehovah’s Witnesses have also been subjected to raids. Such raids do not appear to be rare occurrences. At least eight separate meetings for worship were raided by authorities in January 2013.

Many people from the Christian communities in Kazakhstan are convinced that bringing absurd charges against the Pastor and confining him to jail are not random events. This is an attempt to intimidate people, and can also be seen as a preventive measure primarily aimed at Kazakhs. It is a “trial balloon” before the start of large-scale repressions against unwanted religious organizations.

Bakhytzhan Kashkumbaev’s arrest is part of a system which is being created under the auspices of the government of Kazakhstan. This is demonstrated by the fact that the searches carried out in connection with the case are underway in Almaty, the business capital of Kazakhstan. As one of the employees of the IOPC Fund told me, the National Security Committee (based in Astana) searched the offices of the Fund in connection with the Blagodat Church. They wanted to confiscate the publications of “Dostoynie otvety”(“Worthy Answers”) that were translated into Russian and Kazakh. The books were not found in the office, but the Fund's documents were confiscated, as well as bookkeeping records and the acceptance-delivery receipts for some literature from 2006-2007 (The Blessed Path of GodMy First Bible, the Bible in the Uyghur language). During the search, they found other publications, and informed local authorities, who confiscated these after the NSC completed their search