Published: 11:30 GMT Daylight Time - Tuesday 29 May 2012
Pastor fined for praying for sick man cleared on appeal in Kazakhstan
Country/Region: Kazakhstan, Central Asia
A pastor in Kazakhstan who was given a heavy fine after he prayed for the healing of a sick man who visited his church has been acquitted on appeal.
Yerzhan Ushanov, leader of New Life Protestant Church in Taraz, was found guilty on 5 September 2011 of “causing severe damage to health due to negligence”. He was ordered to pay a fine and court costs totalling 201,560 Tenge (£870; US$1,365), a huge sum in Kazakhstan.
The pastor appealed and, on 24 April, the Supreme Court acquitted him, stating that it had reached its verdict “due to the absence of elements of crime in his actions”.
The case against Pastor Ushanov had been initiated by the National Security Committee (KNB) secret police. A KNB officer said that they had received a complaint from the wife of Aleksandr Kireev, the man for whom the church leader had prayed.
The initial court session heard that he had used “methods of psycho-therapeutic and medico-psychological influence on people with non-medical goals, which could lead to harm to the psychological health of individuals who have taken part in the given seances".
It was claimed that Mr Kireev had suffered headaches and memory lapses, had become “unsure of himself”, and had lost eight kilogrammes in weight.
Psychiatrists who were asked by the KNB to examine Mr Kireev diagnosed that he was suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder and claimed that this was a direct result of attending Pastor Ushanov’s church.
The pastor strongly denied this and insisted that Mr Kireev “did not suffer at all” from his prayers. He said that the KNB had been closely scrutinising him and his church since at least 2009.
The case against Pastor Ushanov mirrored that of another Protestant church leader in the same region. Vissa Kim, pastor of Grace Light of Love Protestant Church, was fined in April 2010 for harming a woman's health by praying for her. The Supreme Court subsequently overturned his conviction and cancelled the fine.
Against the grain
The positive outcomes in these two cases go against the grain in Kazakhstan, where Christians have been coming under mounting pressure as a result of restrictive new laws that came into force in October 2011.
All religious groups were required to re-register with the state. Baptist churches, which refuse on principle to do this, have been subjected to frequent raids.
Individual Baptists are also being targeted. On 27 May, Vasily Stakhnev was fined 161,800 Tenge (£698; US$1,096) for distributing religious literature in a case that he said was “fabricated” by the police. It appears that Vasily’s neighbours were pressured to write false testimonies against him.