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Repression in Kazakhstan belies president’s claims of religious freedom

Country/Region: Kazakhstan, Central Asia

Reports of raids on church services in Kazakhstan, restrictions on meetings and on sharing one’s faith, and censorship of religious literature contradict the president’s claim that the country has religious freedom.

Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, claims the country enjoys full religious freedom
Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, claims the country enjoys full religious freedom
CC BY-SA 3.0 / www.wpfdc.org

President Nursultan Nazarbayev claimed on 17 April that “Kazakhstan is an example to the world of equal rights and freedoms for all citizens” and that “religious freedom is fully secured” in the country. In contrast, a recent tightening of already stifling controls on religious groups has led human rights defenders and religious communities to conclude that religious free speech does not exist in Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan’s Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) has instructed people to report any individuals who speak about their faith with others in public to the police. Marat Azilkhanov, an ARA official, said:

It is not allowed simply to go and preach your religious ideas on the streets, stopping people and talking about your faith… This must be done [only] in approved places.

The ARA considers that talking about one’s faith with others constitutes missionary activity, which requires personal registration.

The proposed new penal code, due to reach parliament later this year, is set to introduce a maximum penalty of four months’ imprisonment for people convicted of sharing their faith. Currently, a person doing so can be fined up to the equivalent of almost two months’ average wages.

Services raided and literature censored

Christians who meet in private are also at risk of prosecution. Seven mostly elderly Christians received fines on 18-19 April after an Easter Sunday service held in a private home in Zhaskent, East Kazakhstan, was raided by police. Galina Gileva, a 73-year-old church member, subsequently suffered a heart attack that she attributes to the stress of the raid and the six-hour interrogation to which the church members were later subjected.

In a letter in which she recounted the incident, Galina said that the police “have decided to use fear to separate us from God, something they can never achieve – they cannot ban me from my Christian faith”.

A 15 year-old girl who was also present at the raid was later visited at her home by a police officer who pressured her not to attend services again.

Aleksandr Balaev (66), who was regarded as the leader of the small congregation, was fined the equivalent of six months’ worth of his pension for “leadership of an unregistered or banned social or religious organisation”. He and the other believers were also initially accused of storing illegal drugs, and were threatened with 24 hours’ imprisonment when they refused to sign a statement that referred to this activity.

A Baptist church in Oskemen was also raided on 20 March. The pastor of the church was fined the same amount as Aleksandr, despite insisting that that he had not caused any harm to the state, to society or to individuals. His church refuses to seek official registration on principle.

These penalties follow those meted out in early April to seven Christians, including two elderly women, for participating in an unregistered religious meeting in Ayagoz.

Restrictions on who can lead or address religious meetings are also used to crack down even on state-registered churches. Another Easter Sunday service, this time at a church in Stepnogorsk in Akmola region, was also raided and the visiting pastor told he should have sought local state permission to preach.

Compulsory prior censorship of all printed and imported religious literature is another way in which the state controls Christian activity. Confiscation of religious books appears to be increasing, with Christians amongst those most likely to be targeted. Kazakhstan’s National Library in Almaty recently had all its religious books checked by the government, although no further action was taken.

A court recently ordered the destruction of 121 pieces of Christian literature, including Bibles, but its decision was overturned by an appeal court following widespread outrage. This was the second instance of such a decision being overturned.

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  • On this Good Friday, give thanks to God for the death of Christ and for His gift of eternal life. Praise Him too for the example of those Christians who have persevered in their faith at the risk of their lives and who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. Pray that their martyrdom will inspire their suffering brothers and sisters in Christ to endure whatever hardships befall them and will convince their persecutors of the truth and power of the Gospel. Pray too that their bereaved families and churches will not grieve without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed 20 hours ago

  • Cry out to the Lord for Christians in the Central African Republic (CAR) who have been driven from their homes by the violence that has engulfed their country. Attacks by Islamist Séléka militants and retaliation from “anti-balaka” militias has generated a huge humanitarian crisis in which around two million people, many of them Christians, are in need of emergency assistance. Give thanks for the work of Barnabas partners who have been providing food rations to hundreds of displaced believers in the capital, Bangui, and distributing food, medicines, clothing and seeds to thousands in various regions. Pray that the aid will reach those who need it most, and that the Lord will comfort the relatives and friends of the thousands who have been killed in the fighting. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Thu, Apr 2014 00:00

  • “Jesus Christ performed tremendous miracles in all our lives through this Shalom Camp.” A pastor spoke of how God had worked through a Barnabas-sponsored weekend Bible camp for persecuted Christians in Sri Lanka. The camp was attended by believers from five different churches that had been the target of threats or attacks by Buddhist or Hindu extremists. The participants heard teaching on the Biblical basis for persecution and took part in group discussions; they came away refreshed and encouraged, and for many the camp was a time of great spiritual renewal. Give thanks to the Lord for the peace He has brought to these persecuted believers, and ask that the weekend will continue to bear much fruit in their lives. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Wed, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Pray for a church leader in Sri Lanka, S.S. Johnpillai, who was threatened at gunpoint by attackers who claimed to be Special Forces officers. The minister was in a hut next to his church building in Guadalupe, Trincomolee when, he said, the men “appeared out of nowhere”. The intruders put a gun to Johnpillai’s head and accused him of holding a Communion service in honour of the founder of the Tamil Tigers, the government’s opponents in the country’s long and bloody civil war. The government had that day made it a criminal offence to commemorate the group. The gunmen ignored Johnpillai’s protests that he had not dedicated Communion to the group’s founder, and they threatened to shoot him. Ask the Lord to support and strengthen Johnpillai as he recovers from this terrifying ordeal. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Tue, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Lift up to the Lord persecuted Christians in Sri Lanka, where at least 65 anti-Christian incidents took place during 2013, including repeat attacks on several believers and their property in October 2013. However, a Sri Lankan government minister from a Buddhist nationalist party denied the accounts, saying that they might be “made up”. The minister claimed that Sri Lankans are “one family … trying to live together after a long civil war”. Pray that the Sri Lankan government will recognise the danger that our brothers and sisters face from militant Buddhists and that the authorities will provide effective protection for vulnerable Christians. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Mon, Apr 2014 00:00

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