KAZAKHSTAN: Baptist Arrested For Distributing Literature.

Olga Dosybiyeva and Igor Savin, Keston News Service, 15 February 2002

A Baptist from the town of Turkestan in Chimkent region of southern Kazakhstan, Tursunbai Auelbekov, was in the town's Kuanysh market distributing free copies of Kazakh-language religious literature from the Evangelical-Christian Baptist Church on 23 January when he was arrested by police, Keston News Service has learned. According to the law enforcement agencies, since the Baptist church is not registered at the justice department of the Turkestan administration, its followers do not have the right to carry out any activity in the town, which is 165 kms (100 miles) north-west of Chimkent, or the surrounding district.

Auelbekov's literature was confiscated and sent to Turkestan's public prosecutor's office the same day. The deputy public prosecutor of Turkestan, Maksat Kozhabayev, told Keston on 25 January that there was nothing anti-constitutional in the confiscated literature, but that Auelbekov's actions had directly infringed the country's laws: an organisation that had not been registered with the local justice agency had no right to carry out any kind of activity. He said that the public prosecutor's office had intended to prosecute Auelbekov under the laws of the city administration but had changed its mind on discovering that he was in poor health. Auelbekov had been released and the confiscated literature returned to him despite the fact that its distribution in Turkestan was forbidden until the Baptist church had been registered.

The senior pastor of the regional association of Evangelical-Christian Baptist churches in southern Kazakhstan, Nikolai Gavrilov, who spoke to Keston on 25 January, was firmly convinced that Auelbekov's case was a rude infringement by the authorities of believers' rights and Kazakhstan's current law. Additionally, he referred to Article 13 of the religion law which covers "Religious literature and items of religious significance". This states: "A religious association has the right to publish, promote, export, import and distribute items of religious significance, liturgical materials, literature and other sources of information with a religious content."

The Association of Evangelical-Christian Baptist churches is registered with the regional administration of justice. Nevertheless, Gavrilov said, Baptists across the region are coming up against infringements of their rights and the provisions of the religion law. For example, a copy of the Gospels had been confiscated from him in Chimkent. "That book is two thousand years old," said Gavrilov, "What's the point of checking its contents?" Article 23 of the aforementioned law states that officials and citizens who are guilty of infringing freedom of conscience should be held to account but, Gavrilov reported, up to now there has not been one instance where representatives of the authorities who have broken the law have answered for it.

The senior pastor told Keston that Baptists throughout Kazakhstan are in contact with each other, and it is only in the southern region that they encounter infringements of believers' rights on the part of the authorities. (END)