KAZAKHSTAN: Further Fines for Unregistered Baptists.

Lorna Howard, Keston News Service, 6 March 2002

In the latest in a series of restrictions placed on unregistered Baptist congregations in Kazakhstan, a married couple have been fined for the unregistered activity of their church, Keston News Service has learned. A 28 February statement from local Baptists, passed to Keston by the German-based Friedensstimme mission, reported that a court in the village of Georgievka, in the Zharma district of eastern Kazakhstan, ruled on 22 February that S.A. Nizhegorodtsev and his wife L.E. Nizhegorodtseva be each fined 823 tenge (almost 6 US dollars or 4 British pounds) - about one-tenth of the average monthly wage in Kazakhstan.

Neither Kazakhstan's constitution nor its current religion law require religious groups to register, but Article 375 of the administrative code allows the authorities to prosecute believers who refuse to register religious communities (see KNS 13 December 2001). If the controversial new religion law currently awaiting the president's signature is passed (see separate KNS article), it will allow unregistered groups to be banned.

Local Baptists also reported that in the nearby town of Leninogorsk, also in eastern Kazakhstan, Baptist leader V. Zinoviev was taken to court on 13 February and given two weeks to register the church or cease holding services. On 16 February, while Zinoviev was away, police officers Yu. Momont and M. Aliev came to the church and asked one of the members, Aleksei Mamontov, to tell them who was in charge. They took him to the police station and tried unsuccessfully to force him to sign a document before declaring that they would prevent the believers from holding services from now on.

In the town of Aktobe in north-western Kazakhstan, the town authorities have renewed their case against Pastor Vasili Kliver under Article 375 Part 1 of the administrative code (see KNS 12 November 2001). Although a police check on 16 January showed that during the morning prayer service there was no activity "disruptive to society" ("narushenie obshchestvennogo poryadka" in Russian), the town procurator S. Shotov visited another service on 6 February, and when the Baptists declined to register their community, he produced previously-prepared notification of the case against Pastor Kliver. Kliver refused to sign it and was taken to the police station where a report was made, after which he was released.

In the village of Bolshenarymskoye in the Katon-Karagai district of eastern Kazakhstan, Radjan Baijigimov was fined one monthly financial unit - a statistical figure linked to the average salary - on 30 January by the regional court under the provisions of Article 524 of the administrative code for failing to abide by a 24 September ruling that he register the Baptist church or cease its activity for 6 months.

In western Kazakhstan, a leader of the church in the town of Uralsk, E. Dyachenko was fined 775 tenge on 12 December for failure to register the church. This is the latest move against Dyachenko in a case which has been running since June 2001. A similar case in the town of Ayaguz in eastern Kazakhstan led eventually to church leader Pavel Leonov being convicted under the criminal code on 6 December and fined 25 monthly financial units (see KNS 13 December 2001).

All these congregations belong to the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, which believes that registration with the authorities is a sin. "The Head of the Church is Jesus Christ. Registration of the church leads to compromise with the world, against the teaching of Christ," Dyachenko told representatives of the local procurator's office on 10 November 2001, the local Baptists' statement reported.

"Peaceful religious communities should not be hindered by administrative provisions in practising their religion," Birgit Kainz of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Centre in Almaty told Keston on 6 March, when asked to comment on the fines.

Referring to current security concerns across Central Asia, she added: "All measures taken in order to prevent or combat terrorism have to be in line with international standards and human rights. Otherwise they might turn out to be counter-productive, breed intolerance and conflict. Freedom of belief and security are not mutually exclusive, but complement each other. The Centre is closely following the developments in the field of religious freedom." (END)