KAZAKHSTAN: Baptists' Home and Washing-Machine Confiscated.

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 12 June 2002

A Baptist family has been denied access to its home and a local Baptist congregation, which used to use their home for services, has been deprived of its regular meeting place as the Kazakh authorities continue their crackdown on unregistered religious communities, Keston News Service has learnt from local Baptists. The Nizhegorodtsev family, who live in the village of Georgievka in Zharma district of Eastern Kazakhstan region, have already been fined by the authorities for leading the church. The judge who sealed their house on 16 May also confiscated the family's washing machine as the parents refused to pay a six dollar fine imposed last February for refusing to halt the church's activity. A local official told Keston that the family was not registered to live at the house, while a court official defended the court's ruling.

G. Kumargalieva, the senior legal enforcer in the Zharma territorial district for the administrator of courts in Eastern Kazakhstan region, arrived at the Nizhegorodtsev family home on 16 May. "She confiscated the washing machine in lieu of the fine, took their personal identity documents, issuing instead a simple receipt without an official stamp, and sealed up the house with a simple strip of paper with her own signature," a 22 May statement from local Baptists declared. "The family has been left without a roof over its head, and believers have been forbidden from meeting in that house for services."

Kazakhstan's authorities have long been trying to close down unregistered religious communities, including Georgievka's Baptist church. At a 22 February hearing against S. Nizhegorodtsev and his wife L. Nizhegorodtseva in the village, the Zharma district court ruled that the church's activity should be halted and fined each of them 823 tenge (almost 6 US dollars or 4 British pounds) - about one-tenth of the average monthly wage in Kazakhstan (see KNS 6 March 2002).

The Nizhegorodtsevs' church refuses to accept registration, as it believes it would lead to unacceptable interference by the secular authorities. 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).

"Various people are constantly telephoning and writing to us about the Nizhegorodtsevs," an official of the department for social affairs for Zharma district, Nurzhamal Djanayev, told Keston by telephone on 11 June. "They were not registered at the sealed house, and moreover they lived in the village without registration. Registered Christian churches function peacefully here in Georgievka and no-one bothers them. You should not report on this story and issue distorted information. Anyway, we don't discuss such issues on the telephone - how should I know that you are a journalist?! Send us an official inquiry, and then we will give you an answer."

Keston had a similar conversation with the chairman of the Zharma district court, Rakhikul Turabayev. Reached by telephone on 11 June, Turabayev also initially refused to give Keston any information about the Nizhegorodtsevs. "How should I know that you are a journalist? Send me an official inquiry or come here yourselves," he told Keston. Turabayev agreed to make a short comment only when Keston told him it would otherwise have to report that the court official refused to discuss the case. "I have not looked into this case myself and do not know its details. I can only tell you one thing: the Baptists have appealed against the district court's decision at the regional court. However, the regional court has ruled that the district court's decision was correct," he declared. (END)