KAZAKHSTAN: Officials Claim Religious Activity Without Permission is 'Unacceptable'.

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 20 June 2002

Baptists in a village in north-western Kazakhstan close to the Russian border have been pressured to halt their religious activity - especially work with children - until they gain registration, something the congregation is unwilling to accept, Keston News Service has discovered.

On 4 May, in Tlepbergen in Novoalekseyevka district of Aktobe region, divisional inspector Amangos Yesenalin took the Baptist Tursunkan Istleuov to the district public prosecutor's office. There the chief assistant to the district public prosecutor, Kairzhan Kairgaliyev, warned him that religious activity without the permission of the akim (leader) of the district was "unacceptable".

Around 13 May, Agatai Bisembayev, the head of the village council in the nearby village of Zharsai, along with the divisional inspector, visited Baptist families and also non-believing parents whose children attend Sunday school. Bisembayev demanded that the religious instruction of children should cease, and threatened to get a group of villagers together and throw the believers out of the village. According to the local Baptists, he threatened one church member, Aliya Novikova, with the withdrawal of child benefit for a large and needy family if she did not stop taking her children to the Sunday school.

Kairgaliyev admitted that Istleuov had been summoned to the prosecutor's office. "We have indeed been talking with the Baptists," he told Keston on 19 June. "The problem consists in the fact that they categorically refuse to be registered. Let them register their community, and then they will be able to operate in peace." To Keston's comment that under Kazakh law registration is not obligatory, Kairgaliyev responded: "Yes, that is true. But we have not taken any oppressive action against believers. We have simply held talks with them. I think it would nevertheless be better if the Baptists were registered, and then all the problems would instantly disappear." (END)