Issue 6, Article 14, 13 June 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.

Tuesday 13 June 2000

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

A Baptist congregation in the Kazakh capital Astana is facing pressure from the
Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of the Interior, the police and the procuracy to
register, despite the fact that Kazakhstan's law on religion sets out no
requirement that religious organisations must register in order to be allowed to
function. The congregation has written to the Kazakh authorities to confirm
that it does not wish or intend to register. Baptist sources have told Keston
News Service that the church continues to meet, although it has been told that it
has been banned (a ban also reported by Kazakh radio in a 26 April news
broadcast). Kazakh officials have denied to Keston that the church's activity
has been banned, but refused to explain why the church was being pressured to

The Baptist congregation - which has been functioning in the Saryakinsky
district of Astana since July 1999 and is led by Pastor MAKSIM NEMTSOV -
belongs to the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, whose
churches refuse to register in all the post-Soviet republics where they operate.

YEVGENI ZHOVTIS, the director of the Bureau for Human Rights in Almaty,
told Keston on 8 June that the director of the Astana branch of his organisation,
ERMEK BEKESHOV, had met Nemtsov, who recounted that at the beginning
of this year the head of the Astana department of the Ministry of Culture,
Information and Public Concord NIKOLAI MALTSEV invited him several
times for talks. The next time he was invited for a `conversation' to the
department for relations with public organisations of the Astana department of
the Ministry of Interior, where he received a warning because his religious
organisation was not registered.

In March he was detained and transported to the district police for a
`conversation' and warned by the head of the district police to stop the church's
activity in the city until it acquired registration. In May he was invited to the
city procurator's office and received an order to register the church. In response
Nemtsov declared in writing that according to Kazakhstan's law on religion,
religious communities ware not obliged to register and that his church did not
want to receive the status of a legal entity. He added that according to the
Charter of the Council of Churches he is not empowered to decide this issue on
his own as it is a decision that has to be taken at a convention of the Council of
Churches, which meets once every four years.

Bekeshov had also met the head of the Astana department of the Ministry of
Justice, who explained to him that because the Baptist church was not
registered the authorities ware putting pressure on it to register.

During an initial telephone interview on 25 May, ESINGAZI
KUANDIKOV,the head of the department for work with religious confessions
within the Ministry of Culture declared that Baptists functioned in Kazakhstan
without registration and denied absolutely that any Baptist congregations had
been banned. `You have been given false information,' he told Keston from
Astana. `There are 2,500 religious organisations in Kazakhstan, including 800
that function without registration. No-one came to us to complain about
anything.' However, in a follow-up interview on 12 June, he refused absolutely
to discuss the pressure exerted on Nemtsov's church by Maltsev, an official
within his ministry, or by the Ministry oof the Interior, the police or the
procuracy. He declined to give Keston Maltsev's telephone number. When
Keston contacted Maltsev's office on 13 June, an official - who declined to give
her name - declared that Maltsev was ill. However, she confirmed that the
Astana branch of the Culture Ministry had asked Nemtsov's church to register.
`We have the right to do this because our law on religion says religious groups
must register,' the official asserted. Asked by Keston which specific article of
the law she was referring to, she responded: `Read the text for yourself.'
Pressed again as Keston could not find any article of the law that made
registration a requirement, she refused to specify. She denied absolutely that
Maltsev had met Pastor Nemtsov this year, declaring only that two officials
from the office had attended meetings of the church twice `to observe'. Asked
why the officials had gone to observe she replied: `I don't know.' She denied
that anyone had banned the church from functioning.

No officials of the city procuracy or police were available to talk to Keston on
13 June. (END)

Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.