KAZAKHSTAN: Wave of raids on Baptist churches

kazakhstan-tarazIn recent months, Kazakh police have repeatedly raided Baptist congregations in the southern city of Taraz, as well as others around the country. Kazakhstan’s authorities control all religions very tightly and impose large fines and occasionally prison sentences for a range of infringements.

The Baptist congregations that were raided are affiliated with the Baptist Council of Churches in Kazakhstan and have adopted a policy of civil disobedience, refusing to register or to pay fines. Affiliated congregations are frequently raided and those present handed summary fines by police with no court hearing for leading or participating in religious meetings without state permission.

Many who refuse to pay fines are put on Kazakhstan’s exit blacklist, preventing them from leaving the country, and some have property confiscated (such as washing machines or cars), while others have restraining orders placed on property (homes, cars, livestock), preventing them from selling.

Taraz: recent raids

On 4 June, five police officers (including two anti-extremism officers) raided a Baptist congregation in Taraz, filmed the service and took seven worshippers to the local police station. The officers accused them of violating Administrative Code Article 489, Part 10, which punishes “Participation in an unregistered, halted, or banned religious community or social organization”, and fined three of them 113,450 Tenge each (approximately €315).

On 28 May, police officers arrived at another Baptist service in Taraz, filmed it and blocked the exit, preventing the congregation from leaving. The officers fingerprinted and photographed the Baptists and took addresses and personal data, claiming they were checking for criminals. Over the next five days, eight members were summoned to their local police stations and each was fined 113,450 Tenge (€315) under Administrative Code Article 489, Part 10. Several of those fined have lodged appeals to Taraz Specialised Administrative Court.

On Easter Sunday, 16 April, four police officers arrived at a Baptist service in Taraz, waited for the service to finish (filming it on a mobile phone) and afterwards took three church leaders to the police station. Pastor Pyotr Panafidin was fined 226,900 Tenge (€630) under Administrative Code Article 489, Part 9 (“Leadership of an unregistered, halted or banned religious community or social organisation“) and two others were fined 113,450 Tenge (€315) each under Administrative Code Article 489, Part 10. On 18 May, Taraz Specialised Administrative Court rejected Pastor Panafidin’s appeal, but reduced the fine to 158,830 Tenge (€440). On 19 May, the court rejected the appeals of the two other Baptists.

On 19 March, police arrived at a Taraz house where Baptists had just finished Sunday worship. Many had already left, but officers demanded that the remaining elderly women write statements about their presence. The women politely refused. Two police officers arrived at the service on 2 April, which they did not disturb, but about ten more officers arrived as it ended. They questioned the pastor, Andrei Panafidin, and a deacon, Yakov Fot, about why the congregation failed to seek state registration, where it obtained literature and finance and why neighbours had allegedly complained. Three days later, Fot was fined 226,900 Tenge (€630) under Article 489, Part 9. He lodged an appeal to Taraz Specialised Administrative Court, which rejected it on 27 April.

Yerkebulan Akbai, Chief Specialist of Zhambyl Regional Religious Affairs Department, told Forum 18 News Service, “Their services were illegal – worship without state registration is banned.” Told that the Baptists were exercising their constitutional rights, he responded: “Of course the constitution allows it, but under the law it is banned.”

Recent raids elsewhere in Kazakhstan

Several other churches around Kazakhstan have also been raided in recent months. On 24 May, a Baptist Council of Churches home Bible study in Astrakhanka, Akmola Region, was raided and the pastor was fined 226,900 Tenge (€630).

On Easter Sunday, armed police raided a Baptist meeting in a private home in the city of Temirtau in the central Karaganda Region. Officers tried to take church members to the local police station, but members refused to go, demanding that police show them a warrant. The leader was fined 226,900 Tenge (€630). “Of course he won’t pay,” a church member told Forum 18. The leader has spent time on the exit blacklist for previous refusal to pay fines.

On 29 March, a court in Balkhash, Karaganda Region, fined Baptist pastor Nikolai Popov 226,900 Tenge (€630) under Administrative Code Article 489, Part 9, for leading an unregistered congregation in his home. On 18 April, Karaganda Regional Court rejected his appeal.

In February, police raided Baptist congregations in West Kazakhstan Region (Taskala on 26 February; Oral on 5 February), took leaders and members to local police stations and fined them. Two leaders were already on the exit blacklist for refusing to pay fines.

In March, an Almaty church was fined 454,000 Tenge (€1,260) and banned for three months for holding a meeting for worship in a venue other than its registered address – the congregation had outgrown its registered premises. An appeal was rejected.

Read more about the persecution of Christians in Kazakhstan.

(Forum 18)