OSLO, Norway (BP) — Authorities in Kazakhstan have fined 18 Baptists for participating in religious activity not authorized by the state, continuing the government’s drive to bring religion under its control.
Between June 6 and Aug. 22, three of the Baptists were fined two months’ average salary for leading the meetings, according to the Norway-based religious freedom organization Forum 18, while 15 were fined one month’s average salary for attending the worship.
Forum 18 reported that fines typically are imposed under Kazakhstan’s Administrative Code, which bans participating in, leading or financing a religious community not registered by the state. Members of the country’s Council of Baptists do not seek state registration nor do they pay the administrative fines levied against them, maintaining that Kazakhstan’s constitution and international human rights commitments forbid requiring government approval for worship.
An example of a typical police raid on Baptists occurred June 16 when police raided a Sunday worship meeting in the village of Zaporozhye. According to Forum 18, officers filmed the cars outside the meeting and entered the home of Vyacheslav Flotch where the meeting was held and took notes about the worshippers. On July 30, Flotch was fined 86,550 Tenge (Kazakh currency) by a judge in the Zhaksy District Court.
When Forum 18 asked a local police officer what was wrong with Baptists worshipping in a private home, he told them: “We are small people; we do what we are told to do. We realized they are not criminals when we saw them.”
Forum 18 spoke with Svetlana (who would not give her last name), head of the chancellery, who declined to comment on the case. She said Flotch had appealed the fine and that a regional court was due to hear the case.
Forum 18 also asked Mariya Zhekebatyrova, chief of the internal policy department of Zhaksy Administration, for a comment on the fine against Flotch. She said the Baptists “violated the Religion Law, which demands all religious [sic] to be officially registered and bans unregistered activity.”
A Christian child’s gift to two teachers at his school also led to a fine of one month’s average salary for his mother stemming from her 9-year-old son’s “illegal religious activity,” according to Forum 18.
The mother, Tatyana Degterenko, told Forum 18 that her son David asked to give his two teachers audio CDs with Christian messages of God’s love. When Tatyana Lovyagina, the school’s head teacher, saw the label “God loves you too” on the CDs, she called police. An investigator from Astrakhanka District Police came and questioned the boy.
Forum 18 asked Lovyagina why she called police, and she told them the local administration has issued instructions to report religious activity in their schools. When asked by Forum 18 why children could not share their faith, she said that “no religion can be propagated in the school.” Forum 18 then asked if that seemed like a return to the Soviet era.
“Yes!” she exclaimed.
Degterenko appealed the fine, but a higher court upheld it on July 30.
Forum 18 reported that after the series of raids and fines on Baptists, the Council of Baptist Churches wrote to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev asking that he review provisions of the Religion Law and Administrative Code that outlaw the exercise of freedom of religion or belief without government permission. The Baptists pointed out that such laws conflict with the country’s constitution and human rights commitments.
“Kazakhstan carries out intimidation of its citizens for their religious beliefs,” the Baptists wrote, also noting “unjust” court decisions and laws. The president has not replied.
Other raids and fines against Baptists since June 6, as reported by Forum 18, include:
— Ivan Yantsen of Temirtau in Karaganda Region was fined 173,100 Tenge on June 10. A regional court appeal hearing upheld the fine.
— Sergei Kulikov and Maksim Kandyba were each fined 86,550 Tenge on June 6 after authorities raided Sunday worship services in East Kazakhstan Region on April 28 and May 12. Nail Agatanov, Sergei Pelipenko and Marina Kulikova also were fined 86,550 Tenge on June 10.
— All eight members of a Baptist church in Taskala were fined on June 14 and 17 after being filmed during Sunday worship on May 12. Aleksandr Yalfimov was fined 173,100 Tenge, while Natalya Yalfimova, Malika Sultangaliyeva, Gaukhar Sultangaliyeva, Tatyana Sultangaliyeva, Tatyana Osipova, Yelena Zagaychuk and Gulmira Ismagulova were each fined 86,550 Tenge.
— Sofya Bunyak in Ekibastuz in Pavlodar Region was fined 86,550 Tenge on June 27.
— Aleksandr Gorbunov in Akmola Region was fined 173,100 Tenge on July 16.
Compiled by John Evans, a writer in Houston. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).