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Kazakhstan Crackdown on Baptists, Record Fine Reported

Sunday, 11 June 2006 (15 hours ago)

By BosNewsLife News Center

ASTANA/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– A Baptist Pastor in Kazakhstan was preparing for a difficult period Sunday, June 11, after being fined more than three times the estimated average monthly salary for leading “nregistered religious activity,” Christian rights investigators said.

Pastor Yaroslav Senyushkevich, who leads a Baptist church in Astana, received the fine of 103,000 Tenge (856 US dollars) from the capital’s ‘interdistrict administrative court’, last week said the Forum 18 News Service (F18 News) of human rights watchdog Forum 18.

Told that this is the highest fine so far recorded against a Baptist, Judge Alimzhanova was unmoved. “What do you expect me to do?” she was quoted as saying from Astana on June 7. “I gave my clear ruling and he has now appealed to the city court.”

OTHER BAPTISTS

Forum 18 said several other Baptist leaders, including Dmitri Yantsen and Aleksandr Lekomtsev have been fined since May 19, at a time of ‘hostile TV” coverage.

“Following police raids on an unregistered Baptist Church in north-west Kazakhstan , local TV has repeatedly shown film of the church shot by the police, with a hostile commentary,” F18 News said.

Earlier in April Pastor Andrei Grigoryev in Aktobe was fined followed and after a subsequent police raid on the congregation’s worship service on May 21, fines were also imposed on ten church members who had preached in the town of Sarkand in Almaty region, F18 News reported.

OFFICIALS DEFEND

Local officials defended the actions. Asked why the Baptists were being persecuted “merely because they refused to register – as is their right under international human rights agreements Kazakhstan has signed” Serozhatdin Baryshev, head of the regional Justice Department, told Forum 18: “International agreements are nothing to us – we’re governed by the laws of the Republic of Kazakhstan.”

Hare Krishna devotees, struggling against the authorities’ attempts to bulldoze houses and seize property of a commune, have also complained about TV broadcasts “full of lies and inaccuracies,” attacking the devotees’ defense of their religious freedom, F18 News claimed.

They complained of aggression against devotees, sparked by the broadcasts. Christians have suggested that the current situation in Kazakhstan resembles the era of the Soviet Union .

REGISTRATION REFUSAL

The Council of Churches Baptists, who have been fined, cite as justification for their refusal to register their congregations a questionnaire handed out by local justice administrations to communities seeking local registration

In some Kazakh regions, state registration reportedly demands information on the ethnicity (“Kazakhs, Russians, Germans, Koreans, Tatars, and Others”), family status, religious education of congregational leaders, their age and type of work and “the most acute problems worrying parishioners”, as well as details of members’ political affiliation.

“Facts demanding attention on the part of state bodies,” are also required by the state, investigators say. “Such registration is a web it’s almost impossible to break free of,” Baptists complained to F18News.

Some analysts have linked the reported crackdown in republics like Kazakhstan to concern among the Russian Orthodox Church and authorities supporting that denomination, to lose their influence as new churches grow.

Yet Protestant Christians, including Baptists, comprise roughly two percent of the country’s over 15 million people who are mainly Muslim or Russian Orthodox, according to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from Kazakhstan ).