KAZAKHSTAN: “Not accused of extremism,” but punished
Concerning trends continue in Kazakhstan for religious freedom. Recently, the Department for the Struggle Against Extremism has apprehended and fined several people merely for unregistered “missionary activity.” Anyone who has not received official governmental approval to share his or her faith – whether Jehovah’s Witness, Muslim, or Christian – could be arrested and fined for proselytizing. In the first three months of 2014 alone, at least 40 administrative punishments for exercise of religious freedom have been handed down in Kazakhstan.
By Felix Corley
5/21/2014 Kazakhstan (Forum 18) – The head of Jambyl Region Police’s Department for the Struggle against Extremism has defended his role in the administrative punishment of two female Jehovah’s Witnesses for speaking to others about their faith on the street. “Several of my officers were sent when the women were detained and I spoke to them at the police station,” Nauatbek Kalymbetov told Forum 18 News Service from the regional capital Taraz close to Kazakhstan’s southern border on 21 May.
But he repeatedly refused to say why punishing two women for speaking to others about their faith was an issue for the Department for the Struggle against Extremism. “I’m not accusing them of extremism, but they broke the law,” Kalymbetov insisted to Forum 18. He refused to discuss any other aspect of the case and put the phone down.
Prosecutors… asked the Jambyl Regional Religious Affairs Department to confirm that the two women did not have the personal registration as “missionaries” requested by a registered religious community before anyone – whether a Kazakh or foreign citizen – has the right to talk about their faith to others outside their community.
The cases were then handed to court. On 28 March, Judge Kamar Usembayeva of Taraz Specialised Administrative Court found Tatyana Vongai and Oksana Alekseyeva guilty…
Judge Usembayeva fined each of them 100 Minimum Financial Indicators (MFIs), 185,200 Tenge (…1,000 US Dollars). This is about two months’ average wages for those in work. However, the 59-year-old Vongai is a pensioner, while the 37-year-old Alekseyeva does not have a job.
The punishments handed down on Vongai and Alekseyeva in Taraz – and the efforts of a wide range of officials from different state agencies to secure the punishments – are typical of many similar prosecutions under the Administrative Code to punish individuals for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. More than 40 such administrative punishments are known to have been handed down in the first ten weeks of 2014 alone.
In another recent case, Shymkent-based Muslim Bakytzhan Nuskabayev is facing a third administrative prosecution this year… On 17 February, Judge Marat Onlasov of the Specialised Administrative Court had found Nuskabayev guilty under Administrative Code Article 375, Part 3 for carrying out “missionary activity” on 14 January. He fined him 100 MFIs.