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KAZAKHSTAN: Drink vodka – yes, watch football – yes, praying – no

While meeting within a private home for any social purpose is permissible, in Kazakhstan, meeting for religious reasons without state registration can end with receiving a fine. Viktor Kandyba – a member of Kazakhstan’s Council for Churches Baptists, who refuse on principle to seek state permission to worship – received such a fine and refused to pay it. He is currently in prison for a ten-day term, issued for his non-compliance with the court’s order.

By Felix Corley

5/29/2014 Kazakhstan (Forum 18) – Prosecutor’s Office official Bolzhan Botbayev defends the 10-day prison term handed down on 27 May to Viktor Kandyba for refusing to pay a fine for leading an unregistered meeting for worship in his home… [Botbayev] struggled to explain to Forum 18 on 29 May why those who drink vodka or watch football together in private homes are treated differently to those who gather for religious meetings.

Told that Kandyba and his fellow Council of Churches Baptists repeatedly point out that Kazakhstan’s Constitution guarantees them the right to freedom of religion or belief, Botbayev insisted to Forum 18 on 29 May: “The law says they must have registration before they are allowed to meet.”

Kandyba and his congregation in Semei have faced repeated state harassment for meeting for worship without the compulsory state permission. Police have frequently raided the church, while Court Bailiffs imposed a restraining order on Kandyba’s home and car in 2007 for unpaid fines.

On 24 July 2013 Semei Specialised Administrative Court fined Kandyba… 100 Monthly Financial Indicators (MFIs), 173,100 Tenge (…1,150 US Dollars). This is about two months’ wages for those in work.

Kandyba refused to pay the fine, considering he had committed no offence for which he should be punished… Botbayev, the same Prosecutor’s Office official who had led the case in July 2013, then brought a new case to court, this time under Administrative Code Article 524. This punishes “Failure to carry out court decisions.” He demanded the maximum punishment of ten days’ imprisonment.

The court decision says Kandyba had to be given the maximum term of imprisonment because of the “social danger” of his “intentional” refusal to pay and his refusal to recognise his “guilt.”

Kandyba, a father of 17 who had his 47th birthday on 8 May, is the eighth Council of Churches Baptist known to have been given a prison term of up to ten days in 2014 for refusing to pay earlier fines to punish them for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. One of those imprisoned earlier this year was one of his sons, Maksim Kandyba, given a ten-day prison term in January.

Council of Churches Baptists have adopted a policy of civil disobedience, refusing to pay fines imposed for meeting for worship without compulsory state registration. Council of Churches Baptists think such fines are wrong, as neither Kazakhstan’s Constitution nor the country’s international human rights obligations allow punishments for exercising human rights without state permission.

Officials at the government’s Ombudsperson’s Office for Human Rights in Astana rejected suggestions that the human rights of those like Kandyba punished for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief have been violated. “I can’t agree that these imprisonments are a violation of human rights,” Rustam Kypshakbayev of its Expert Department insisted to Forum 18 from Astana on 29 May.

More than 150 individuals – including Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims and Hare Krishna devotees – were known to have been given administrative fines in 2013. More than 40 such fines are known to have been handed down in the first ten weeks of 2014 alone…

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