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KAZAKHSTAN: Jailings under Administrative Code continue as new Codes signed

Though Kazakhstan’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, the Central Asian nation has long been a consistent violator of religious freedom. Using administrative codes essentially forbidding all unregistered religious activity, Kazakh courts hand down fines and even brief prison sentences for non-compliance with court decisions. Christians from the Baptist Council of Churches, who by principle refuse to seek state permission to worship, are especially subject to these court sentences.

By Felix Corley and Mushfig Bayram

7/21/2014 Kazakhstan (Forum 18) – Two new short-term prison sentences have been handed down in two separate administrative cases, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Ramil Nizamov, a 22-year-old Baptist, and a Muslim who asked not to be identified were each sentenced to five days’ imprisonment for refusing to pay earlier fines for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. Their cases bring to 12 the number of individuals known to have been given such short-term prison sentences in Kazakhstan in 2014 so far.

On 8 July, Judge Aslambek Koshenov of Petropavlovsk Specialised Administrative Court imposed a five-day prison term on local Baptist Nizamov under Administrative Code Article 524. This punishes “failure to carry out court decisions” with a fine or imprisonment of between five and ten days…

“During the hearing, our brother explained that he had not fulfilled the earlier court decision because he doesn’t consider himself guilty,” local Baptists told Forum 18 on 9 July, calling the punishment “unjust.”

Nizamov is a member of a Petropavl [Petropavlovsk] Baptist Council of Churches congregation in North Kazakhstan Region. These Baptists refuse on principle to register their congregations with the state, and are frequent targets of administrative punishment for continuing to meet for worship and share their faith without state permission. He was imprisoned for refusing to pay a fine of 92,600 Tenge, 50 Monthly Financial Indicators (MFIs) handed down by the same court on 13 February. This is about… 500 US Dollars, which is equivalent to about one month’s average salary for those in work

His “offence” was to attend a Sunday morning meeting for worship on 26 January raided by the police…

After Nizamov failed to pay the fine, court bailiff Raushan Ablayeva… issued an order banning him from disposing of any of his property. On 2 June, she issued a “temporary ban” on Nizamov leaving Kazakhstan and ordering the case to be handed to court.

…Such exit bans are routinely imposed. As human rights defender Yevgeni Zhovtis of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law has noted, this “double punishment” isn’t governed by any law…

Bailiff Ablayeva acknowledged that Nizamov had only been punished for attending a religious meeting, but insisted that it is not her role to assess the validity of court decisions. “I acted in accordance with the law,” she insisted to Forum 18 on 10 July…

Another Council of Churches Baptist, Maksim Volikov, was punished for hosting meetings for worship without state permission in his home in the village of Shalkar, in North Kazakhstan Region. “Anti-Extremism Police” and other officials raided his home during Sunday worship on 25 May.

“Halting the service, they began to ask questions: Who are you? What are you doing here? Where did you get your religious literature?” local Baptists complained to Forum 18 on 28 June. “They didn’t react when we asked them not to interfere with the course of the worship service, instead demanding that we write statements.” Police drew up a record of an “offence” against Volikov of leading an unregistered religious community.

On 27 June, Judge Mubarek Ramazanov of Ayyrtau District Court No. 2 found Volikov guilty of violating Administrative Code Article 374-1, Part 1. He fined him 185,200 Tenge, 100 MFIs, twice the amount Nizamov was fined which is equivalent to about two months’ average salary for those in work

Volikov considers the fine unjust and intends to appeal to the Regional Court, local Baptists told Forum 18.

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