Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev returned to court after languishing several months in prison on false charges of “intentional infliction of grievous bodily harm” to a member of his church.
In an incredible shift, at the court hearing held on January 29, charges of extremism were dismissed. To everyone’s shock the Prosecutor’s Office of Astana suddenly declared two charges to be unfounded; “extremism” and “development of the illegal religious association,” and were subsequently dropped.
However, in another turn of events during the hearing, Pastor Bakhytzhan and his lawyer refused to participate in the process. Police guards were summoned and Pastor Bakhytzhan was ushered away from the courtroom. A loud argument erupted between the state judge, the lawyer representing Pastor Bakhytzhan, and Grace Church members, who were also present in the courtroom. Pastor Bakhytzhan’s lawyer abruptly left the courtroom and the judge was forced to stop the process. Most likely the new lawyer, a public defender, will be appointed to represent him.
Pastor Bakhytzhan faithfully pastored his church in Kazakhstan from 1995 until his arrest last year where he openly preached about the spiritual freedom one receives through forgiveness in Christ. His bold preaching angered many people, and strong opposition came against his ministry. At his arrest, allegations were raised that the red tea served for communion was a hallucinogen that caused physical harm to a congregant. The alleged victim, whose close relative accused the pastor, has denied that the tea caused any harm. Pastor Kashkumbaeva has also been accused of spreading extremism.
At this time the Open Doors contacts in the region do not know for how long this “unscheduled” break will last. According to Kazakhstan court of law, a court hearing cannot continue without a lawyer. One possibility would be if an agreement is reached, outside of a court hearing, Pastor Bakhytzhan will be judged only on two charges of the Criminal Code of Kazakhstan; “Intentional damage of the health and inciting sectarian strife.” Pastor Bakhytzhan has asked that we join in praying that these two accusations will be declared as unfounded.
Kazakhstan is number 39 on the World Watch List of countries where the persecution of Christians is the worst. Kazakh believers most affected by persecution are the non-registered, largely Protestant, Christians. They are monitored and hemmed in by laws restricting the right of assembly as well as the production and use of religious literature and training. A court verdict in March of last year ordered the destruction of 121 religious books, including Bibles. After a public international outcry, the court reversed its decision. Nevertheless, the situation is worsening for Christians, with even the largely untouched Russian Orthodox Church beginning to face challenges.
Father, we lift before Your throne Pastor Bakhytzhan as he remains, for now, in prison. Give him the words to speak as he comes before the judge. Protect his health, Father, and comfort him in his distress. Grant opportunities to share the gospel, that this time might not be in vain. Strengthen his church to continue in his absence, to worship You in truth, and grant them also opportunity to share the good news of Your gospel. Comfort his wife and family, as they are in sorrow over his absence. Provide for their needs and encourage them with a special awareness of Your presence with them. In the name of Jesus who strengthens us in times of trouble, Amen.