The trial of a 67-year-old pastor in Kazakhstan halted amid heated arguments on Wednesday (January 29), as the pastor and his lawyer stormed out of the courtroom, even after two of his original charges were dropped.
The pastor and his lawyer say the whole court procedure has not been handled properly, with the judge not listening to the petitions.
Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev has been detained since May 2013, following accusations of “harming the health” of one of his parishioners at Grace Protestant Church in Astana, the Kazakh capital.
He is also charged with inciting hatred. Further charges of propagating extremism and leading an organisation that harms others were dropped at the court hearing in Astana.
The trial was scheduled to reconvene today (January 31), although its future is now in doubt after first the pastor and then his lawyer refused to participate, forcing the judge to end the session amid heated exchanges.
It is uncertain whether a new lawyer will be called and whether Kashkumbayev would accept this alternative, without which the case would be brought to a standstill.
The case against Kashkumbayev has dragged on for months since his arrest on May 17 last year, when he was charged with the psychological manipulation of Lyazzat Almenova through the use of a “red-coloured hallucinogenic drink”.
Other members of the congregation say the drink is a harmless, non-alcoholic beverage used as part of the church’s Holy Communion – to represent the traditionally used, and symbolic, red wine.
The investigation dates back two-and-a-half years; Almenova’s mother first submitted her complaint in July 2011.
Almenova told Forum 18 News her pastor was “totally innocent”, but the state arrested Kashkumbayev after Almenova’s mother claimed her daughter’s attendance at the church had damaged her mental health.
The pastor was moved to a psychiatric ward in Almaty, the former capital, on July 19, and ordered to remain there until Sept. 17, while he underwent psychiatric examination. He was released early from the ward on Sept. 8, only to be moved back to prison.
After a court hearing on September 10, the judge set a date of October 17 for the resumption of the case, but this date came and went.
Three months later the trial has resumed only to descend into further chaos.
If found guilty, Kashkumbayev could face a lengthy prison term.