Police raided at least two Baptist worship meetings on April 16th, Easter Sunday, in the central city of Temirtau and the southern city of Taraz. Officers issued four fines on the spot for amounts totaling to about nine months’ wages with no court hearings. According to several Baptists who raised this concern to Forum 18, such fines for worship meetings are increasing.
In a separate case, a court in the southern city of Almaty has banned a Protestant church from meeting for three months (from April 13th to July 12th). The court also fined them for holding a worship meeting in a place other than its registered address. An Indian citizen associated with the church is appealing a fine and deportation order.
An official of Almaty’s Religious Affairs Department, Karshyga Malik, told Forum 18 on April 24th that the administrative cases against the church and the Indian citizen were among 33 it has launched since the beginning of 2017. The cases were meant to punish those who meet without state permission, those who meet in other places without state permission, those who distribute religious literature without state permission, and those who talk to others about their faith without state permission.
Police raids on congregations of the Council of Baptist Churches are frequent. These churches choose to meet for worship without seeking state registration. The Kazakh authorities insist—in spite of the country’s international human rights obligations—that religious communities must gain state registration to meet. Anyone who does not comply with these registration requirements risks raids by police and other state officials.
Dmitry Yantzen, of The Council of Baptist Churches, shared with Radio Free Europe’s Kazakh Service about a “new wave” of raids against their communities across Kazakhstan. Police and courts have issued about 20 fines on their community members since the beginning of 2017, Yantsen said. Baptists informed the officials that the churches’ decision not to seek state registration “is their conviction and not a whim.”
Many of the Council of Baptist Churches have been subjected to fines by police with no court hearing. The power to impose these fines without due process was given to police under the 2015 revision of the Code of Administrative Offences. Though it is technically possible to challenge police-imposed fines through the courts or a Prosecutor’s Office, as with court convictions, this process is more difficult than lodging an appeal to a higher court against a lower court decision.
According to the code, “Leadership of an unregistered, halted, or banned religious community or social organization” may be fined 100 Monthly Financial Indicators (MFIs), currently $725 USD, which is about three months’ local wages. Some of those fined are unemployed or pensioners on lower incomes, such as 70-year-old Ivan Yantsen, one of the Baptists known to have received such fines in 2017.
We call on You, Father, to grant wisdom and understanding to the Council of Baptist Churches in Kazakhstan as they seek to obey Your call to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28), as well as to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (I Peter 2). Help them to reflect the humility and integrity of Christ while at the same time standing boldly and without compromise in preaching Your Word. Teach them what that looks like in their circumstances. We pray for a change in the administrative codes of the nation to comply with international human rights laws, that Christians might worship and preach Your gospel freely. And we pray for those who are facing big fines, that You will provide the resources and give them favor in their appeals. In the name of Jesus who called us to be “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that [we] may proclaim the excellency of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9). Amen.