KAZAKHSTAN: Do Police and KNB want to catch criminals?
The police and KNB secret police have shown much more interest in the legal missionary activity of a Protestant church, than in apprehending and prosecuting a group of people who on two separate occasions physically attacked the Pastor and church members, punching them, throwing them from a moving lorry, stealing and destroying religious literature, as well as stealing money and a mobile phone. Such attacks are illegal under Kazakh law, but the police and KNB have repeatedly refused to explain to the church, to the chairman of the Association of Religious Organisations of Kazakhstan, and to Forum 18 why they seem more interested in missionaries than criminals.
In response to the church's complaint, the deputy prosecutor of Akmola region, Erbulat Bolgobayev, assured the missionaries on 6 September that "clarification had been sought from the residents of Zhaksy" and that church members' complaint "would be examined". Since then there appears to have been no progress.
Forum 18 has failed in its attempts to find out why the attackers are not being prosecuted. On 7 October Forum 18 reached Bolgobayev's office by phone. His secretary, admitting that her boss was in the office, enquired in detail about the purpose of Forum 18's call. However, after speaking with Bolgobayev, she said that he was busy and asked Forum 18 to phone later. After this Forum 18 phoned five times, but each time the secretary said that Bolgobayev was not in his office.
The Grace Rakym church in Karaganda, with about 4,000 members, is the Kazakhstan headquarters of the Korean-led Presbyterian church, which also has branches in many towns across the country. Church members report that during their mission on 20 July in Zhaksy, a settlement in Akmola region 400 kilometres (250 miles) west of Astana, a group of local Muslims attacked them. They punched the missionaries, took from them their religious literature and immediately destroyed it. The mob then deported them from the settlement by forcibly putting them on a train.
In a 3 August open letter to the prosecutor general describing how they were attacked, the missionaries reported that when they were being forced onto the train they asked the duty policeman for help, but he simply turned away and pretended not to hear them.
When the missionaries returned to the settlement on 27 July, local people wrapped clothes round their faces and forced them onto a lorry. During the ride in the lorry the attackers demanded that the missionaries should accept Islam. Then they were thrown from the lorry one by one with their belongings. The attackers also took from the missionaries all their Christian literature, 3000 tenge (150 Norwegian kroner, 18 Euros or 22 US dollars) and a mobile phone. The missionaries' attempts after these attacks to appeal to the Zhaksy police were fruitless, as the police refused to take a statement from them.
"The most surprising thing is that no criminal case was opened against the attackers," Roman Dudnik, chairman of the Protestant Emmanuel Association, told Forum 18 in the southern city of Almaty on 6 October, especially in the light of Bolgobayev's September promises to investigate. "According to the law a criminal case should be opened as soon as a crime is discovered. One gets the impression that the authorities are trying to hush up this case."
On 3 August, the chairman of the Association of Religious Organisations of Kazakhstan, Aleksandr Klyushev, wrote to the KNB to ask why no action had been taken against those who attacked the missionaries. "The Committee of National Security of the Republic of Kazakhstan has thoroughly investigated on the spot in Zhaksy the facts outlined in your appeal," the KNB responded in a letter cited on 30 September on the Virtual Astana website.
The KNB went on to state that Pastor Smely and five other church members "spent three weeks actively promoting the ideas of the Presbyterian Christian faith among the inhabitants of the settlement of Zhaksy, including among Muslims, as evidenced by their visiting the homes of local residents, holding religious conversations with them proposing that they renounce Islam and inviting them to services". The KNB alleged that, after speaking to pupils of the grammar school, that the missionaries gave them free gifts "such as pens, bracelets and sweets" and invited them to sporting events held in the school grounds and also to a "free lunch" in the Tip-top cafe. "During the sporting events and the lunch the missionaries forced the children to pray and to repeat various prayers in praise of Jesus," the KNB claimed.
"These events were organised without the permission of the parents, which is a violation of the legislation on freedom of religious confession," the KNB letter also alleged. "The above-mentioned actions of the representatives of Grace Rakym caused a negative response on the part of the local population and believers of the Birlik mosque, which led to the conflict. It was not possible to establish specific individuals who participated in this conflict."
However, Pastor Smely denied to Forum 18 the KNB's allegations that church members had forced any children to pray. He also insisted that church members only played football and other sports with children whose parents had not given permission for their children to join in religious activities.
For more background, see Forum 18's latest religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=249
A printer-friendly map of Kazakhstan is available at
11 October 2004
China maintains few controls on religious life in the mountainous Altai [Altay] region in the far north of Xinjiang, Forum 18 News Service has noted, apparently because there are only low levels of Islamic, Buddhist, Pagan, Orthodox and Pentecostal Christian religious practice among the majority ethnic Kazakhs, as well as among Chinese and most other local minorities. In contrast, Forum 18 has observed strict controls in nearby mosques amongst the Muslim Dungan people, and the visit of a Russian Orthodox priest, Fr Vianor Ivanov, was met by the authorities arresting him, as well as questioning virtually all the several dozen elderly Orthodox believers in the city Fr Ivanov visited, before deporting him.
22 September 2004
China's estimated 3,000 scattered Orthodox Christians may soon be able to have their own priests once again. Since 2003, 18 Chinese Orthodox have been studying in Orthodox seminaries in Russia with the permission of China's State Administration of Religious Affairs. "Now they are happy for Chinese to become priests," an Orthodox source from Shanghai told Forum 18 News Service. But Hong Kong-based Russian Orthodox priest Fr Dionisy Pozdnyayev told Forum 18 it has yet to be decided whether these seminarians will be allowed to become priests in China when they complete their theological education. Fr Dionisy can minister only to foreign citizens in Beijing and Shenzhen, but a Russian priest spent two weeks in June ministering to local Orthodox in Harbin with official permission.
9 September 2004
Kazakhstan-based Russian Orthodox priest Fr Vianor Ivanov had visited China's north-western Xinjiang region to serve the local Orthodox who have no priests, but in December 2003 was detained by Chinese customs, was interrogated for a week, had his religious literature confiscated and was deported. "They questioned me for five hours a day. The special services representatives proved to be amazingly well-informed," Fr Ivanov told Forum 18 News Service. Local Orthodox told Forum 18 in Xinjiang in early September that virtually all the Orthodox believers in the city of Ghulja were questioned by the security services about Fr Ivanov's activity. In Ghulja the Orthodox can at least meet for prayers in church without a priest, but in another Xinjiang town, Tacheng, local Russian Orthodox have had no success so far in applying to rebuild their church.