KAZAKHSTAN: Three-day Baptist detention while family awaits eviction
Baptist pastor Pyotr Panafidin's refusal to pay a massive fine imposed last September for leading his unregistered church in the southern town of Taraz has led to a three-day imprisonment and the decision to confiscate his home. Detained at a court hearing on 27 February, Panafidin is due for release on 2 March. "Of course we're worried - if the house is seized, he, his wife Katya and their nine children will be homeless," a local Baptist told Forum 18 News Service. "Of course the detention and the threat to seize the pastor's home are not pleasant," Arbol Argynov of Kazakhstan's Human Rights Ombudsperson's office told Forum 18 from the capital Astana. "If a religious community is not registered with the authorities, that is no reason to restrict it." He says the requirement for religious communities to register must be removed for Kazakhstan to meet its international human rights commitments.
The chief expert on religious freedom at the government's Human Rights Ombudsperson's Office strongly defended the Baptists and in particular Pastor Panafidin. "Of course the detention and the threat to seize the pastor's home are not pleasant," Arbol Argynov told Forum 18 from the capital Astana on 1 March. "But unfortunately our Office cannot currently intervene in legal cases." He reported that the law will soon be changed to allow this in future.
"The Taraz case is not the only Baptist case," Argynov stressed. He said the Baptists have already kept his Office informed of this and other recent cases against them. "We're taking up these cases."
He insists that the provision in Article 375 of the Code of Administrative Offences which allows religious believers to be punished for leading or participating in unregistered religious activity must be removed to bring the law into line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. "If a religious community is not registered with the authorities, that is no reason to restrict it," Argynov told Forum 18. "We cannot allow the mistakes of the Soviet period to be repeated. We must respect religious freedom." He says the Ombudsperson's Office is working to have the law changed to bring it into line with Kazakhstan's international human rights commitments.
"Requiring faith communities to register is almost impossible to reconcile with international and Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) human-rights standards," Professor Malcolm Evans, of the OSCE Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion and Belief has stated (see http://www.osce.org/odihr/57471). "Unless it is for the purposes of tax benefits or to obtain charitable status, there should be no need for compulsory registration," he continued.
Professor Roman Podoprigora of the Adilet Law School in the country's commercial capital Almaty agrees that Article 375 of the Administrative Code will have to be removed before Kazakhstan's legal acts on religion meet international human rights standards. "Current law allows individuals to be punished for leading or participating in unregistered religious activity," he told Forum 18 from Almaty on 1 March, "but the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other human rights documents nowhere say that rights to free practice of religion extend only to registered religious communities."
But he warns that plans to bring the law into line with international standards have to be followed through. "So far it is only words."
Argynov stressed that Pastor Panafidin and his fellow-Baptists – who belong to the Council of Churches which has always rejected state registration since it was established in the 1960s – are well-known in Kazakhstan. "People know them – they're traditional and law-abiding," he maintained. "It's their right not to register."
Panafidin was found guilty under Article 374-1 part 1, and Article 375 part 1 (refusal to register a religious community at the justice department) of the Administrative Code. At his hearing on 1 and 2 September, he was given a massive fine of 101,955 tenge (4749 Norwegian kroner, 611 Euros or 759 US dollars). The government estimates the average monthly wage at just over 30,000 tenge.
Taraz Specialised Administrative Court – presided over by judge Sandugash Azimkhanova - rejected Panafidin's defence that Kazakhstan's constitution provides for freedom of worship and does not require religious communities to register before they can function (see F18News 8 September 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=645).
The fine was confirmed by a higher court. But after Panafidin refused to pay it, court executors ordered the seizure of his home although, as local Baptists told Forum 18 on 1 March, this has not yet happened.
At the 27 February hearing at the Taraz Specialised Administrative Court, presided over by the same judge Azimkhanova, prosecutor B. Toleuov called for Panafidin to be given a 10-day prison term under Article 524 of the Administrative Code. But the judge, "considering the social danger of the offence committed and the person of the law-breaker", gave him a three-day prison term. Panafidin was arrested in the court room and is due to be freed on 2 March.
Balausa Tulebayeva, who heads the chancellery of the court, declined to answer any questions on the case. "We don't give out information by telephone – you'll have to submit your questions in writing," she told Forum 18 on 1 March.
Other Council of Churches Baptist congregations have faced recent pressure. On 29 January, four police and procuracy officials raided the church in the north-western town of Oral (Uralsk) which meets in the home of Galina Novikova. The officials demanded that she and the pastor of the church, Sergei Krasnov, go to be interviewed. They also filmed the Sunday service without the permission of those present. "Two brothers [church members] invited them into another room and explained that a service was underway and that they should speak to the home-owner after the service," the Baptists told Forum 18 on 4 February. "The whole thrust of their demands was that the church should register." The officials drew up an official record even while the service was still going on, but church members refused to sign it.
The church was again raided during Sunday worship on 19 February. Two police officers handed Pastor Krasnov a summons from the town's public prosecutor Zakarya Saraliev. When Krasnov arrived accompanied by two church members, a Prosecutor's Office official pressured him to register the church and to write a statement explaining his refusal. "He refused to write a statement on this, explaining that the Constitution and international human rights agreements guarantee them the right to conduct peaceful religious services," local Baptists told Forum 18 on 28 February.
Argynov of the Ombudsperson's Office said that Baptists who refuse on principle to register are the only religious community which has complained to his office about punishment for refusing to register. He believes there could be others, though probably not many. The only others he knows of are individual shaman practitioners, regarding pressure on them to seek registration as "ridiculous". "It's an internal way of life that shouldn't be touched."
He says the only religious communities denied registration are those that restrict access to only one ethnic group. "Some Chechens set up a mosque just for Chechens and wouldn't let anyone else in," he told Forum 18. "It is very dangerous to have ethnic mosques, even if it is not against the law. It causes danger to society and harms stability."
Argynov says that unlike in other Central Asian states, there is nothing to stop Muslims registering mosques outside the framework of the state-approved Muslim Board. "The Board tries to pressure mosques to come under its jurisdiction, but I believe this is wrong."
Meanwhile, Professor Podoprigora expresses some concern about a revived Council for Religious Affairs, created within the Justice Ministry by government decree on 30 December 2005. Eraly Tugzhanov heads the Council. "It is a bad sign that registration of religious organisations will no longer be conducted in the same way as for other legal entities but will be done by the Council," Podoprigora told Forum 18. But he stressed that whether this will in itself harm the rights of religious believers and communities will depend on the personnel appointed to the Council. He said that no requirement has been made for religious communities that already have registration to undergo re-registration. (END)
More reports on freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Kazakhstan can be found at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?query=&religion=all&country=29.
For a personal commentary on how attacking religious freedom damages national security in Kazakhstan, see F18News http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=564
For more background, see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=701 and articles on the 2005 "national security" legal amendments at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=608 and http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=625
A printer-friendly map of Kazakhstan is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=kazakh
17 February 2006
The recent murder of an ethnic Kyrgyz convert to Christianity, Saktinbai Usmanov, was the culmination of a long series of intolerant incidents, Forum 18 News Service has found. Usmanov was the only Christian in his village. The intolerance was encouraged by the village Mullah, Nurlan Asangojaev, although most of the attackers were themselves drunk, which is forbidden in Islam. Asangojaev arranged for Usmanov to be banned from community events after his conversion, which is very painful for the traditionally community-centred Kyrgyz. He has also barred Usmanov from being buried in the village cemetery. Mullah Asangojaev has since Usmanov's murder told Forum 18 and others that "I can't offer any convincing proof, but I am sure that Saktinbai was killed by Protestants because he wanted to return to Islam." This is strongly denied by Saktinbai Usmanov's son, Protestant Pastor Ruslan Usmanov, who told Forum 18 that this is a "monstrous slander." There are numerous incidents of intolerance, including official hostility, towards Christian converts from Muslim backgrounds throughout Central Asia, Forum 18 has found.
8 December 2005
In its survey analysis of religious freedom in Kazakhstan, Forum 18 News Service notes that the de facto religious freedom situation continues unchanged. Religious communities – notably Protestant Christian and Hare Krishna religious minorities, as well as non-state controlled Muslims - continued to experience state hostility and attacks on their freedom to carry out peaceful religious activity. The passage in 2005 of new "extremism" and "national security" laws significantly worsened the de jure religious freedom situation. However, it is generally agreed within Kazakhstan that the de facto religious freedom situation has not yet significantly worsened. Professor Roman Podoprigora, an expert on religious law, commented to Forum 18 that it will only be some time after the recent presidential elections – in which the incumbent President Nazarbayev was declared the winner – that it will become clear whether state religious policy will become harsher.
5 December 2005
The second known religious prisoner of conscience in Turkmenistan, Hare Krishna devotee Cheper Annaniyazova, is to be moved to the country's only women's prison, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. "This is a long way from her home in Ashgabad and will make it difficult for people to visit her," Forum 18 was told. "Besides, it is in a closed border zone and anyone wanting to visit will need a special permit." Annaniyazova was sentenced in November to seven years in jail on three charges, one of which was not made public. The extra sentence imposed in the wake of the accusation was likewise not made public. The judge in Annaniyazova's case refused to give her lawyer a copy of the written verdict, or even to let the lawyer see it, which one source told Forum 18 may have been a deliberate attempt to prevent a legal appeal. It is thought within Turkmenistan that the seven year jail sentence was imposed to intimidate the Hare Krishna community.