Christians fined for worshipping in Kazakhstan

Kazakh police have started exercising this year their power under the country's restrictive law on religious freedom and imposed fines on three members of different Baptist congregations for meeting for worship without state permission.

(REUTERS/MUKHTAR KHOLDORBEKOV)Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev speaks during his yearly state of the nation address in Astana December 14, 2012.

According to the religious freedom watchdog Forum 18, police officers in Kazakhstan wielded for the first time their authority to impose fines without court hearing on citizens meeting for worship without prior state permission. Christians, human rights advocates and journalists all attest that no such case existed before.

This year saw three members of Council of Churches Baptists congregations as victims of such police power. On separate occasions, the officers fined the amount of 100 Monthly Financial Indicators (MFIs) or 212,100 Tenge on 89-year-old Yegor Prokopenko of Zyryanovsk, and 50 MFIs or 106,050 Tenge on Sofya Bunyak of Ekibastuz. They also fined Aleksandr Belan of Sergeyevka, but the police reportedly withdrew Belan's charges.

"Such summary police fines haven't been used against us before," a Baptist with a history of being fined and detained told Forum 18. "No one explained to us why they've suddenly started doing this."

Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed into law the restrictive Code of Administrative Offences in July 2014 that came into effect in January the following year.

Administrative Code Article 489, Part 9 empowers police to impose fines of 100 MFIs, without court hearing, to those who are charged with "Leadership of an unregistered, halted, or banned religious community or social organisation."

The fine of 100 MFI equates to $625 or about seven weeks of average income as based on last month's report of the nation's Statistics Committee.

Article 489, Part 10 gives the same police power with a fine of 50 MFIs on charges of "Participation in an unregistered, halted, or banned religious community or social organisation."

Article 489, Part 11 slaps the hefty fine of 200 MFIs on charges of "Financing the activity of an unregistered, halted, or banned religious community or social organisation."

Human Rights Watch condemned Kazakhstan in its 2015 World Report for infringing on civil liberties and violating international conventions.

"Kazakhstan heavily restricts freedom of assembly, speech, and religion," said a statement in the report.

The report also revealed how the European Union, United States and United Kingdom urged Nazarbayev to dismiss the new bill adopted in 2014 that only clamped down further on fundamental freedoms.

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