KAZAKHSTAN: Warned for violating coronavirus regulations, but fined for leading worship

Source:                  www.forum18.org

Date:                       May 28, 2020


After a raid on Baptists meeting for worship in Pavlodar despite
coronavirus restrictions, Pastor Isak Nieman was warned for violating
anti-coronavirus measures. But after the warning, which he accepted, he was
fined nearly two months' average wages on a second charge of leading
worship without state permission. Officials in Aktobe fined a shopping
centre administrator for allowing Muslims to pray in a unit there.

KAZAKHSTAN: Warned for violating coronavirus regulations, but fined for
leading worship
http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2574
By Felix Corley, Forum 18

Police in the north-eastern Kazakh city of Pavlodar who raided a 29 March
Baptist meeting for worship brought two charges against Pastor Isak Nieman.
The first charge was for violating anti-coronavirus health measures, for
which the Pastor received a warning. But for the second charge of leading a
meeting for worship without state permission Pastor Neiman was fined nearly
two months' average wages.

Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev introduced a state of
emergency from the morning of 16 March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
This halted public meetings nationwide, including those for worship. The
state of emergency was officially ended on 11 May, though some restrictions
remain.

After the emergency was ended, police in May raided a Muslim prayer room
being used for Friday prayers in a unit in a shopping centre in the
north-western city of Aktobe. A court banned the prayer room, fined the
shopping centre's administrator about one month's average wage, and banned
the unit from functioning for three months (see below).

A fellow Council of Churches Baptist in Pavlodar Region, Aleksei Asetov,
has been banned from leaving Kazakhstan since July 2018 after failing to
pay a fine similar to Pastor Neiman's imposed to punish leading an
unregistered religious community. Asetov has now been banned from leaving
Kazakhstan since his first unpaid fine in 2012 (see below).

The bailiff responsible for recovering the unpaid fine from Asetov insisted
to Forum 18 that she is simply carrying out the decision of the court and
cannot lift his ban on leaving the country without a legal basis. Numerous
Council of Churches Baptists who refused to pay fines to punish them for
exercising freedom of religion or belief have been banned from leaving the
country (see below).

Pavlodar: Warned for violating coronavirus regulations but fined for
leading worship

The Council of Churches Baptist congregation in the north-eastern city of
Pavlodar – led by the 65-year-old Pastor Isak Neiman – meets for
worship on private premises. Like all Council of Churches Baptist
congregations, it chooses not to seek state permission to be allowed to
exist and meet.

About seven police officers raided the congregation during its Sunday
morning meeting for worship on 29 March, claiming to be checking compliance
with anti-coronavirus health measures. About 300 church members were
present, according to the subsequent court decision seen by Forum 18.
Officers told church members they had to disperse, which they did.

Officers drew up a record of an offence for violating anti-coronavirus
health measures. At the hearing the following day at Pavlodar's Specialised
Administrative Court, Pastor Neiman "completely admitted his guilt" and
said that he had been unaware of the order by Pavlodar Region's chief
doctor banning mass gatherings. He promised not to hold such events during
the time when they were banned on health grounds. Judge Marat Musabayev
found him guilty and issued him with a warning, according to the decision
seen by Forum 18.

But although only a warning was issued for anti-coronavirus measures, a
fine of nearly two months' average wages was imposed for leading a meeting
for worship without state permission.

On the day of the raid, 29 March, police also brought a second charge
against Pastor Neiman, this time under Administrative Code Article 489,
Part 9. This punishes "Leadership of an unregistered, halted, or banned
religious community or social organisation" with a fine of 100 MFIs
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2409) (277,800 Tenge since 1
April). This is about two months' average wages for those in formal work.

On 20 April, the case for leading meetings for worship without state
permission was heard at Pavlodar's Specialised Administrative Court. Pastor
Neiman told the court that any demand to register his church would be
against the Constitution and the Bible, also pointing to the "constantly
changing laws".

However, Judge Serik Mardanov found Pastor Neiman guilty and fined him the
specified 100 MFIs, reduced by 30 per cent to 194,460 Tenge because he is a
pensioner.

An officer at Pavlodar Police Department, which issued the record of an
"offence" about the meetings without state registration, defended his
fellow officers. "There was a basis for issuing the record," the officer,
who did not give his name, told Forum 18 on 28 May. "We don't work
illegally."

Asked why people are punished for meeting for worship without state
permission, the officer put the phone down. Forum 18 did not get the chance
to ask why leading meetings for worship is thought to be a more serious
offence than violating coronavirus regulations.

"Our church hasn't been raided since the 2000s," Pastor Neiman commented to
Forum 18 on 27 May. "We had lots of raids then. But other churches in
Ekibastuz (http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2334) and Semey
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1963) have been raided in
recent years."

Council of Churches Baptists follow a policy of civil disobedience,
refusing to pay fines handed down to punish the exercise of their freedom
of religion or belief. "We usually don't pay such fines," Pastor Neiman
told Forum 18, "as that would be to admit we're guilty, that the
punishments are justified." He said that, in the case of pensioners like
himself, the authorities usually take the fines directly from pensions.

Pastor Neiman lodged an appeal against the punishment, which reached
Pavlodar Regional Court on 12 May. The appeal, finally heard on 28 May
online, was rejected.

Aktobe: Prayer room banned, administrator fined, unit banned from
functioning

Police raided a unit in the ZapKazYarmarka shopping centre in the
north-western city of Aktobe on 15 May. They found a Muslim prayer room in
the unit being used for Friday prayers.

Forum 18's calls to Aktobe Police on 28 May were not answered.

The raid took place four days after the end of the national emergency
period because of the coronavirus pandemic, though social distancing
measures remain. Aktobe Regional Akim (head of administration) Ondasyn
Urazalin had allowed the ZapKazYarmarka shopping centre to reopen on 17
April, noting that social distancing was able to be maintained.

Following the 15 May raid, a prosecution was then brought against the
53-year-old administrator of the shopping centre, Gulnar Kurmangaliyeva,
for allowing use of premises in the shopping centre for a religious
meeting.

The case was brought under Administrative Code Article 490, Part 1, Point
1. This punishes "violation of procedures established in law for conducting
rites, ceremonies and meetings". The punishment for individuals is a fine
of 50 MFIs, and for organisations a fine of 200 MFIs and a three-month ban
on activity (http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2409).

Kurmangaliyeva admitted the "offence" at Aktobe's Specialised
Administrative Court and asked that the court "not take harsh punishment
measures against her", according to the court decision. At the end of the
15 May hearing, which took place online because of the coronavirus
pandemic, Judge Mukhtar Toibazar found her guilty and fined her 50 MFIs,
132,550 Tenge, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. This represents
about one month's average wage for those in formal work.

Judge Toibazar also banned the unit with the prayer room from functioning
for three months.

Sabit Mukanov, deputy chair of Aktobe Region's Religious Affairs
Department, claimed that he was not familiar with the action against
Kurmangaliyeva. "The police drew up the record of an offence, not us," he
told Forum 18 on 28 May.

Mukanov defended the prosecution of individuals for exercising freedom of
religion or belief if the activity is banned by law, even if it is in
defiance of Kazakhstan's international human rights obligations. "We defend
the law," he insisted. "We have our path, our development."

Frequent fines for exercising freedom of religion or belief

Kazakhstan frequently punishes individuals, religious communities and
companies for maintaining prayer rooms without state permission, holding
meetings for worship, offering religious literature and items (including
online), sharing or teaching faith, posting religious material online,
praying in mosques, inviting a child to meetings, or inadequate security
measures (http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2409).

In 2019 there were at least 167 such cases for exercising freedom of
religion and belief. Of these, 144 ended with convictions, with 140
individuals (1 twice), 2 religious communities and 1 company being
punished, almost all of them with fines
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2532).

Such administrative cases continue in 2020. Individuals are known to have
been fined between January and March 2020 for offering religious literature
for sale online, for offering Korans for sale in shops, for lending two
religious books to another individual, and for posting Islamic materials on
the Telegram messaging app.

In February a court in the southern Zhambyl Region ordered the destruction
of a hadith collection confiscated from a Kyrgyz citizen who had crossed
the border into Kazakhstan
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2558). The judge ordered the
one Muslim book destroyed even though the Religion Law allows individuals
to bring into the country one copy of any one religious book for personal
use (http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2409).

Police in a village in Pavlodar Region detained two Baptists and
confiscated Christian literature they were sharing free on the streets. In
early March, the local court fined them each one month's average wages and
ordered the 196 items of Christian literature destroyed. The Regional Court
has now ordered that the confiscated literature should be sent for "expert
analysis" (see below).

In addition to fines and bans,  individuals, all Sunni Muslims, are known
to be currently jailed for terms of up to eight years for exercising
freedom of religion or belief
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=256624).

Confiscated books saved from destruction?

When Akkuly District Court fined two Council of Churches Baptists, Oleg
Stepanenko and Nadezhda Smirnova, on 2 March, it also ordered the 196
Christian publications confiscated from them to be destroyed
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2558).

Stepanenko and Smirnova were among four Baptists who on 29 February
travelled to the village of Akkuly in the north-eastern Pavlodar Region
close to the border with Russia. There they offered Christian literature to
villagers on the street
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2558).

Officers confiscated their Christian literature, which was in Russian and
Kazakh: 3 copies of "Jesus our Destiny", 10 copies of "The Most Important
Truths", 15 copies of "All Children Need to Know This", 98 copies of the
newspaper "Do You Believe?" and 70 Christian leaflets.

The Court punished the two under Administrative Code Article 490, Part 1,
Point 3 ("Violating the requirements of the Religion Law for .. import,
manufacturing, production, publication and/or distribution of religious
literature and other religious materials, and items for religious use")
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2409). Each was fined 50
MFIs each (about one month's average wage).

Asked by Forum 18 in April why he had ordered the confiscated literature to
be destroyed, Judge Kairbulat Karimov (who punished Stepanenko) responded:
"The literature they sought to distribute was destroyed because it was the
instrument of their violation." Asked if he liked ordering religious
literature to be destroyed, he responded: "When we're enacting the law we
don't distinguish on the basis of individuals' religious, racial or ethnic
affiliation." (http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2558)

Both Stepanenko and Smirnova appealed against the punishments. In separate
hearings on 16 April, Judge Saltanat Tasmagambetova of Pavlodar Regional
Court ruled that in neither case had an "expert analysis" been conducted on
the confiscated literature. She ordered that such an analysis be carried
out and suspended consideration of the appeals until that is produced.

Judge Tasmagambetova assigned the analysis to an unnamed "expert" at the
Justice Ministry's "Institute for Judicial Expert Analysis" in the capital
Nur-Sultan, according to the court decision seen by Forum 18. She ordered
that the analysis determine whether the books are religious and if so of
what faith, and "whether the confiscated materials contain information
aimed at inciting social, racial, ethnic, religious, class or tribal
discord".

The Judge's decision has the effect of suspending the order for the 196
items of literature to be destroyed. However, "expert analyses" are
frequently used to justify state violations of freedom of religion and
belief including the destruction of religious literature
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2409).

Defending court-ordered religious literature destruction

In August 2019, Aktobe's Specialised Administrative Court fined Murat
Dosmagambetov, who had been offering four Muslim leaflets at a railway
station, and ordered the leaflets to be destroyed
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2532).

In December 2019, the same court fined local Protestant Amangali Shabakov
for sharing religious books, including two which had not undergone state
censorship, and ordered the books to be destroyed
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2532).

Sabit Mukanov, deputy chair of Aktobe Region's Religious Affairs
Department, defended court decisions in his Region in 2019 that religious
publications confiscated from a local Muslim and a local Protestant should
be destroyed, but said he did not know how such literature destruction is
carried out.

"We're obliged to abide by the law," Mukanov told Forum 18 on 28 May. "But
the court made the decisions, so you have to ask the court. I don't know
the further fate of these religious materials."

Nine-year exit ban

A Council of Churches Baptist from Ekibastuz in Pavlodar Region, Aleksei
Asetov, has been banned from leaving Kazakhstan since 2011 for failing to
pay successive fines to punish leading an unregistered religious community.

Pastor Asetov's most recent exit ban was imposed on 30 July 2018 after he
failed to pay a fine imposed under Administrative Code Article 489, Part 9
to punish him for leading an unregistered religious community
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2409).

Police in late October 2017 raided a Sunday morning meeting for worship of
Pastor Asetov's Baptist congregation in Ekibastuz
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2334). Police summarily
fined him 226,900 Tenge or 100 MFIs, about two months' average wage. His
wife and 18 other church members were given smaller fines.

As Pastor Asetov refused to pay the fine, court bailiffs brought
proceedings against him to recover the money on 25 July 2018, according to
the court debtors' register seen by Forum 18.

Asetov – a shoe-repairer with 10 children - has now been banned from
leaving Kazakhstan since his first unpaid fine in 2011. After a police raid
on the congregation in November 2011, he was fined about a year and a
half's average wage in February 2012
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1666). After failing to pay
the fine, Pastor Asetov was in May 2013 given a three-day prison term
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1868).

The bailiff responsible for recovering the unpaid fine from Asetov,
Karlygash Sadvakasova, insisted to Forum 18 on 28 May that she is simply
carrying out the decision of the court and cannot lift Asetov's ban on
leaving the country without a legal basis.

Numerous Council of Churches Baptists who refused to pay fines to punish
them for exercising freedom of religion or belief have been banned from
leaving the country. Yevgeny Zhovtis, of the Kazakhstan International
Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, described this as "double
punishment" (http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2409). Most of
the earlier exit bans appear now to have lapsed. (END)

Full reports on freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Kazakhstan
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?query=&religion=all&country=29)

For more background, see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2409)

Forum 18's compilation of Organisation for Security and Co-operation in
Europe (OSCE) freedom of religion or belief commitments
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1351)

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