Date: August 19, 2022
Protestants say secret police encouraged a former church member to lodge a
suit against New Life Church – now in court in Pavlodar - claiming back
pay and compensation for moral damages for volunteer work in a
rehabilitation centre. "This is not a state campaign against the Church," a
local religious affairs official claimed, though the individual met
officials and a state-backed anti-"sect" centre. Jehovah's Witnesses are
appealing a decision awarding large "compensation" to two former members.
An assessment of their literature, claiming it caused psychiatric harm,
listed a work by Andrei Snezhnevsky, leader of Soviet-era psychiatric
KAZAKHSTAN: "This is not a state campaign against the Church"?
By Felix Corley, Forum 18
A spate of civil suits against Protestant and Jehovah's Witness communities
appear to have at least some backing from parts of the state. A suit
against the Pentecostal New Life Church in Pavlodar - by an individual who
is claiming back pay and compensation for moral damages for the years he
worked as a volunteer in a rehabilitation centre - is now in court.
A fifth civil suit against a Jehovah's Witness community led in June to a
court-ordered pay-out to a mother and her teen-aged son who claim their
psychological health was harmed by attending meetings and reading
literature. The Jehovah's Witness appeal is due to begin at Nur-Sultan City
Court on 23 August (see below).
In November 2021, a former Jehovah's Witness filed a civil suit against the
community he had been a member of in Taraz in Zhambyl Region. He withdrew
the suit, then reinstated it, then withdrew it again, and in January 2022
the court closed the case (see below).
Protestants say the National Security Committee (KNB) secret police appear
to have encouraged the plaintiff in Pavlodar to lodge the suit. "This not a
dispute over labour as the individual never worked for the Church," one
Protestant familiar with the case told Forum 18. "It is a clear provocation
by state agencies and you can tell that from admissions by the individual
himself that the secret police are behind him" (see below).
The plaintiff in Pavlodar met officials of Pavlodar Regional Akimat
(Administration) Religious Affairs Department. He also had contact with and
support from the head of the state-backed Centre to Support Victims of
Destructive Religious Sects in Kostanai, Yuliya Kalyuzhnaya. The Centre
gets funding from Kostanai Regional Akimat Religious Affairs Department and
other state bodies (see below).
Kalyuzhnaya has contributed to articles published in the local media and by
her Centre attacking "the leaders of religious organisations who are
parasites on human gullibility". She publicly accused New Life Church of
violating the plaintiff's rights (see below).
Another article published by her Centre in August warned parents about the
alleged dangers of children being invited to "dubious events" by
"pseudo-religious organisations". She refused to identify these
organisations to Forum 18. A Protestant described this article as
anti-religious "in the spirit of Soviet times" (see below).
Daulet Zakaryanov, head of Pavlodar Regional Akimat Religious Affairs
Department, insisted that the state had not encouraged the former church
member to bring the suit. "We listened to him, but we don't speak for him,"
he told Forum 18. "We won't take sides." And he added: "This is not a state
campaign against the Church" (see below).
A court in the capital Nur-Sultan considering the suit against the
Jehovah's Witness community rejected all the assessments of the plaintiffs'
health and of the Jehovah's Witness literature supplied by the respondents
and accepted entirely the assessments commissioned by the plaintiffs'
lawyer (see below).
One such assessment from an otherwise unknown organisation Media-Group:
Psychology, Health and Rights claimed that 27 Jehovah's Witness
publications – all of which are legal for distribution in Kazakhstan -
contain "hidden commands". Reading them can foster "the phenomenon of
dependency" and "addictive behaviour". The literature has the effect of,
among other things, promoting "a certain psycho-corrective work",
"suggestion", "neuro-linguistic programming" and "introduction into a state
of trance" (see below).
The Media-Group assessment echoes almost word for word statements in a 2019
"expert conclusion" which was found to be plagiarised by as much as 63 per
cent from a 2008 Russian analysis (see below).
Among the methodological and reference works the Media-Group assessment
cites is a 1983 book on psychiatry by Andrei Snezhnevsky. He was the
leading figure in the abuse of psychiatry for political ends in the later
Soviet era, developing fake psychiatric diagnoses to abuse political
dissidents and human rights defenders, including Vladimir Bukovsky (see
Jehovah's Witnesses say they have found no information about any current
activities of Media-Group. "This whole situation gives the impression that
the Media-Group legal entity was created specifically for the court trial"
Beimbet Manetov, who represented the Religious Affairs Committee as a third
party in court, rejected suggestions that officials had encouraged the
mother and son to bring the suits against the Jehovah's Witness community.
"We can't say they have the support of the authorities," he told Forum 18
Nur-Sultan: Jehovah's Witness literature "cause of social maladjustment and
neurotisation of personality"?
In December 2020 and again in February and March 2021, a former Jehovah's
Witness sought psychiatric help for what she claimed to be effects of
having been a member of the Jehovah's Witness community in Nur-Sultan.
Psychiatrists also examined her teenage son.
On 14 May 2021, the woman's lawyer Igor Tskhai asked for an assessment of 9
books and 18 journals published by Jehovah's Witnesses "on the subject of
their influence on the personality". Tskhai chose a firm Media-Group:
Psychology, Health and Rights, based in Almaty. Media-Group then assigned
the assessment to four psychiatrists and psychologists of the Kazakh
National Medical University in Almaty, led by Fatima Bagiyarova.
All of the 27 publications which were produced after 2011 have successfully
passed through the state's compulsory prior censorship of all religious
literature published in or imported into the country. None has been banned.
Among the questions Tskhai put were:
- "Is it possible for the phenomenon of dependency to emerge among
Jehovah's Witness members from regular reading of the literature
- "Are psychological disorders or an exacerbation of psychiatric illnesses
possible on studying the literature presented?"
- "What techniques of psychological influence are used in the religious
literature and how is this expressed in the literature (with examples)?"
Media-Group's 40-page assessment – completed on 1 July 2021 – claims to
have found that a study of these Jehovah's Witness publications leads to a
"change to some particularities of the personality, consciousness,
sub-consciousness and conduct", including the "modification of mood" and
"in all, the destruction of the personal construction and could become the
cause of social maladjustment and neurotisation of the personality".
Reading these Jehovah's Witness publications and attending meetings where
they are discussed, Media-Group's assessment claims – is a "highly
structured process .. with various methods of psychological and
psycho-therapeutic influence on the addressees with the help of the
techniques 'provoking cognitive dissonance', 'Hypnotic trance',
'neuro-linguistic reframing', 'simulation', and 'informational overload'".
The repetition of the same ideas in Jehovah's Witness books, and the
publication of "Watchtower" magazine monthly is, the assessment claims, a
deliberate attempt to foster "the phenomenon of dependency" and "addictive
behaviour". The literature has the effect of, among other things, promoting
"a certain psycho-corrective work", "suggestion", "neuro-linguistic
programming" and "introduction into a state of trance". The literature
contained "hidden commands".
The claims in the Media-Group's assessment often repeat verbatim claims in
other "expert analyses" of Jehovah's Witness literature, such as those
conducted by the Almaty branch of the Justice Ministry's "Centre for
Judicial Expert Analysis" in June 2019 for a similar case against the
Nur-Sultan and Taraz Jehovah's Witness communities. As much as 63 per cent
of that analysis was found to have been plagiarised from a 2008 analysis
produced in Russia (https://www.forum18.org/archi
(where Jehovah's Witnesses have since been banned and many jailed
Among the methodological and reference works the Media-Group assessment
cites is a 1983 book on psychiatry by Andrei Snezhnevsky, director of the
Institute of Psychiatry of the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences from 1962
until his death in 1987.
Snezhnevsky was the leading figure in the abuse of psychiatry for political
ends in the later Soviet era
psychiatric diagnoses to abuse political dissidents and human rights
defenders, including Vladimir Bukovsky. He also "diagnosed" in absentia the
writer Joseph Brodsky and the physicist and human rights defender Andrei
Sakharov as suffering from his invented diagnosis of "sluggish
Another work the assessment cites is a 2021 conference paper by Andrei
Morozov, a historian who works for the Russian Interior Ministry Academy in
Omsk, on "Religion and personality in the circles of danger".
Bagiyarova, one of the four who prepared and signed the Media-Group
assessment, insisted that not all readers of these Jehovah's Witness
publications would suffer the impact she and her colleagues claim to have
discovered. "It all depends on the person," she told Forum 18 on 17 August.
"When people smoke or drink, some become dependent and some don't."
Asked whether regular attendance at a mosque or Russian Orthodox Church and
reading of their literature might lead to the dependency she and her
colleagues claimed to find among Jehovah's Witnesses, Bagiyarova did not
Asked whether she and her colleagues believe the Jehovah's Witness
publications should be banned if they have the serious impact on readers
they claim they have, Bagiyarova responded: "It is not our decision to ban
literature or not."
Asked why those who had written the assessment had not provided their
passport details and qualifications to conduct "expert analyses" to use in
court cases, Bagiyarova responded that she and her colleagues were engaged
by the lawyer not as "official judicial experts" but as "independent
experts" and were thus not required to supply these.
The lawyer Tskhai refused to explain why he chose Media-Group to conduct
the assessment of the Jehovah's Witness literature. "I wasn't looking for
any particular conclusion," he told Forum 18 on 17 August. "We were seeking
the cause of my client's illness."
Media-Group created specifically for court trial?
Media-Group: Psychology, Health and Rights appears to have been set up as
an individual entrepreneurship by a lecturer at Al-Farabi Kazakh National
University, Aynur Urisbayeva. The website listed on the assessment does not
appear ever to have existed and no mention of the group seems to appear in
web searches in Kazakh or Russian.
Forum 18's calls and messages to Urisbayeva between 16 and 19 August went
Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 that Media-Group was registered on 25
December 2020, two weeks after the plaintiff first applied to the
Republican Scientific and Practical Centre for Mental Health. "And less
than five months later, this individual entrepreneurship received a request
for a conclusion on literature."
Jehovah's Witnesses said they have found no information about any current
activities of Media-Group. "This whole situation gives the impression that
the Media-Group legal entity was created specifically for the court trial."
Nur-Sultan: Suit against Jehovah's Witness community
On 8 December 2021, the former Jehovah's Witness and her 17-year-old son
lodged a civil suit against the Jehovah's Witness community in Nur-Sultan,
of which they had been members. The case was lodged in the city's Saryarka
District Court, where it was initially assigned to Judge Bekmukhammed
Adilkhanov. Judge Aliya Kasymova later took over the case, despite the fact
that she had already been involved in the case at the mediation stage.
The mother and son sought "moral compensation" of 20,000,000 Tenge (411,000
Norwegian Kroner, 42,000 Euros or 42,000 US Dollars) in total, in addition
to legal and medical expenses, for alleged damage to their psychological
and psychiatric health during the time that they were Jehovah's Witnesses
(9 years and 4 years respectively).
"This claim is also almost identical to those of Abishov-Khvan in
Nur-Sultan and the Bekbembetovs in Taraz
told Forum 18. "The woman and her son are represented by the same lawyers
who participated in the Abishov-Khvan case."
The court also involved the Information and Social Development Ministry's
Religious Affairs Committee as a third party. The head of the Committee's
Legal Department, Beimbet Manetov, represented it in court.
Judge Kasymova found against the Jehovah's Witness community in a 20 June
decision, seen by Forum 18. Citing "expert analyses" of the mother and son,
her decision attributes the psychological conditions of the two to their
attendance at Jehovah's Witness meetings and reading of Jehovah's Witness
literature. She rejected expert analyses undertaken by psychiatrists on
behalf of the defence which disputed these findings.
Judge Kasymova copies in her decision without question many of the
conclusions of the July 2021 Media-Group assessment of the Jehovah's
Witness publications. The decision mentions an assessment the Jehovah's
Witnesses commissioned of the same publications, which did not find any
"techniques of psychological influence" on readers. However, the Judge
dismissed this also.
One reason Judge Kasymova gave was that the assessment commissioned by the
Jehovah's Witness community had been done on electronic versions of the
same books, not on the copies of the books held with the case materials,
even though they were identical.
Judge Kasymova ordered the Jehovah's Witness community to pay the mother
and son 2,250,000 Tenge each in "compensation for moral harm", as well as
fees of 1,459 Tenge for each. She also ordered it to pay a total of 953,971
Tenge for the plaintiffs' defence and for the "expert analyses".
The Jehovah's Witness community lodged its appeal against the decision to
Nur-Sultan City Court on 2 August, according to court records. A hearing is
due on 23 August.
Nur-Sultan: "Strong reasons to believe that the court is biased"
The lawyer Igor Tskhai rejected suggestions that the suit had been brought
as part of a campaign that included his involvement in the similar 2020
suit in Nur-Sultan against the Jehovah's Witness community. "They suffered
– this is not my conclusion but the conclusion of specialists," he told
Forum 18 on 17 August. "I'm not against anyone." He declined to discuss any
other aspects of the case without permission from his clients.
Beimbet Manetov, who represented the Religious Affairs Committee in court,
rejected suggestions that officials had encouraged the mother and son to
bring the suits against the Jehovah's Witness community. "We can't say they
have the support of the authorities," he told Forum 18 from Nur-Sultan on
Manetov said it would not be appropriate for a state official to comment on
a court decision. "If the religious community is unhappy with the decision,
it has the right to appeal."
Asked whether he had seen the Media-Group assessment of 27 Jehovah's
Witness publications which the court had accepted, and whether the
Religious Affairs Committee agrees with its claims, Manetov responded: "I
am familiar with the case materials." However he declined to discuss
whether he agreed with the claims that the literature, for example, leads
readers into a "hypnotic trance" and declined to say whether the Religious
Affairs Committee is considering banning any of them.
Jehovah's Witnesses reject the 20 June court decision, pointing out what
they saw as questionable decisions by the Judge. "There are strong reasons
to believe that the court is biased against the religious association,"
they told Forum 18.
Jehovah's Witnesses said the Judge had accepted the plaintiffs' motion to
have several of the community's lawyers who were from Ukraine removed from
the case. They said the plaintiffs failed to appear for a psychiatric
examination at the Forensic Institute of Almaty ordered in January by the
first Judge. The court refused the respondent's application to cross
examine the plaintiffs, ruling that their lawyer Tskhai could answer all
questions on their behalf.
"The essence of the claim is to establish causation of 'moral harm', which
is inextricably linked with demonstrating actual suffering and distress,"
Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. "The extent of such alleged suffering
cannot be established and objectively evaluated in any other way than
through the personal testimony of the plaintiffs."
Pavlodar: Suit against New Life Church
A former member of New Life Church in Aksu in Pavlodar Region lodged a suit
in court against New Life Church in the regional capital Pavlodar on 11
July 2022. Aksu is 40 kms (25 miles) by road from Pavlodar. The individual
had worked as a volunteer at a rehabilitation centre for alcoholics and
drug addicts on the property in Aksu of Pastor Vyacheslav Shipachev.
The individual claimed he had not been given a work contract or paid proper
wages for work done in Aksu between 2009 and 2022, and demanded "moral
Pavlodar City Court accepted his suit on 20 July 2022, according to case
documents seen by Forum 18. The case is being heard by Judge Aliya Asanova.
On 12 August, the Judge included the Regional Akimat (Administration)
Religious Affairs Department as a third party in the case.
The Church lodged numerous motions to the Court in early August, arguing
that the suit had not been brought within the one year deadline, that the
individual had never worked for New Life Church in Pavlodar, and presenting
the names of church members who could testify to that. The Church's lawyer
also asked for the plaintiff to be required to pay legal costs so far
On 8 August, once the suit was in court, the former Aksu church member
reduced his demand for unpaid wages from 13 years to 3 years.
The Church says the individual signed an agreement each year as a volunteer
and provided a copy of the agreement for 2014. It added that if the
individual has any complaints, they should be brought against Pastor
The Church's lawyer also rejected the individual's claims that the Church
had put pressure on him despite his disability. "The emergence of illness
in the plaintiff is not at all connected with the respondent and any work
for the respondent, and no manipulation and psychological pressure was put
on the plaintiff by workers of the respondent or anyone else from the
Pavlodar: "This is not a state campaign against the Church"?
The former Aksu church member had support from the state-backed Centre to
Support Victims of Destructive Religious Sects in Kostanai, whose president
is a police colonel. This is one of numerous such centres to receive state
grants (see below).
Daulet Zakaryanov, head of the Regional Akimat (Administration) Religious
Affairs Department, insisted that the state had not encouraged the former
Aksu church member to bring the suit. "We listened to him, but we don't
speak for him," Zakaryanov told Forum 18 from Pavlodar on 16 August. "We
won't take sides."
Zakaryanov told Forum 18 that he had been surprised when the Judge added
his Department as a third party in the case. He sent one of his officials
to represent the Committee in court.
Asked about how often religious communities in his Region use volunteers in
their work, Zakaryanov responded: "This often happens. There are dozens of
cases here where volunteers have built mosques and churches. Even
Christians have volunteered to help build mosques."
Zakaryanov insists that the case is not about faith, but entirely about a
dispute over labour. He claimed to be unaware of materials about the case
in the local media – most of them deriving from the state-backed Centre
to Support Victims of Destructive Religious Sects in Kostanai – which
make serious allegations against New Life Church. "This is not a state
campaign against the Church. I have no complaints against it."
One Protestant familiar with the case strongly disagrees, noting that the
National Security Committee (KNB) secret police appear to have encouraged
the individual to lodge the suit. "This not a dispute over labour as the
individual never worked for the Church," the Protestant told Forum 18. "It
is a clear provocation by state agencies and you can tell that from
admissions by the individual himself that the secret police are behind
Beimbet Manetov, the head of the Legal Department at the Information and
Social Development Ministry's Religious Affairs Committee in the capital
Nur-Sultan, said the Pavlodar court has not invited the Committee to be
involved in the case. Asked whether the support the former Aksu church
member had from the state-backed Centre and reports that the KNB secret
police had encouraged him meant that the state supported the suit, he
declined to comment on the case.
"Parasites on human gullibility"?
An article on Kostanaiskie Novosti news website on 4 August, reposted on
the Centre's own website Stop-Sekta.kz the following day, described what it
called the former Aksu church member's "work slavery" at the hands of New
Life Church, which it claimed was a common phenomenon. "The majority of
people try to preserve their anonymity," the article claimed, "but there
are others wanting to punish the leaders of religious organisations who are
parasites on human gullibility."
The article claimed the former church member worked on rebuilding a
church-run rehabilitation centre for alcoholics and drug addicts with very
little pay (of which he was expected to pay a tithe). It said the centre
was later closed and sold. At the same time, it alleged, the Church's
leaders "lived an idle lifestyle". It claimed this affected not only the
church member's income, but his health, both physically and
Yuliya Kalyuzhnaya, the head of the Centre, said the former New Life Church
member had approached her Centre "like anyone else". "He found our website,
told us his story and asked us for help," she told Forum 18 on 18 August.
She accused New Life Church of violating the individual's human rights by
"exploiting him all these years".
Kalyuzhnaya added: "There are many such cases of people who have left
religious organisations and seek psychological help from us." She refused
to identify any religious organisations whose former members she has had
Anti-religious article "in the spirit of Soviet times"
Among other recent anti-religious materials published by the state-backed
Centre to Support Victims of Destructive Religious Sects in Kostanai was an
article from 13 August. It warned parents about the alleged dangers of
children being invited to "dubious events" by "pseudo-religious
The article – which cites Yuliya Kalyuzhnaya from the Centre – also
refers to the suit against Pavlodar's New Life Church.
One Protestant described the article to Forum 18 as anti-religious and "in
the spirit of Soviet times". The Protestant noted that the organisations
described as "pseudo-religious" have state registration as religious
organisations. "The main thrust of the article is negative and insulting,
discredits religious organisations, and draws on xenophobia," the
Protestant told Forum 18 on 18 August. "Its main point is that religious
organisations should not be allowed to work with young people."
State-backed anti-"sect" Centre
The state-backed Centre to Support Victims of Destructive Religious Sects
in Kostanai is part of the Kostanai Region Association of Psychologists.
The Centre has received grants directly from the state in previous years.
More recent state grants have been channelled through the Association of
Psychologists, with the projects managed by Yuliya Kalyuzhnaya, the head of
Such state-funded "anti-sect centres" have long been used to encourage
hostility against the exercise of freedom of religion and belief
churches such as New Life.
Among recent state grants to the Kostanai Centre was one on 15 June from
the Internal Policy Department of Kamysty District Akimat (Administration)
for 660,000 Tenge to conduct events on "raising the population's
informational literacy on the activity of contemporary religious
movements", according to the contract seen by Forum 18.
On 26 May, a state grant was agreed with the Religious Affairs Department
of Kostanai Region for funding of 2,200,000 Tenge for "organising the
activity of the Centre to Support Victims of Destructive Religious Sects",
according to the contract seen by Forum 18. The contract was agreed by the
Religious Affairs Department head, Zhanbolat Umbetov.
Asked on 19 August what the Religious Affairs Department expects the Centre
to do with the state grant and why it gives taxpayers' money to an
organisation that some religious communities say issues material publicly
that insults them, Umbetov responded: "They have their defined work and
lots of experience. People apply to them for help after suffering from
pseudo-religious organisations, who conduct activity illegally. People are
deceived by them."
Asked who these "pseudo-religious organisations" are, Umbetov said Forum 18
would have to ask the Centre. Told that Kalyuzhnaya had refused to identify
them either, he repeated his comment.
Asked why tax-payers' money was used to support a Centre that produces
material that one Protestant described as anti-religious and "in the spirit
of Soviet times", Umbetov responded: "It's a very small amount of money,
and she had to win a state tender."
Umbetov insists that he has no problem with New Life Church. "We work with
the Church and have signed agreements with it."
Taraz: Suit against Jehovah's Witness community withdrawn
In November 2021, a former Jehovah's Witness filed a civil suit against the
community he had been a member of in Taraz in Zhambyl Region. He claimed
that his religious rights had been violated when he was, as he claimed,
wrongfully expelled from a local congregation. He demanded moral
compensation for the damage that allegedly caused.
The claimant lodged the suit at Taraz City Court on 13 November 2021, but
the same day asked to withdraw it. The court returned the documents and
closed the case on 15 November 2021, according to the decision seen by
Forum 18. The claimant initiated a new civil case on 23 November 2021.
However, the claimant's representative then asked to withdraw the suit and
asked Taraz City Court to consider this in the claimant's absence. On 21
January 2022, the court closed the case, according to the court decision
seen by Forum 18.
On 25 February, Taraz City Court refused to grant the Jehovah's Witness
community's request to recover legal costs of 210,000 Tenge from the
claimant, according to the court decision seen by Forum 18.
Earlier suits against religious communities
In two virtually identical civil cases, in Nur-Sultan in 2020 and Taraz in
partially satisfied claims brought by former members against two different
Jehovah's Witness communities. The claimants in both of these cases were
the co-founders of the social fund Terra Libera, the openly-stated aim of
which is to liquidate the organisation of Jehovah's Witnesses in
"The courts concluded, in effect, that a local religious organisation is
responsible for consequences stemming from an individual's voluntary choice
of religion and religious activities," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.
In a third case, a couple brought a case against the Jehovah's Witness
community in Almaty using some of the materials used in the other cases. In
May 2021, the claimants filed a request to withdraw the claim
psychological and psychiatric forensic expert study unfavourable to their
Three self-exiled Protestant pastors were given long jail terms in absentia
for leading New Life Pentecostal Church in Almaty. They lost their appeal
at Almaty City Court in November 2019. The KNB secret police were heavily
involved in bringing the case.
The pastors were variously accused of founding the Church in 1991 with
"criminal intent", and "by means of the technology of psychological and
psychotherapeutic influence with the aim of causing psychological harm to
the health and stealing others' property by means of deception and abuse of
trust .. with the use of information technologies and methods of turning
the victims into a state of changed consciousness (trance)".
At one point police accused the church of storing weapons. This charge was
dropped as the only such item confiscated was an aerosol spray gun freely
available on the internet.
In the case of one of the nine "victims", the three pastors were accused of
harming her health from six months before she was born and when one of the
three pastors was only just 17 years old. (END)
Full reports on freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Kazakhstan
For more background, see Forum 18's Kazakhstan freedom of religion or
belief survey (https://www.forum18.org/archi
Forum 18's compilation of Organisation for Security and Co-operation in
Europe (OSCE) freedom of religion or belief commitments
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