OSLO, Norway (BP)—Two grandmothers in their 70s were among seven Baptists fined for participating in an unregistered religious meeting in a private home in eastern Kazakhstan on April 4.
Each was fined the equivalent of one to two months’ average wages for local state employees, according to verdicts seen by Forum 18 News Service, a religious freedom monitoring organization based in Oslo, Norway.
Forum 18 asked a judges’ assistant at the district court in the town of Ayagoz whether the judges and court officials were embarrassed over punishing religious believers for meeting for prayer. The assistant refused comment.
The oldest of the two grandmothers who were fined is 77. However, another Baptist—former Soviet-era religious prisoner Yakov Skornyakov—was 79 when he was given a large fine for his religious activity in April 2006.
The seven fines, so far in 2013, bring to eight the number of members of the Council of Churches Baptist Church in Ayagoz who have been fined. Another is awaiting trial.
Members of the Council of Baptists have a policy of not seeking state registration, insisting that Kazakhstan’s constitution and the country’s international human rights commitments cannot require registration before they can meet to worship. The Baptists also have a policy of not paying the many administrative fines handed down to their members across Kazakhstan.
The April 4 raid on the Baptist service in Ayagoz came just four days after a raid on New Life church’s Easter Sunday service in Kazakhstan’s Akmola region encompassing the capital of the former Soviet satellite in central Asia.
The April 4 raid in Ayagoz was the second conducted in 2013 during a service at the Council of Churches Baptist church. District prosecutor Serik Turdin told Forum 18 on April 10, “Police drew up a record of an offense because they were meeting without state registration.”
Administrative cases against eight church members were sent to the district court in Ayagoz for violating Code of Administrative Offences Article 374-1, Part 2 (“Participation in the activity of an unregistered or banned social or religious organization”).
Turdin’s assistant, Zukhra Shaimukhametova, represented the prosecutor’s office at the seven hearings conducted thus far, according to the verdicts. She was unavailable in court hearings each time Forum 18 tried to reach her on April 10.
In separate trials April 5, Judge Korlan Khalelova sentenced Valentina Dyakova, 77, and fellow church member Tatyana Agaeva, while Judge Nurzhalgas Tompakova sentenced Vera Poltoratskaya and Viktor Poltoratsky.
On April 8, Judge Khalelova sentenced Raisa Bakenova, 76, while Judge Bakdarly Orazbek sentenced Svetlana Zaitseva and Natalya Andryusheva.
Each was fined 50 Monthly Financial Indicators (MFIs) or 86,500 Kazakh Tenge ($575 in U.S. dollars), the maximum penalty under the statute. An official of the court who would not give his name told Forum 18 on April 10 that state employees locally receive a salary of between 50,000 and 90,000 Tenge per month while teachers generally would receive about 50,000 Tenge monthly.
At each trial, the court noted the March 1 letter from the East Kazakhstan Justice Department (produced for the earlier prosecution of the church’s leader, Pavel Leonov) that the Ayhagoz church does not have state registration. At Poltoratsky’s trial, according to the verdict, the court examined photographs of the church, with a sign outside that it is a “Prayer House for all Nations of the International Council of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists” and an inside room with a pulpit, benches and quotations from the Bible on the wall.
Court officials refused to tell Forum 18 when the case against the eighth church member, Valentina Bliznova, will be heard.
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