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Kazakh Baptists Fined for Worship Meetings

BY STAFF                                                                                                                                         ©2013 Baptist Press

Authorities in Kazakhstan have fined 18 Baptists for participating in religious activity not authorized by the state, continuing the government's drive to bring religion under its control.

Between June 6 and Aug. 22, three of the Baptists were fined two months' average salary for leading the meetings, according to the Norway-based religious freedom organization Forum 18, while 15 were fined one month's average salary for attending the worship.

Forum 18 reported that fines typically are imposed under Kazakhstan's Administrative Code, which bans participating in, leading or financing a religious community not registered by the state. Members of the country's Council of Baptists do not seek state registration nor do they pay the administrative fines levied against them, maintaining that Kazakhstan's constitution and international human rights commitments forbid requiring government approval for worship.

An example of a typical police raid on Baptists occurred June 16 when police raided a Sunday worship meeting in the village of Zaporozhye. According to Forum 18, officers filmed the cars outside the meeting and entered the home of Vyacheslav Flotch where the meeting was held and took notes about the worshippers. On July 30, Flotch was fined 86,550 Tenge (Kazakh currency) by a judge in the Zhaksy District Court.

When Forum 18 asked a local police officer what was wrong with Baptists worshipping in a private home, he told them: "We are small people; we do what we are told to do. We realized they are not criminals when we saw them."

Forum 18 spoke with Svetlana (who would not give her last name), head of the chancellery, who declined to comment on the case. She said Flotch had appealed the fine and that a regional court was due to hear the case.

Forum 18 also asked Mariya Zhekebatyrova, chief of the internal policy department of Zhaksy Administration, for a comment on the fine against Flotch. She said the Baptists "violated the Religion Law, which demands all religious [sic] to be officially registered and bans unregistered activity." 

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