Astana (AsiaNews/F18) - Police raids in church during religious functions, and repeated defamation in the state media: the Kazakh authorities are tightening their grip on Protestant Christian groups.
On Sunday, May 25, in Aktobe, anti-terrorism police broke into the New Life Protestant church during services, and filmed the approximately 60 people present, according to pastor Zholaman Nurmanov. After the ceremony, the police interrogated them, especially about the presence of Maksim Tashenov, New Life pastor in Aktau, on the Caspian Sea, who was visiting the capital.
Nurtai Nugaev, the local head of the special police, tells the news agency Forum 18 that "it was not a raid, but we have to check up to see that they are abiding by the law. They were violating the law by inviting a missionary to speak without permission from the internal policy department of the local administration and holding meetings at a different place from where they are legally registered". Nugaev promised to "check up on them next Sunday" and possibly bring them to court.
For some time, the Kazakh police have been identifying those who participate in meetings of Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Muslims, while the state media continually denigrate these minorities. In April, the prosecutor general's office described various religious groups, including the New Life Church, as "dangerous" and "destructive".
"The police", Tashenov explains, "told me that I need a special permit for missionary activity".
But Aleksandr Klyushev, head of Kazakhstan's association of religious organisations, stresses that "the church does not need any permission to invite pastors from other churches in the country according to the existing religion law. But the proposed new law is intended to have such provisions". The legislation being discussed in parliament would introduce greater limits on religious activity, forcing groups to ask for authorisation for almost any activity, allowing the authorities to control everything they do. The actions of the special police, moreover, point to a wide-ranging operation to monitor and control all activity.
The authorities are also trying to take away from New Life a former child care centre that the church acquired 10 years ago in the nearby city of Alga.
Meanwhile, persecution continues against Baptist Christians, who refuse to register their groups and assert their constitutional right to assemble to practice their faith. But the authorities are banning religious meetings, even in private homes, identifying and interrogating those present, and issuing weighty fines on pastors and homeowners.
When on May 9, in Shchuchinsk, in the region of Akmola, the German writer Werner Gitt came to talk to about 200 Baptists, the police interrupted him, accusing him of "illegal missionary activity", together with those with him. Pastor Pyotr Zimens, who organised the meeting, was accused of administrative irregularities and fined 20,000 Tenge (about 107 euros).