06/17/2016, 19.24
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Baptist pastor, 89, fined, believers detained at religious gatherings

President Nazarbayev announces tighter security laws to prevent "the spread of radical ideas". At attack in Aktobe on 5 June killed 18 people. Baptist pastor and former Soviet prisoner of conscience Yegor Prokopenko is fined for leading an Illegal meeting prayer.

Astana (AsiaNews/Agencies) – An 89-year-old, former Soviet prisoner of conscience has been fined by Kazakh authorities for holding an illegal meeting prayer.

Yegor Prokopenko, head of the Council of Baptist Churches in Zyryanovsk (eastern Kazakhstan), was caught red-handed on 22 May in his own home celebrating Sunday Mass. Videotaped by police, he was fined 212,000 tenge (US$ 625), almost three months of an average worker's wage.

This comes as Kazakh authorities intensify their crackdown on religions following a 5 June terror attack in Aktobe that killed 18 people, which might be connected to Islamic radicalism.

Reacting to the attack, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev gave his government two months to tighten security legislation.

Existing laws adopted in 2011 ban meetings by unauthorised religious groups, the distribution of religious literature, or talking to others about religion unless one is registered as a missionary with the authorities.

These laws violate human rights as recognised by the international community and have been repeatedly criticised by rights groups.

Since December 2014, 32 people are known to have been convicted for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief.

A few days ago, the police fined two Protestants who attended a prayer meeting. The owner of an Atyrau gift shop was fined for offering for sale four copies of the Qur‘an without a state licence.

In December 2015, the authorities sentenced a Seventh Day Adventist man to two years in a labour camp for allegedly inciting religious hatred. His real crime was to have converted from Islam.

Galym Shoikin, the head of the Culture and Sport Ministry's Religious Affairs Committee, said the recruitment of religious radicals "takes place not in mosques but at such illegal meetings. We must study how it is possible to restrict this."

The Council of Baptist Churches refuses in principle to ask permission from the authorities to carry out its activities and encourages its members not to pay the fines imposed by the police.

Often believers are detained for a while and their assets seized. Prokopenko, wo served a total of six and a half years in a Soviet prison, was fined three times by Kazakh authorities for exercising his right to freedom of religion.

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