07/26/2007, 00.00
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Christians thrown out of their homes to prevent them from holding prayer meetings

For years the authorities have been sending people to jail or imposing fines on unregistered religious groups, especially if they are Baptists. Now they are seizing homes to prevent meetings or force people to pay fines.

Astana (AsiaNews/F18) – E. Sabirova and her young child were barred from their home after court executors sealed it to prevent the local unregistered Baptist Christian community from meeting. This followed a ruling by Shymkent's Enbekshi District Court on 23 October 2006 halting the activity of the church for three months because it was not registered.

Pastor Fauzi Gubaidullin was imprisoned for three days in March in punishment for continuing prayer meetings. Prayers also continued at the Sabirova residence but now it is off-limits to her.

Local Baptists told Forum 18 that the court executor exceeded his authority as the court decision only said that the activities of the religious association had to be halted, not that a privately-owned home could be sealed up.

There are more than 100 Baptist congregations of varying sizes across Kazakhstan, persecuted because whilst the Constitution recognises freedom of religion the former refuse on principle to register with the authorities.

As a result of this believers and pastors have been punished for years with prison and fines. Some have even see money directly docked from church members' wages.

Now the authorities are seizing private homes to pay fines or prevent prayer meetings.

Sometimes the authorities try only to block the sale of properties or prevent religious groups from meeting. At other times owners are actually thrown out.

Rev Viktor Kandyba, from Semipalatinsk in eastern Kazakhstan, was told by a judge on June 18 that half of his home would be seized and sold to pay for fines. The clergyman, who is married with 12 children, was found guilty of holding a Sunday service.

Forum 18 noted that even Protestant groups that apply for registration have a hard time getting it, especially in small towns and if they are headed by Kazakh nationals.

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