Washington, D.C. (ICC) -- International Christian Concern has recently learned that police in Astana, Kazakhstan, have been aggressively intimidating and harassing members of the beleaguered Grace Protestant Church. The church's 67-year-old pastor, Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev (Pastor B.K.), was detained by Kazakh authorities in May as part of a nationwide crackdown on religious minorities.
According to ICC sources, the church's membership has radically decreased since Pastor B.K. was arrested on trumped-up charges of "harming the health" of a church member. "They are scared to go to church," said ICC's contact, who wishes to remain unnamed for security reasons. "His church keeps getting smaller and smaller."
After collecting information on all of church's regular attendants, police reportedly began calling and harassing past and present parishioners. Police also demanded that congregants give statements alleging Pastor B.K. forcibly coerced church attendance and monetary gifts from members, reports ICC's contact.
When one congregant asked the police why they have been calling and harassing the members of the church, an officer reportedly responded, "You are worse than spies. You bring Kazakhs to Christ."
Pastor B.K. was briefly released to house arrest on October 9; however, just minutes after his release, he was re-arrested on charges of "extremism." He is in very poor health, and has continually been denied necessary medical attention. The charges against Pastor B.K. carry a potential prison sentence of three to seven years.
Corey Bailey, ICC's regional manager for Central Asia, said: "Christians and people of faith in Kazakhstan live in constant fear. One example of why is the treatment of Pastor Kashkumbayev, which is completely unacceptable. Soviet-era mental torture, denial of medical attention, incarceration in an insane asylum, and attempts by the police to intimidate citizens to give false testimony are just a fraction of what has gone wrong in this case. Kazakhstan claims to be a country of religious freedom, yet in the last five years, and especially since the religion law was introduced in 2011, all we have seen in this country is a steep rise in the denial of basic human rights for the freedom of religion of its citizens. The International community should be outraged and must defend Pastor Kashkumbayev by demanding his fair treatment and release from prison."
International Christian Concern is a Washington, D.C.-based human rights organization that exists to help persecuted Christians worldwide. ICC provides awareness, advocacy and assistance to the worldwide persecuted church.
c. 2013 International Christian Concern. Used with permission.
Publication date: October 31, 2013