Fines for 'extremist' books in Kazakhstan

Two Protestants in Kazakhstan's capital Astana were fined nearly four weeks' average wages in December 2013 for possessing Christian texts which the court found to be "extremist".

That's according to court documents seen by Forum 18 News Service, which in a story by Felix Corley wrote that one of the books had been banned as "extremist" one month after it was seized from one of those fined.

Kazakhstan is a country in Central Asia, with its smaller part west of the Ural River in Eastern Europe.

However, Forum 18 was unable to find a court decision banning any of the other texts as "extremist."

Protestants have repeatedly rejected to Forum 18 accusations by state bodies that works confiscated from them are "extremist," and deserve to be banned.

Because court hearings to rule whether materials are "extremist" take place unannounced and because no published list of banned books appears to exist, people in Kazakhstan remain unaware of what has and has not been banned.

Forum 18 said the unannounced nature of court hearings also makes it impossible for book publishers, distributors, readers or free speech advocates to challenge court-ordered bans.

The government's Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) - which is often represented in "extremism" court hearings - does not publish on its website a list of religious books banned by the courts as "extremist."

Forum 18 has repeatedly asked the ARA for such a list, most recently on January 6, but has not received a copy.

Saktagan Sadvokasov, the ARA spokesperson, declined to tell Forum 18 where people can get a copy of the list. He insisted that such bans were imposed by the courts, not by his Agency.

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