Christians fined in Kazakhstan for meeting to worship Christ

An Orthodox priest conducts a service at Epiphany celebrations on the Bolshaya Almatinka river bank in Almaty.Reuters

Three Christians in the oil-rich country of Kazakhstan have been fined without a court hearing or any chance to defend themselves – for meeting to worship Christ. It is thought to be the first case of its kind since the police acquired new powers against unrecognised religions last year.

One of the fines was subsequently revoked but there are growing fears about whether freedom of religion or belief in Kazakhstan is at serious risk. 

"Such summary police fines haven't been used against us before," said one Baptist, who told Forum 18 that in one case, the police simply fined the Christian because they could. "No one explained to us why they've suddenly started doing this."

Kazhakstan introduced strict restrictions on practising non-recognised faiths and in 2012 cut the number of recognised faiths from nearly 50 to just 17.

Those most affected are Muslims, Protestant Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses who can be punished for offering religious literature the state has not approved in places the state has not permitted, talking about their beliefs with other people without state permission, or meeting for worship without state permission. The power to impose summary fines without initial due process was first given to police in 2015.

Police officers detain a man after an attack in the centre of Almaty, Kazakhstan yesterday.Reuters

The threats to religious freedom come as tensions escalate in Kazakhstan over proposed land reforms.

Acording to the BBC, a gunman who killed three policemen and a member of the public in the Kazakhstan commercial capital Almaty yesterday may have been an Islamist militant. Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president, said the shootings were a terrorist act. It is thought that a suspect who was detained, Ruslan Kulikbayev, 26, could have been radicalised by Salafist militants while serving a prison sentence.

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