US grants asylum to Baptist minister deported from Kazakhstan

The US has granted asylum to a Baptist minister and his family who were deported from Kazakhstan.

After nearly three years of legal wrangling, the US Citizenship and Immigration Service has agreed to give asylum to Viktor Lim, who was born in Uzbekistan and is of Korean ancestry.

Lim, who moved to Kazakhstan in 1993 to pursue his education as a mechanical engineer, became a Christian after several years there.

He attended seminary and then started a small congregation in Kazakhstan, where he sought citizenship. However, for around seven years, the minister reportedly endured threats, police searches at home, surveillance and interrogation.

"My perception is they were intimidation tactics to get him to shut down the work he was doing there," said David Baay, the lead attorney for the Houston team that provided the Lim family free legal services.

According to a report on Kazakhstan by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom: "The country's restrictive 2011 religion law bans unregistered religious activity and has been enforced through the closing of religious groups, police raids, detentions and fines...The law's onerous registration requirements have led to a sharp drop in the number of registered religious groups, both Muslim and Protestant."

In 2013, Lim was convicted of operating as an unregistered foreign missionary after a brief hearing in which he was denied legal counsel. The conviction came after Lim was initially arrested in 2008, with the charges being dropped before his being arrested again five years later.

Lim and his family secured tourist visas from the US consulate and moved to Houston, Texas. The process of seeking asylum has taken nearly three years.

"Viktor provided credible evidence of a very real threat to his life and liberty—and that of his family—if they were denied asylum and returned to Kazakhstan," Baay said.