Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev was freed from prison on 8 October, to be transferred to house arrest, but was arrested within minutes on new charges of “extremism”. The retired Presbyterian pastor of Grace Church in the capital, Astana, is being held at Astana Police’s Temporary Isolation Prison. He was originally arrested on 17 May 2013 on criminal charges of “harming the health” of a member of his congregation (see Background, below) but is facing a new criminal investigation of being an “extremist” or “terrorist”. The case is being overseen by the Police Anti-Extremism Department. Under Kazakh law, those arrested can be held for up to three days, after which either a court must extend their detention or they must be freed. At a hearing on 7 October, after nearly five months’ imprisonment – one month of it in psychiatric hospital – a court in Astana ordered that the pre-trial detention of Presbyterian Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev be extended until 17 November, but that he would be transferred from prison to house arrest, under tight restrictions, while the criminal investigation against him continues. The transfer was expected to take place on 8 October, and the rearrest took everyone by surprise.
Release and rearrest
Pastor Kashkumbayev’s lawyer Nurlan Beisekeyev, Alfiya and other family members arrived at the prison on the morning of 8 October, expecting him to be released to house arrest. Formalities were completed at about 1pm, and Pastor Kaskhkumbayev was reunited with his wife. Video footage taken by a family member shows Pastor Kashkumbayev displaying varicose veins on his legs, and his wife weeping. Three plain-clothes officials sent by Police investigator Captain Vyacheslav Glazkov were waiting at the prison gate, and ordered Pastor Kashkumbayev to accompany them to the police station for questioning by Captain Glazkov. Pastor Kashkumbayev’s lawyer, accompanied by the officials, drove him and his wife to the police station, where Captain Glazkov said that a new criminal accusation had been lodged in parallel with the existing criminal investigation. The pastor is being investigated for alleged violation of Article 233-1, Part 1 of the Criminal Code, which punishes “Propaganda of terrorism or extremism, or public calls to commit an act of terrorism or extremism, as well as the distribution of material of the content indicated” with imprisonment of between three and seven years. Captain Glazkov claimed that an “expert analysis” had found “elements of an extremist nature” in the activities of the church. The lawyer and Alfiya Kashkumbayeva were then threatened with violence if they did not leave the police station. Alfiya left, and Captain Glazkov told the lawyer that he represented Pastor Kashkumbayev only in the original case, not in the “extremism” case. After further physical threats, the lawyer left. Askar Kashkumbayev said he and his family are very concerned over the pastor’s state of health: “We had hoped that he would be able to have treatment for varicose veins while he was under house arrest. He’s in pain over this, and they made him stand in a corridor for two hours at the prison yesterday.” The prison head, when told of the family’s concern about his state of health and the fact that the order to transfer him to house arrest had been partly based on his state of health, said: “His health is normal. He is being checked by a paramedic. People don’t die here in my prison.” “Expert analyses” and “Extremist” books
Even before the first criminal case against Pastor Kashkumbayev was launched in October 2012, a series of “expert analyses” appears to have been conducted on various aspects of Grace Church’s activity and materials, according to court documents seen by Forum 18 and information published by Guldana Almenova (the estranged sister of Grace Church member Lyazzat Almenova, who is central to the case – see Background
, below) and an organisation she leads, the Support Centre for Victims of Destructive Religious Movements. The “expert analyses” relate to the three main state accusations against Grace Church and Pastor Kashkumbayev: distributing “extremist” books, harming psychological health and using hallucinogenic juice for communion. A Russian translation of the book Healing the Broken Family of Abraham
by American Christian Don McCurry, confiscated during the police raid on Grace Church in April 2012, was found, by the Almaty Institute for Judicial Expert Analysis of the Justice Ministry, to contain “elements of incitement to religious hatred and discord”. In November 2012, a judge ruled the book “extremist” and banned its publication, import and distribution in Kazakhstan. Another book confiscated from Grace Church, Worthy Answers
, written by two local Christians, Galymzhan Tanatgan and Zhomart Temir, was found to contain “elements of incitement of religious hatred and discord”. The police and secret police have seized both books repeatedly as “extremist”. Kazakhstan introduced a controversial religion law in 2011, which has wreaked havoc among religious minorities, particularly evangelical Christians and Muslim sects. Churches’ legal rights to gather were revoked and Christians can be arrested and fined for meeting together to pray without government permission. Background
The case against Pastor Kashkumbayev relates to a complaint made in July 2011 by a church member’s mother, who claimed that her daughter had suffered psychological harm after attending Grace Church. In September 2012, expert assessment of Lyazzat Almenova (34) claimed that regular attendance at the church had led her to develop paranoid schizophrenia. Church members strongly reject the allegation, and Liazzat Almenova rejects any suggestion of harm to her health. She wrote to the Astana Prosecutor’s Office to say that she is psychiatrically healthy and that the 2012 assessment was conducted illegally, and calling for the case to be abandoned. She said in July that Pastor Kashkumbayev “is totally innocent and has not harmed my health at all”. In October 2012, after raiding Grace church, detaining and questioning members and taking literature and money, police told the local media that the church members were being harmed by being “given hallucinogens to drink”. The alleged hallucinogen was a local red tea used as a non-alcoholic communion wine, bought by church members in nearby shops. At Pastor Kashkumbayev’s court hearing on 19 May, however, the main accusation did not relate to the tea, but rather to praying in tongues and singing, which were said to have caused the mental injury to Ms Almenova. The criminal case, opened in October 2012, was for “causing considerable harm to the psychological health” of a church member. The prosecutor alleged “the crime was carried out by Kashkumbayev under the guise of carrying out charitable and religious activity by means of exerting psychological influence on church members, including with the use of stupefying substances [the red tea] with the aim of collecting gifts for the use of the association”. In August 2013, Pastor Kashkumbayev was transferred from prison to Almaty’s Centre of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Narcology. In early September, when he was discharged back to prison, the centre’s chief doctor Natalya Logacheva refused to say whether Pastor Kashkumbayev had been found to be psychologically healthy and responsible for his actions, citing confidentiality. She also refused to say whether any psychotropic or other drugs had been administered to him. Human rights defenders in Kazakhstan are growing increasingly concerned at the way the state is involving psychiatrists in cases of religious freedom and political opposition. The case against Grace Church
Pastor Kashkumbayev’s lawyer, Nurlan Beysekeyev, is also the lawyer for Grace Church, which is subject to a separate criminal investigation. The investigators have given the lawyer no information about the case against its members. On 19 March Captain Vyacheslav Glazkov launched a criminal case in connection with allegations that members of Grace Church were inciting “religious hatred”. Officials have alleged that the church is involved in espionage, fraud, money laundering, distributing extremist texts and using hallucinogenic drink.
Kazakh Police Intimidate and Harass Parishioners of Imprisoned Pastor
Police in Astana, Kazakhstan have been aggressively intimidating and harassing members of the beleaguered Grace Protestant Church. The church’s 67-year-old presbyterian pastor, Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev (Pastor B.K.), was detained by Kazakh authorities in May as part of a nationwide crackdown on religious minorities.
- Pray for the parishioners of Pastor B.K.’s church to keep the faith
- Pray that Pastor B.K. will be released and in time to be home with his family for Christmas
- Pray that Kazakhstan would stop the persecution of Christians and repent for its anti-Christian propaganda
While imprisoned for his faith in Kazakhstan, Pastor Kashkumbayev (Pastor B.K.) sent a letter home to his family with several poems he penned inspired by scriptures in his heart. Here’s a snippet of one of his poems: “What do evil attacks mean for me? And would I care about prison? If You are my light what the darkness can do to me? When I am silent in sorrows You are so close to me And Your love heals me I am happy that You, oh God, have chosen me Jesus, my closest friend, You have given me happiness To suffer at the hands of evil for the sake of Your precious name So that I could know just a bit of this happiness”
How our prayers and other ministry encouraged Pastor BK.
Kazakhstan: “I’m so grateful to our Lord Jesus Christ for each of you! I would like to give all the glory to the Lord, and am so grateful to Him for your prayers, your financial help and any support you kindly have given to me. While in prison, at every moment, I felt His protection, His mercy and the peace of the Lord, who is always with me and who mightily used me in my imprisonment” This was written by Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev from Kazakhstan who was arrested on false charges last year. He was imprisoned for nine months and has a four-year suspended sentence but prosecutors have filed an appeal, asking for it to be increased. Thank God that Pastor Bakhytzhan knew God sustaining him in prison and please pray for continued strength for him and his family, and that justice will be done. [Pic: Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev and his wife]