Tuesday, October 15, 2013

RLPB 232. Kazakhstan; and Central Asia's complex reality

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 232 | Wed 16 Oct 2013

Supporting International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2013: Sunday 3 Nov
See: Critical Prayer Requests (CPR)

KAZAKHSTAN; plus CENTRAL ASIA'S COMPLEX REALITY
By Elizabeth Kendal

Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev (aged 67 in October), a convert from Islam and pastor of Grace Church (Presbyterian) in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, was arrested in May 2013 after the mother of a church member accused him of making her adult daughter mentally ill. Charged with 'intentional inflicting of serious harm to health' -- essentially for praying for the sick -- Pastor Kashkumbayev was detained and sent for psychiatric assessment (see RLPB 223, 14 Aug 2013). Despite an international outcry, Pastor Kashkumbayev's detention in the Almaty City Psychological-Psychiatric Assessment Centre was twice extended. Other prisoners of conscience recently treated this way include the atheist blogger and anti-corruption campaigner Aleksandr Kharlamov (63), charged with 'inciting religious hatred' for criticising religion, and Zinaida Mukhortova (56), a lawyer deemed delusional after she filed complaints against a regional governor.

Forum 18, closely monitoring the case, reports that Pastor Kashkumbayev was transferred back to Almaty's Investigation Prison in September. Then after being released to house arrest on 8 October, he was immediately re-arrested on charges of 'extremism'. If deemed guilty, the pastor will face seven years in prison. 'Expert analysis' of the activities of Grace Church has labelled books found at the church 'extremist' and in breach of the law against inciting religious hatred and social discord. The authorities regard evangelical witness to be just as much a threat to peace and social cohesion as jihadist or revolutionary Islam because it creates problems they would rather not have. For the authorities, it is easier to deal with the problem of unwanted minority Protestants than with the problem of majority religious intolerance.

If the troublesome, witnessing Christian is a foreigner, the usual action is deportation. Vyacheslav (Victor) Lim (37) was deported in August 2013 on the grounds he had attracted eight administrative offences in eight years: traffic infringements, late payment of tax, failing to report travel, insufficient fire safety and the like. All fines were paid immediately, even those Lim disputed. Lim was accused of conducting 'illegal missionary activity' because he had been leading a local congregation of the Grace Protestant Church (Baptist) in Borovoe, north of Astana. He had been a legal resident for eight years with a residence permit valid to 2020; his wife and two children who left Kazakhstan with him were all Kazakh citizens. Kazakh human rights activist, Yevgeny Zhovtis, considers Lim was deported for his religious activities. He described it as a 'typical religious case' and a 'misuse of justice'. Russian Orthodox priest Fr Sofrony (Pyotr Yevtikheyev) was deported from Almaty Region around the same time for reasons of 'national security'. A Russian citizen, Fr Sofrony had been a legal resident since 1991. He was the priest at St Sergy's Church in the village of Tuymebayev. He also ran an orphanage there that cared for around 110 children and an aged care facility that was home to some 120 elderly people.

THE COMPLEX REALITY OF CENTRAL ASIA

Central Asia (MAP) has real and serious problems. Soviet-imposed borders continue to be a major cause of ethnic tensions and peace is tenuous. Islamic jihadist and revolutionary groups agitating for an Islamic state pose a real and serious threat. Poor governance marked by widespread corruption, human rights abuses and indifference to suffering has turned many Muslims against the government and towards groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir which present Islam as the solution. Whilst the laws against 'extremism' and 'inciting religious hatred' were designed to target the Islamic threat, they are routinely abused to intimidate disgruntled Muslims and persecute witnessing Protestants. That the West is seen to be siding with jihadists further complicates the states' relationship with Protestants. Protestants in Uzbekistan have long suffered harassment, repression, arrests and the confiscation of property. Also as noted by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL, 4 October), the government in Kyrgyzstan has recently proposed tightening the administrative punishment (i.e. no trial necessary) for 'illegal missionary activity' and 'religious propaganda'. The proposed law would ban collecting tithes, the propagation of religion in educational facilities and religious conversions.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* intervene on behalf of Pastor Kashkumbayev and end the persecution of him and Grace Church; may the Lord have mercy on this family and this fellowship of believers; may justice be done.

* intervene for Pastor Lim and provide him and his family with everything they need, particularly a secure place of refuge and a divine appointment where they can witness to the Lord's goodness. 

* intervene in Kyrgyzstan to stop the highly repressive, punitive and retrograde amendments to the religion law; may the Holy Spirit infiltrate any debate about religious liberty and use it to open eyes, minds and hearts.

* raise up righteous, wise leaders in Central Asia who will address the real and serious issues of ethnic tension, Islamic jihadist and revolutionary movements, corruption, poverty and hardship while upholding religious liberty and confronting religious intolerance.  (1 Timothy 2:1-6)

* empower great and effectual Christian ministry and witness in Central Asia; may the Holy Spirit bring transforming revival to Central Asia. 'Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!' (Psalm 126:5 ESV)

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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KAZAKHSTAN AND CENTRAL ASIA'S COMPLEX REALITY


Pastor Kashkumbayev (66) of Grace Church in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, was arrested in May 2013 for allegedly harming health, ostensibly by praying for the sick. He spent months detained in a psychiatric facility before being returned to prison in mid-September. On 8 October Kashkumbayev was released to house arrest only to be re-arrested immediately on charges of 'extremism'. If deemed guilty he faces seven years in prison alongside Islamic 'extremists'. Islamic jihadist and revolutionary movements are a real and serious threat in Central Asia.  Anti-terror and anti-incitement laws intended to target the Islamic threat are being abused to intimidate the desperate masses and persecute 'troublesome', witnessing Protestants. Kyrgyzstan is proposing a law to ban missionary activity, religious educational facilities and religious conversion.  Please pray for the Church in Central Asia.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)