OSLO, Norway (ABP) – Anti-terrorist police in at least three regions of Kazakhstan have targeted unregistered Baptists and Muslims in recent months, according to the Norway-based news service Forum 18 .
The news service, which monitors religious freedom violations in numerous countries, said officials are singling out minority religious groups simply because they refuse to register. Departments for Kazakhstan’s Fight against Extremism, Separatism and Terrorism say the law requires mosques and churches to register. They view unlawful religious meetings as a threat because of the area’s close proximity to Uzbekistan, known to contain extremist Islamic and terrorist groups.
The Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians and Baptists, the smaller of two Baptist groups in Kazakhstan, refuse to register with the government on principle. They cite religious freedom rights under Kazakhstan's constitution and international human rights obligations.
Officials contacted by Forum 18 refused to say why they targeted peaceful religious communities not posing a terrorist threat. “Registration is required,” said Major Dauren, head of Jambyl police's regional Department for the Fight against Extremism, Separatism and Terrorism.
One Baptist pastor interviewed by Forum 18, however, said he didn’t understand why people are not allowed to worship as they choose.
In April police in the northern Pavlodar Region raided the ordination service of a Council of Churches Baptist pastor. The pastor later received a heavy fine.
A police officer in Akmola Region questioned Baptist pastor Nikolai Levin, who leads the congregation in Balkashino, twice in June. "He demanded that I register the church, which we won't agree to do,"
Levin said June 22. "He demanded that I hand over a list of church members. I refused saying that we don't have such lists."
Levin said the officer refused to explain police needed such lists and warned him that they would come during a service and write down the names of all those present. "I asked him why people cannot believe as they choose without his Department needing to know about it, but he refused to explain," the pastor said.
Another Council of Churches Baptist pastor said June 22 that seven officers raided his congregation's evening worship service in his home in Tayinsha June 16.
Anti-terrorist police have also recently raided three Taraz mosques and a madrassah – an Islamic school – and a Pentecostal congregation in the Caspian Sea port town of Aktau.
–Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.