HOUSTON—After nearly three years of waiting, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service granted asylum to a Baptist minister and his family who were deported from Kazakhstan.
Viktor Lim—who was born in Uzbekistan of Korean ancestry—moved to Kazakhstan in 1993 to pursue his education as a mechanical engineer and became a Christian a couple of years later.
Feeling called by God to the ministry, he attended seminary and then started a small congregation in Kazakhstan, where he sought citizenship.
Endured persecution in Kazakhstan
For about seven years, the Russian-speaking minister endured threats, police searches of his 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, lead attorney for the Houston team that provided the Lim family free legal services.
“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,” according to a report on Kazakhstan by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. “The law’s onerous registration requirements have led to a sharp drop in the number of registered religious groups, both Muslim and Protestant.”
Convicted for operating as unregistered missionary
Police initially arrested Lim in 2008, charging him with operating as an unregistered foreign missionary. Although authorities in Kazakhstan eventually dropped the charges, they pursued them again five years later.
Sign up for our weekly email newsletter.
In 2013, after a brief hearing in which he was denied legal counsel, Lim was convicted, and officials ordered him to leave the country within 15 days.
Moved to Houston
He and his family secured tourist visas from the U.S. consulate and moved to Houston.
They began the process of seeking asylum, which took 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.
Had he been denied asylum and returned to Kazakhstan, Lim feared he would be imprisoned or confined to a psychiatric facility, said Baay, whose firm—Sutherland Asbill & Brennan—also secured asylum for a Haitian in May and a Guatemalan in April.
Lim and his wife, Radmila, will be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship in a year. They have four children—Grace, 15; Elijah, 10; Max, 9; and 2-year-old Yuna, who was born in the United States.