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Grace church pastor on trial for extremism in Astana

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Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev. Photo courtesy of ©azattyq.orgBakhytzhan Kashkumbayev. Photo courtesy of ©azattyq.orgThe first hearing on the case of Grace church pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev has taken place in Astana, tengrinews reports. Kashkumbayev is accused of promoting extremism and managing a union that abused Kazakhstan citizens.

The pastor was first arrested in May last year on the charge of harming the health of a church member, than was transferred to house arrest on 7 October, but was arrested again as he was walking out of the Investigation Prison. The new arrest came on a much graver extremism charge in addition to the harming the health one. Extremism charges are punishable with 3-7 year in prison.

Pastor Kashkumbayev is accused of 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.

Since the 67-y.o. pastor has been in confinement for over 8 months, the first thing the pastor's lawyer Nurlan Beysekeyev did was ask the judge to change the measure of his client’s restraint in relation to his health problems and elderly age. This motion is scheduled to be reviewed on February 3. The jail doctor is going to attend the hearing as well.

After that Kashkumbayev and his lawyer filed an objection seeking recusal of the judge. Kashkumbayev referred to procedural rules as a ground for his motion. 

“During the preliminary hearing you asked my lawyer to file a motion to seek your recursal from my case," Kashkumbayev told Ms. Gulzhakhan Ubasheva, who is judging his case. "You provided him with a copy of the order that you signed on December 20, 2012 that sanctioned the compulsory transfer of Lyazzat Almenova (a victim in this case) to a psychiatric hospital," he continued. 

The Criminal Code of Kazakhstan prohibits the judge who sanctions investigator’s orders from judging that case later. It case a judge is assigned to such case, he or she is supposed to recuse himself or herself from a case. 

"You told me that the Presiding Judge of the Regional Court obliged you to take my case in violation of this regulation,” the pastor said.

After this statement the judge took a break that lasted for over three hours. Then she returned and declared that she saw no seen grounds for recusing herself.

After that Kashkumbayev refused to continue participating in the trial and forbid his lawyer to do so on his behalf. "I have no trust in this court," he said.

According to him, the judge was making decisions based on “someone’s instructions coming from the top” or based on her personal interests. 

The hearing was also attended by representatives of the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan.

Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev was under arrest since May 2013. In the end of July he underwent a compulsory psychiatric check in Almaty and was ruled sane.

The criminal case against the 67-y.o. pastor was initiated in October 2012 after severe damage was allegedly caused to mental health of Lyazzat Almenova, one of the members of the congregation of Grace mission. 

After one of the church gatherings the 34-y.o. member of the church from Astana was taken to a psychiatric hospital and was diagnosed with “paranoid schizophrenia with high suicidal risk”. 

After that Astana police raided the church and allegedly found that the pastor of Gracechurch offered a red-colored drink causing hallucinations during his services. The Medicines Research Center tested the drink and found that it contained a phenolic substance and hallucinogens causing euphoria and relaxation. 

Relatives of Lyazzat Almenova were the ones who applied to the police over the incident, while the church member herself denies that any damage was caused to her health. Pastor Kashkumbayev is "totally innocent and has not harmed my health at all", Almenova is quoted by as saying.

Prosecutor Alen Tlenchiyev confirmed that "Kashkumbayev is charged with inflicting serious harm on the health of citizens". "[He] prayed for the sick, and psychologically influenced [Church members] . . . [and] people's health was harmed as a total result of his actions", the prosecutor said, with his official statement sounding eerily as if he believed the elderly protestant pastor possessed some kind of a superpower.

The police raid also found religious materials that were later proved to instigate religious enmity and discord. 

Pastor Kashkumbayev's lawyer, Nurlan Beysekeyev, is also the lawyer of Grace Church that is a subject of a separate criminal investigation. The criminal case was initiated in March 2013 in connection with allegations that members of Grace Church were inciting "religious hatred". Officials accuse the church of involvement in espionage, fraud, money laundering, distributing extremist texts and using a hallucinogenic communion drink, writes.

This was not the first time that Grace church attracted attention of Kazakhstan police. A year ago Korean pastor and founder of the Grace Church in Kazakhstan Dr. Kim Sam Seong was arrested in Almaty for trying to illegally export $130 thousand from Kazakhstan without declaring the money at the airport. Later he explained to the police that those money were church offerings.

Kazakhstan population is 63 percent Turkic (mostly Kazakhs) and 31 percent Slavic (mostly Russians). Muslims make 54 percent of the population, while non-religious and Christians (mostly Orthodox) citizens make 34 and 12 percent, correspondingly. Protestant unions are treated with suspicion and considered “new religious movements” and “foreign”. 

Foreign missionaries have been challenged in Kazakhstan since Kazakhstan adopted the extremism legal amendments in February 2005. A large number of foreigners from the U.S., Georgia, South Korea and Japan were expelled from Kazakhstan for violation of regulations while working as missionaries without registration, Interfax-Religion writes.

Some experts link the persecution of protestant unions in Kazakhstan with the loss of US influence in the region. 

The latest religious law was adopted in Kazakhstan on September 29, 2011. Above all, it obliges the religious missionaries working in Kazakhstan to annually renew the state registration.

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January 24 2014, 12:49

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