Seven members of a Baptist congregation in East Kazakhstan face being fined later this month for meeting to worship without state permission, according to Forum 18.
A judge in the region will decide on Aug. 25 whether to punish the group, whose small congregation was raided twice by the authorities earlier this month. Two of those facing possible fines – Olga Berimets and Zoya Tobolina – are 79 years old.
On May 22, a former Soviet-era Baptist prisoner of conscience, 89-year-old Yegor Prokopenko, was given a large fine for leading a meeting for worship in Zyryanovsk in East Kazakhstan.
Similarly, in 2006, Yakov Skornyakov – another Baptist and former Soviet-era prisoner of conscience – was 79 when he was fined for religious activity, two years before he died.
Kazakhstan introduced strict restrictions on practicing non-recognized faiths and in 2012 cut the number of recognized faiths from nearly 50 to just 17.
Those most affected are Muslims, Protestant Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses who can be punished for offering religious literature the state has not approved in places the state has not permitted, talking about their beliefs with other people without state permission, or meeting for worship without state permission. The power to impose summary fines without initial due process was first given to police in 2015.
According to Forum 18, more than 25 individuals are known to have been fined in the first half of 2016 for religious activity without state permission, with the known victims being Muslims, Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses and others.
The latest potential fine comes weeks after two Baptist churches which belong to the Baptist Union in West Kazakhstan were last month raided by officials as they held summer camps for local children.
Officials claimed that children might have been present at a religious event without their parents' consent and that foreigners were present as "missionaries" without having the required state permission. The pastor complained that the raids left the children feeling "frightened."
The Council of Baptist Churches has adopted a policy of "civil disobedience," refusing to pay the fines.
Prokopenko has refused to pay his fine and the seven Baptists in East Kazakhstan are also likely to refuse to pay if fined.
The consequences for those who refuse to pay the fine include being placed on a black-list disallowing them to leave the country, having property confiscated or having restraining orders placed on property such as homes or cars.
Article 490, Part 1 of the region's Administrative Code punishes "Violation of the demands established in law for the conducting of religious rites, ceremonies and/or meetings; carrying out of charitable activity; the import, production, publication and/or distribution of religious literature and other materials of religious content (designation) and objects of religious significance; and building of places of worship and changing the designation of buildings into places of worship."
The court chancellery confirmed to Forum 18 this week that seven church members are facing cases brought by the District Internal Policy Department.