A court in Kazakhstan has fined a local Protestant pastor and five foreigners for holding an outdoor baptism near the country's commercial capital of Almaty.
According to Forum 18, Local Protestant pastor Marat Tlegenov was found guilty of violating Kazakhstan's Administrative Code Article 490, Part 3 on July 10 for holding baptisms without being registered as a missionary.
Judge Ruslan Suleimenov of Uighur District Court ordered Tlegenov to pay the fine of 226,900 Tenge (US$680).
The judge also sentenced five foreign citizens for participating in the baptism ceremony.
Suleimenov similarly fined Canadian pastor Hae Taik Kim 226,900 Tenge and ordered his deportation. Korean citizens Myungsoon Bae and Byung Jin Ahn, and US citizens Samantha Sun Yu Leist and Sung Chun Park were each fined 113,450 Tenge (US$340) and were prohibited from conducting unspecified activities for three months.
The court decisions did not mention who decided to prosecute the local pastor and the five foreigners.
An official of Almaty Region Religious Affairs Department, who declined to give his name, said that local authorities in Uighur District initiated the case. "We weren't involved. We were just informed of it," the official told Forum 18 on Aug. 4.
Forum 18 noted that it was unable to contact Shakhmurad Imirov, the prosecutor who brought the cases to court. Imirov's colleague, Nursultan Zhunis, has declined to say how prosecutors found out about the baptisms.
"The religious group is registered in Enbekshikazakh District, but they had come here to our District to conduct their religious rituals," Zhunis told Forum 18. "Under the law this is banned. We have various bans on religious activity under our law," Zhunis added.
The Kazakhstan government imposes strict controls on the exercise of religion in the country, and only registered religious communities are allowed to meet for worship within their own registered premises or in other venues with state approval.
Those who conduct "missionary activity" without state approval are subject to fines equivalent to about two month's average wage.
The authorities also impose strict censorship on literature related to religion and beliefs. Publishing, distributing and importing such material requires state permission, according to Forum 18. Organizations are subject to a fine of 453,800 Tenge (US$1,361) for importing, manufacturing, publishing, or distributing religious materials, while individuals can be fined 113,450 Tenge (US$340).
Kazakhstan is currently ranked 43rd on the Open Doors World Watch List of countries where Christians experience the most persecution. Those who converted to Christianity from Islam suffer persecution both at the hands of the state and from family, friends and community.