Christian literature is heavily controlled in Kazakhstan. Barnabas funded the production of these booklets in the Kazakh language
In April 2013 Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, claimed that “religious freedom is fully secured” in the country. In fact Christians, who comprise at least 25% of the population, endure restrictions on sharing their faith and controls on religious literature. All churches must register with the authorities, who require that cumbersome criteria be fulfilled before registration is granted. Unregistered churches may be subject to raids and church leaders and their members given heavy fines.
One raid, on an Easter Sunday service in 2013 at a home in Zhaskent, was so traumatic that an elderly church member subsequently suffered a heart attack. The church’s leader was fined the equivalent of six months of his pension. The authorities also liquidated a Baptist seminary in 2013, and an unprecedented court ruling ordered the destruction of Christian literature that had been seized from an evangelist. This ruling was later overturned.
In a particularly invidious case, Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev was convicted of harming the health of a church member, despite her appeals to the contrary. In February 2014, the 67-year-old pastor was given a four-year prison term suspended for three years. He was also ordered to pay his supposed victim “moral damages” of two million Tenge (£6,500; US$10,800). He was alleged to have caused psychological harm to Lyazzat Almenova, though she repeatedly protested his innocence.
New laws on religious practice were introduced in October 2011 that tightened controls. A complex system of registration was established for all religious organisations, and unregistered activity was banned; all groups were required to re-register by October 2012 or face liquidation. A group must have at least 50 members to be registered, and many small churches were stripped of their legal status in early 2012. Larger congregations have also been denied re-registration on various grounds. One group of churches that refuses on principle to register with the authorities has been warned that members’ homes that are used for worship will be confiscated if the Christians continue to meet there.
Even registered churches are subject to controls and interference with their activities. Their registered status seems to provide little protection against raids, fines and the confiscation of literature.
“Non-traditional” religious groups have recently reported increased discrimination. Converts from Islam also experience pressure from their families and communities to renounce their faith.
More than half of Kazakhstan’s population are Muslims, but the country also has a large Russian Orthodox community. Yet the number of (known) believers among ethnic Kazakhs, a traditionally Muslim people group who make up just over 50% of the population, grew from none in 1990 to as many as 15,000 by 2010.