Kazakhstan: An Absurd Travesty of Injustice in Yklas Kabduakasov’s case

Verdict, p. 10
*This phrase translates as follows: "We cannot be traitors to Islam in any way."
Yklas was eventually sentenced to two years in a prison camp for uttering this phrase during a Sunday sermon for Evangelical Christian Baptists. I find it difficult to call this anything less than an absurd travesty of injustice.

In the fight against religious extremism and hatred, the state should always respect the freedom of religion and belief, which is an inalienable, boundless, and universal right. According to Paragraph 2, Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the human rights that cannot be altered or suspended, even in a state of emergency, are the rights to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, which are on par with the right to life.

Unfortunately, in modern-day Kazakhstan, we are seeing many disturbing trends in religious policy. As an illustration, I would like to present the case of Yklas Kabduakasov, the first Christian in Kazakhstan to be convicted and sentenced to a real prison term for his faith. (It should be noted that he is not the first Christian in the nation to be convicted for his faith. There have been many others, such as Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev, who was arrested under fabricated charges in May 2013, but his prison sentence was eventually suspended.)

In August 2015, Yklas Kabduakasov, who converted from Islam to Christianity, was arrested and subsequently charged under Article 174 of the Criminal Code. In the indictment, he was accused of misinterpreting the Sacred Books, the Koran and the Bible, and spreading religious discord among indigenous Muslim people. Yklas’s arrest is particularly disturbing, because Kazakhstan’s constitution guarantees the freedom of belief.

It appears that this nation is breaking its own religion laws, which brings up several questions. On what basis could investigators and experts in Kazakhstan, a secular country, expect to correctly evaluate Yklas’ religious convictions and actions? Why did Kazakh police officers ask him provocative questions about his faith when they already knew about his Christian convictions? Why did experts without any philological, theological, or religious education conduct a philological analysis of faith and religion? In addition to these disconcerting facts, after the first day of Yklas’ trial, the media publicized a report based on false information, in which they accused him of calling for war against Islam. Many subsequent articles containing false information about the trial were also published.

Below is an excerpt from the trial’s verdict, where you can clearly see the absurdity of Yklas’ sentence.

The Court has reliably determined that the convicted defendant, before the meeting with the witnesses, was actively engaged in propagandistic activities in a community of indigenous natives aimed at disseminating the teachings of the Christian religion, and the establishment of its superiority and the inferiority of the Islamic religion.

In this regard, the Court rightly took as the basis for the sentence the above testimony of witnesses who unswervingly and consistently over the pre-trial investigation and the court hearing insisted that Kabduakasov publicly distributed religious ideology aimed at inciting religious hatred.

Their statements are consistent with the case materials produced in the trial.

Thus, from the videos viewed in the courts of first and appellate instances, it follows that in Kabduakasov's statements, we can trace elements of a negative attitude towards Islam, and the superiority of the Christian religion.

For example, in an episode dated 10/04/2014, despite the fact that Kabduakasov was in the audience while Deacon K. Dyakonov was conducting divine service among the parishioners, Kabduakasov expresses his opinion about Islam in the following phrase: "Бiз саткын Ислам бела алмаймыз никак”*, which testifies to his negative attitude towards Islam and his imposition of his beliefs on the indigenous.

Verdict, p. 10

*This phrase translates as follows: "We cannot be traitors to Islam in any way."

Yklas was eventually sentenced to two years in a prison camp for uttering this phrase during a Sunday sermon for Evangelical Christian Baptists. I find it difficult to call this anything less than an absurd travesty of injustice.

The case against Yklas Kabduakasov shows that Christians in Kazakhstan are in no better position than during the Soviet era, when Christians were imprisoned for their faith, as this is still happening today.


KAZAKHSTAN: Two years' imprisonment for Astana Christian

Seventh-day Adventist prisoner of conscience Yklas Kabduakasov was arrested by officers of Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB) secret police in the courtroom on 28 December as the Prosecutor succeeded in having his punishment of seven years' restricted freedom changed into a prison term. The City Court in the capital Astana increased the sentence to two years' imprisonment in a general regime labour camp, those attending the appeal hearing told Forum 18 News Service. The 12 weeks Kabduakasov spent in pre-trial detention will count towards his two year prison term.

Prisoner of conscience Kabduakasov, who is 54, denies the allegations of inciting religious hatred on which he was convicted on 9 November. The charges were initiated by the KNB secret police, who spent more than a year seeking to punish him.

The KNB secret police had been tracking Adventist Kabduakasov for a year as he spoke to others about his faith. The KNB appear to have rented the flat to which four university students invited him for religious discussions, appear to have organised the secret filming of the meetings with at least two hidden cameras, and prepared the prosecution case.

The KNB secret police finally arrested Kabduakasov in Astana on 14 August, accused of violating Criminal Code Article 174, Part 2. This punishes "incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious discord" by repeat "offenders" with prison terms of between five and ten years. On 9 November at the end of his first trial, Astana's Saryarka District Court No. 2 sentenced Kabduakasov to seven years' restricted freedom under Article 174, Part 1. He was allowed home that day to begin serving his sentence (see F18News 9 November 2015

The 9 November verdict also ordered nine Christian books confiscated in searches at the time of Kabduakasov's arrest to be destroyed (see F18News 8 December 2015

Appeal hands down two-year prison term

Kabduakasov appealed against the decision to Astana City Court, as did the Prosecutor, Asylzhan Gabdykaparov. Kabduakasov sought the overturning of the sentence and his full acquittal. The Prosecutor sought seven years' imprisonment in place of the restricted freedom sentence.

The appeal hearing began under Judge Gulnara Mergenova on 22 December, with a further hearing on 25 December. At the final appeal hearing on 28 December, the Judge handed down the two year prison term and officials arrested him at the end of the hearing.

Prisoner of conscience Kabduakasov's lawyer Gulmira Shaldykova described the two-year prison term to Madi Bekmaganbetov of Radio Free Europe's Kazakh Service as "too harsh". She pointed out that Kabduakasov has eight children, six of them still minors. She said she would discuss with her client whether to appeal against the verdict to a higher court.

Kabduakasov's Pastor, Andrei Teteryuk of Astana's Adventist Church, condemned the sentence as a violation of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights documents that Kazakhstan has signed up to. "Freedom of religious confession and of conscience is the basic civil right in any society recognised as democratic and constitutional," he told Bekmaganbetov of Radio Free Europe.

The person who answered the phone of Investigator Gabdykaparov later on 28 December listened to Forum 18's request to speak to him and then put the phone down without responding. All subsequent calls went unanswered.

The telephone of KNB secret police investigator Belesov, who prepared the initial case, went unanswered each time Forum 18 called the same day.

Forum 18 
Радиы Азаттык 


For the Russian Orthodox, a Nationalist Paradox

The following piece is written by Cory Bender and Wade Kusack.  Cory Bender is the Program Officer for Eurasia at the Institute for Global Engagement. Wade Kusack is the Director of the Religious Freedom Department at Mission Eurasia.

Ukraine has created a crisis for the Kremlin, or at least that’s what a string of recent op-eds has claimed. Whether it’s economic malaise, fissures in Putin’s inner circle, or the possibility of democratic revolution, analysts are eagerly searching for chinks in Putin’s armor. Less discussed, however, has been a slow-burning crisis in the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC).

The ROC has its cameos in Western news coverage of Ukraine. The “Orthodox Army” ravaging the Donbass and molesting religious minorities, in particular, has drawn some attention. But it would be wrong to assume that the Kremlin, or even the Moscow Patriarchate (the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church), are directly responsible for these atrocities. Mostly to blame are Russian Orthodox zealots motivated by religion rather than instructions from Moscow. Moreover, these freelancing faithful are creating serious problems for the Russian Orthodox Church, and if it can’t rein them in, the church could become dangerously divided.

These zealots—whom some scholars have branded “Nationalist Orthodox”—claim to be loyal to the Russian Orthodox Church. At the same time, however, they view the Church leadership in Moscow as traitors. They derisively call them “Nikodimovtsy,” after Metropolitan Nikodim, whom they vilify for his conciliatory stance towards other branches of Christianity. The Nikodimovtsy, according to the Nationalist Orthodox, include many of the ranking bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church—and Patriarch Kirill himself.

The Nationalist Orthodox share many of the same assumptions as more moderate Russian Orthodox. They both see Moscow as the Third Rome—an idea stretching back centuries that posits Russia as the last bastion of true Christianity. On this view, Western liberalism is the primary threat to Russian statehood today, and as such Russia must be protected from Western proselytism—whether it be religious proselytism by Protestants, or human rights proselytism by the State Department.

But the Nationalist Orthodox take this to an extreme. While the Moscow Patriarchate noisily opposes what it sees as Western attempts to subvert Orthodox Russia, it accepts that Russia must coexist with the West. Nationalist Orthodox, on the other hand, see the West through the lens of New World Order conspiracies: as a stew of international Jewry, Wall Street banks, imperialistic military and political forces, and demonic religious movements. For them, Russia cannot coexist with the West; one or the other must be annihilated.

This violent fanaticism of the Nationalist Orthodox faction has put the Russian Orthodox officialdom in a bind. The Russian Orthodox affiliate in Ukraine, called the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), is hardly able to balance its affiliation with Moscow and its Ukrainian congregants’ patriotism. This has led to speculation that the UOC-MP may seek to break its ties with Moscow; already, dozens of churches have left the UOC-MP to move to its Kiev-affiliated sister church. But the Russian Orthodox Church’s problems aren’t limited to Ukraine: the divide between Orthodox officialdom and militant nationalists is emerging in Russia as well.

Aware of this, the Kremlin is trying to assert control over nationalist fringe fighters. It sacked the swashbuckling Igor Strelkov, a key leader of the Nationalist Orthodox fighters in Ukraine, and may have even assassinatedother separatist leaders that were too hot to handle. More ominously, Russian border guards are reported to have killed hundreds of retreating separatist fighters rather than allowing them to enter Russia.

But the root of the problem facing Russia and the Moscow Patriarchate is not a few firebrands, but rather the ideological poison of religious nationalism itself. This ideology survives on generalized hatred of the West and its values, while doing little to define a positive identity and a path forward. The Kremlin and the Orthodox Church themselves have stoked this fire, and now it is burning out of their control.

The (potentially) good news for Russia is that this nationalism is still changing. If Russian leaders could divert the flood of patriotic fervor into positive channels, it could stem the tide of militancy, and possibly even help to lift Russia out of its social and economic rut. The ROC would have to play an important and courageous role in any such effort.

Given current trends within the Church, however, the prospects for this look dim. Priests that preach reconciliation are marginalized, while Nationalist Orthodox are promoted. The Moscow Patriarchate, for its part, sees all of this as a kind of balancing act: not wanting to buckle under the pressure of ultraconservatives, while not wanting to run afoul of the Kremlin.

This balancing act will probably fail. And when it does, the Church, like so many in eastern Ukraine, may find itself hostage to extremists.


KAZAKHSTAN: "State prosecutor wants Yklas to serve 7 years in prison!"

State Prosecutor Asylzhan Gabdykaparov is seeking to have Protestant Christian Yklas Kabduakasov's punishment of seven years' restricted freedom turned into an actual seven-year prison sentence, Seventh-day Adventist Pastor Andrei Teteryuk told Forum 18 News Service.

The Prosecutor's protest – and Kabduakasov's appeal to have the sentence quashed – are due to be heard on 22 December at Astana City Court. The November verdict ordered that nine Christian books seized by the secret police in the case should be destroyed. "It is barbarism to destroy books," human rights defender Yevgeni Zhovtis told Forum 18. An Astana-based court bailiff - who has witnessed the destruction of religious books - explained to Forum 18 that bailiffs throw books ordered destroyed – including religious books – into the rubbish bin. "They are normally disposed off at a general rubbish dump outside the city."

The City Court in Kazakhstan's capital Astana is due to hear the appeal in the case of Protestant Christian Yklas Kabduakasov in the morning of 22 December, according to case documents seen by Forum 18 News Service. Judge Gulnara Mergenova is due to preside. Both the state prosecutor and Kabduakasov himself have appealed against the sentence of seven years' restricted freedom handed down on 9 November to punish him for talking to others of his faith. "The state prosecutor wants Yklas to serve the seven years in prison!" Astana Seventh-day Adventist Pastor Andrei Teteryuk told Forum 18 on 4 December.

Despite repeated calls, Forum 18 was unable to reach state prosecutor Asylzhan Gabdykaparov to find out why he is seeking to have Kabduakasov imprisoned. His colleagues either told Forum 18 he was out of the office or his telephone went unanswered between 2 and 8 December.

Although Gabdykaparov led the prosecution case in court, the National Security Committee (KNB) secret police spent more than a year preparing the prosecution.

The written verdict sentencing Kabduakasov orders that nine religious books seized in raids on his home and other locations – among other items - should be destroyed (see below).

The court order to destroy yet more religious books comes as Jehovah's Witnesses have failed to overturn in court repeated religious censorship on the import of their publications. Courts confined themselves to technical points, refusing to consider whether the Culture and Sport Ministry's Religious Affairs Committee had been right to ban specific Jehovah's Witness publications or not (see below).

Fines continue on individuals who offer religious literature outside the limited spaces enshrined in law where it is allowed to be distributed (see below).

"It is barbarism to destroy books"

Yevgeni Zhovtis of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law condemned the court order to destroy books seized from Kabduakasov and others in the case. "It is barbarism to destroy books," he told Forum 18 on 3 December. "And it makes the authorities in Kazakhstan - who position themselves as modernising the country - look from the cultural point of view like the Taliban or ISIS."

Zhovtis noted that he had similarly objected over the court-ordered destruction of 121 religious books, mainly Bibles, in Akmola Region in March 2013. After an outcry, that decision was then overturned (see F18News 10 April 2013

In May 2013, four books confiscated from a bookseller in East Kazakhstan Region – including two with prayers to Russian Orthodox saints Serafim of Sarov and Sergius of Radonezh – were ordered destroyed when the bookseller was fined. If it was carried out, this would have been the first known time that a court-ordered religious book destruction was carried out in Kazakhstan. Other religious literature destruction orders followed (see F18News 15 November 2013

"We will fulfil court orders to destroy books"

An Astana-based court bailiff – whose role falls under the jurisdiction of the Justice Ministry – explained to Forum 18 in late November 2015 how he and his colleagues destroy items as ordered in court decisions. Asked if this includes the destruction of books, the bailiff responded: "Whatever the court orders, we will do it - we will fulfil court orders to destroy books."

The bailiff noted that courts often order the destruction of seized alcohol and books. Asked what bailiffs do to destroy books, including religious books, the bailiff responded: "Generally we throw them into the bin. They are normally disposed off at a general rubbish dump outside the city." By contrast, bailiffs hand confiscated weapons or gold to the police.

Asked if the bailiff had personally destroyed religious books, the bailiff responded: "There are cases of destruction of religious books, though not so many. I haven't done it, but I've seen others do it, of course." The bailiff said they had not come across cases where other bailiffs had refused to destroy religious books on grounds of conscience.

Judge orders religious book destruction

The KNB secret police had been tracking Adventist Kabduakasov for a year as he spoke to others about his faith. The KNB appear to have rented the flat to which four students invited him for religious discussions, appear to have organised the secret filming of the meetings with at least two hidden cameras, and prepared the prosecution case.

The KNB secret police finally arrested Kabduakasov in Astana on 14 August, accused of violating Criminal Code Article 174, Part 2. This punishes "incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious discord" by repeat "offenders" with prison terms of between five and ten years. On 9 November at the end of his trial, Kabduakasov was sentenced to seven years' restricted freedom under Article 174, Part 1 (see F18News 9 November 2015

Judge Akmaral Isayeva's written court decision – handed down some days after the verdict was pronounced in court and seen by Forum 18 – orders Kabduakasov to pay 149,742.52 Tenge (17,000 Norwegian Kroner, 1,800 Euros or 2,000 US Dollars) in procedural costs.

The verdict also reveals that nine religious books held by Astana KNB after they seized them in August are to be destroyed. Also ordered destroyed were audio and video cassettes, CDs and computer technology, including computers and a video camera. The KNB secret police had seized the items from Kabduakasov's home, place of work and car, and other addresses.

Forum 18 was unable to reach Judge Isayeva to find out why she had ordered the religious books destroyed. On 24 November her assistant said he could not comment on her behalf. On all other occasions, the Judge's telephone went unanswered.

"We consider the destruction order absurd"

The books Judge Isayeva ordered destroyed were "Worthy Answers" (2 copies) and "Central Asia, Kazakhstan and the History of Christianity" in Kazakh, as well as "Worthy Answers", "The Call for the Great Commission" (2 copies), "Relatives, live in abundance!" and "Share your Faith with Muslims" (2 copies) in Russian.

None of these books is among the 661 items on the General Prosecutor's Office list of banned religious literature published on its website. (Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" is among the "religious" books listed as "extremist" and banned.)

"We consider the destruction order absurd," Adventist Pastor Teteryuk complained to Forum 18. "The books and other items don't belong to Yklas but to the Church and other Church members! We don't understand why they're preparing to destroy them."


KAZAKHSTAN: Two-month secret police detention – prosecution to follow?

Kazakhstan's KNB secret police arrested Seventh-day Adventist Yklas Kabduakasov on the evening of 14 August after searching his home in the capital Astana and confiscating religious books. Also searched the same day was the Adventist church where he worships. On 15 August an Astana court ordered he be held in two-month pre-trial detention at the secret police Investigation Prison, the court chancellery told Forum 18 News Service. Kabduakasov is challenging this detention at a hearing tomorrow morning (21 August), his lawyer Gulmira Shaldykova told Forum 18. The secret police claim he was spreading "religious discord" when discussing his faith with and offering Christian books to others. Secret police Investigator Diyar Idrishov refused to discuss Kabduakasov's case. "I was merely a witness to his arrest and am not involved in the investigation," he told Forum 18. He said Investigator Nurlan was leading the criminal case (with a possible five to ten year prison sentence), but the man who answered his phone repeatedly hung up when Forum 18 asked about the case.

Seventh-day Adventist Yklas Kabduakasov is to challenge a court decision to imprison him for two months' pre-trial detention, his lawyer Gulmira Shaldykova told Forum 18 News Service from Kazakhstan's capital Astana on 20 August. The challenge is due to be heard tomorrow morning (21 August) at Astana City Court. The 54-year-old Kabduakasov was arrested by the National Security Committee (KNB) secret police on the evening of 14 August and is being held at their Investigation Prison in the city. They claim he was spreading "religious discord" when discussing his faith with and offering Christian books to others.

Judge Nabi Pazylov of Astana's Saryarka District Court No. 2 ordered Kabduakasov's two-month pre-trial detention at a hearing on Saturday 15 August, the court chancellery told Forum 18 on 20 August. "We consider such detention cases even on a Saturday or a Sunday," the official – who did not give his name - said. "It makes no difference what day it is." He said the detention suit had been brought by the KNB secret police investigator. The lawyer Shaldykova represented Kabduakasov at the hearing.

Kabduakasov's arrest was mentioned at the weekly service of his Adventist congregation in Astana on Saturday 15 August, a congregation member told Forum 18.


Kabduakasov, who works for an Astana-based building company Stroiinvest, was stopped by the traffic police in Astana on 14 August and taken back to his home in the city, those close to him told Forum 18 from Astana on 18 August. Once there, KNB secret police officers searched his home and confiscated several Christian books. At about 6 pm, at the end of the search, the KNB officers arrested him.

At least some family members learnt of Kabduakasov's arrest only in the early hours of 15 August. Later on 15 August, the KNB secret police Investigator summoned relatives to bring Kabduakasov something to eat in prison.

The church in Astana that Kabduakasov attends was also searched on 14 August, Forum 18 understands.