By BosNewsLife News Center
BUDAPEST/ASTANA (BosNewsLife) -- Several Baptist Churches in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan continue have been raided by police because they refuse state registration on principal grounds, BosNewsLife learned Monday, September 15.
Among several incidents, three local administration officials and a police officer raided a Sunday worship service of a small congregation in the town of Ayagoz in East Kazakhstan Province in July, said religious rights group Forum 18.
"Church member Pavel Leonov was later fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage after refusing to register the congregation," the group said on a statement. This month, September 3, the Regional Court rejected his appeal, court officials reportedly said.
Elsewhere in the northeastern town of Pavlodar, Oleg Voropaev was fined ten months' minimum wages for leading his Baptist congregation, Forum 18 reported.
"The state's compulsion of the community to register violates the rights to freedom of conscience and religion guaranteed by the Constitution," Voropaev said told the court in published remarks.
Both Leonov and Voropaev have been fined in earlier years "for their peaceful religious activity," Forum 18 said. Baptists have described the state's actions against them as an "economic war".
Besides Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses have been raided, banned and given large fines in July and August, the group explained. It comes amid concern about religious freedom in the country.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom said earlier this year that it is "deeply concerned over a draft religion law in Kazakhstan that would significantly weaken protections for human rights, including religious freedom."
The draft would introduce more restrictive new registration requirements for all religious groups, reduce the number of religious communities permitted to operate in Kazakhstan, and increase the penalties for members of unregistered communities, the Commission said. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has come under international criticism for his perceived autocratic style, but he has defended his policies saying he wants stability in the country.
Elections in December 2005 returned Nursultan Nazarbayev for a further seven-year term with more than 90 percent of the votes, but the opposition claimed the ballot was been rigged. Observers of Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the ballot was "seriously flawed."
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