Two deaf Christians fined for drinking tea after worship
By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service
ZYRYANOVSK, KAZAKHSTAN (ANS – June 14, 2016) — At the age of 89 and a half, former Soviet-era Baptist prisoner of conscience, Yegor Prokopenko, has again been fined for leading a meeting for worship.
According to Felix Corley of Forum 18 (http://www.forum18.org), Prokopenko, who leads a Council of Churches Baptist congregation in Zyryanovsk in East Kazakhstan Region, “is believed to be the oldest victim of Kazakhstan’s policy of fining those who exercise the right to freedom of religion or belief without state permission.”
Also, two Protestants in the same city were fined for drinking tea in a cafe after a Sunday meeting for worship.
His latest troubles began for Prokopenko when, on Sunday, May 22, local police officer Dulat Baydindoyev led a raid on the home where the church he leading, was holding Sunday morning worship. The offer was accompanied by three men in civilian clothes, one church member who was present told Forum 18 on June 13, and who added that officers filmed church members at worship and questioned them after the service was over.
Later in the day Officer Baydindoyev returned with a record of an offence against Prokopenko under Administrative Code Article 489, Part 9. This punishes “Leadership of the activity of a social or religious organization not registered under established legal procedure.” He then fined him the equivalent $625 US Dollars, and gave Prokopenko a form showing him how to pay.
“Were Prokopenko in work, this fine would represent two or three months’ average wage. However, he has been a pensioner since before Kazakhstan gained independence in 1991,” said Corley.
Prokopenko rejected all accusations of wrongdoing and refused to sign any documents, church members told Forum 18.
Officer Baydindoyev defended the raid on the church. “We didn’t raid,” he claimed to Forum 18 from Zyryanovsk on June 13. “We arrived after the service.” He said he had been accompanied by a cameraman from the police, an officer from the Criminal Investigation Department and a Prosecutor’s Office official. He insisted the church was wrong to meet because it does not have state registration. “We filmed them after the service because Prokopenko refused to sign the record.” Officer Baydindoyev then put the phone down.
Article 489, Part 9 is one Article of the Administrative Code that police officers have the right to fine individuals under with no court hearing, said Corley, adding, “[The] Council of Churches Baptists refuse on principle to seek state permission to be able to meet for worship. They are routinely fined for leading or attending such worship. They also have a policy of civil disobedience, refusing to pay such fines. This often leads to short-term prison sentences, confiscation of property and a ban on leaving Kazakhstan.
Prokopenko appealed to Zyryanovsk District Prosecutor Konstantin Pichugin. However, on June 3, the Prosecutor’s Office rejected his complaint, Prosecutor Talgat Tudubekov told Forum 18 from Zyryanovsk on 13 June. The Regional Prosecutor’s Office is now considering a further appeal, he added.
Prokopenko also has the right to appeal to court
Prokopenko served a total of six and a half years’ imprisonment for his faith during the Soviet period. He served three and a half years of a five-year sentence handed down in 1972, and the full three-year sentence handed down in 1982. He was fined for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief in 2006, 2008 and 2013.
Prokopenko was aged 87 and three months when he was last fined two weeks’ average wages in February 2014. He was also put on the exit blacklist for refusing to pay his fine. In court he denied any wrongdoing, insisting that members of a religious community may have the right to form a religious association but are under no obligation to do so. The judge dismissed his views and punished him.
Fined for drinking tea after worship
Two members of New Life Protestant Church in the Caspian port of Atyrau, Bagitzhan Zholdybayev and Aleksandr Revkov, have been fined for drinking tea in a cafe with five other church members after their Sunday meeting for worship on April 17.
Corley reported that after detaining and questioning the seven church members, Religious Affairs Department official Kairulla Kuskaliyev prepared records of an “offence” against the two under Article 490, Part 1, Point 1. This punishes “violation of procedures established in law for conducting rites, ceremonies and meetings” with a fine for individuals.
In separate hearings at Atyrau’s Specialised Administrative Court on May 26, Judge Zamira Bainazarova fined both Zholdybayev and Revkov, according to the court decisions seen by Forum 18. Given their disability (both are deaf) the Judge reduced the fines by 30 per cent and issued a ban on their unspecified activity for three months.
Both Zholdybayev and Revkov denied any wrongdoing in court, but Religious Affairs official Kuskaliyev insisted on their guilt. He explained that their rights had been explained to them using a sign language interpreter.
Note: Kazakhstan, a Central Asian country and former Soviet republic, extends from the Caspian Sea in the west to the Altai Mountains at its eastern border with China and Russia. Its largest metropolis, Almaty, is a long-standing trading hub whose landmarks include Ascension Cathedral, a tsarist-era Russian Orthodox church, and the Central State Museum of Kazakhstan, displaying thousands of Kazak artifacts. Its president is Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Photo captions: 1) Baptist prisoner of conscience, Yegor Prokopenko, fined again. 2) A Church service in Kazakhstan. 3) A cup of tea is Kazakhstan can prove costly if you are a Christian. 4) Dan Wooding makes a point on a TV show.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 75, is an award-winning winning author, broadcaster and journalist born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, Alfred and Anne Wooding. He is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for nearly 53 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren, who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder and international director of the ASSIST News Service (ANS), and the author or co-author of some 45 books, the latest is Mary My Story from Bethlehem to Calvary (http://marythebook.com). Dan has a weekly radio show and two TV programs all based in Southern California. Before moving to the US, Dan was a senior reporter with two of the UK’s largest circulation newspapers and was also an interviewer for BBC Radio One in London.
** You may republish this and any of our ANS stories with attribution to the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net). Also, please tell your friends that they can have a complimentary subscription to the news service by going to this website.