According to NGO Forum 18, convictions are used to “intimidate individuals” who use their religious freedom. Sentences include fines of two months of average wage and bans on religious activity.
Kazakhstan's authorities brought at least 143 administrative prosecutions in 2022 related to freedom of religion or belief. The majority (130) ended with convictions, human rights group Forum 18 reports.
“Administrative punishment is used for the purpose of educating the person who committed the offence, in the spirit of compliance with the requirements of legislation and respect for law and order, as well as to prevent the offender from committing new offences”, said a court in Oral (Uralsk).
In addition to the administrative cases, Forum 18 denounces that “police and prosecutors often use the threat of such cases to intimidate individuals who have been exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief”.
Most of the cases punished in 2022 were for posting religious messages, texts and recordings on their social media without state permission (54), followed by those prosecuted for offering religious literature for sale without state permission, either in shops or online (30).
The rest of the infractions range from holding worship services without permission, trying to import religious books, saying the word Amen in mosques, teaching children religion, or sharing the gospel in public, among other things.
The majority of the sentences were fines of between three weeks' and two months' average wages. Courts also banned individuals from religious activity for three months or an unspecific time.
In administrative cases involving literature and religious items, the courts usually order the return of the seized materials after any fine is paid.
However, in 2022 courts ordered religious literature to be destroyed in two cases, both related to Islamic books.
Forum 18 explains that “those who refuse or fail to pay fines can be placed on the list of debtors who are banned from leaving the country. Court bailiffs can also order funds to be deducted from their wages or seize property in lieu”.
The Council of Churches Baptists refused to pay fines, arguing that they should not be punished for their right to freedom of religion or belief, so that many of them have spent years on the exit ban list.
The most affected by these cases were Muslims, but Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses, people of unknown faith, charities, and commercial and private sellers, were also among the targets of the 2022 prosecutions.
A member of the Council of Churches Baptists told Forum 18 that for the first time in many years “there were no fines in 2022, thank God”. The year before, the church's Christmas service was raided by police, leading to two fines.