By BosNewsLife News Center
ASTANA/BUDAPEST (BosNewslife)-- An appeals court in autocratically-ruled Kazakhstan has overturned a ruling that 121 pieces of Christian literature, including Bibles, that were seized from a street evangelist be destroyed, BosNewsLife learned Sunday, April 21.
"Thank God they didn’t destroy my books," said evangelist Vyacheslav Cherkasov, who lives in the north-central city of Shchuchinsk, in a statement.
Christians claimed international publicity as well as outrage among believers and rights activists influenced the court decision.
Cherkasov said he will still have to pay a fine of $572 in local currency, more than the average monthly wage, for "violating" the country’s harsh rules regarding importing, publishing and distribution of religious literature.
He had appealed against the destruction of literature and the fine saying it was his "constitutional right" to distribute Christian books and other publications.
BOOKS STILL MISSING
Tough the confiscated items have been returned to the evangelist, he reportedly said Christian literature taken from him
on an earlier occasion had not been.
The evangelist has repeatedly been stopped by police for offering religious literature on the streets, and he said at least one other legal case against him is pending.
Elsewhere in Kazakhstan, seven members of a small church in Ayagoz have been fined 86,500 Kazakh tenge ($572) for taking part in an unregistered religious meeting at a private home, said Barnabas Fund an advocacy and aid group working in Central Asia.
"Two of them are elderly women: Valentina Dyakova, 77, and Raisa Bakenova, 76," the group said. A case against an eighth member is still pending, according to rights activists.
The prayer gathering was reportedly raided by police on April 4. It was the second time time this year that a meeting of the church has been raided, Christians said.
The pastor, Pavel Leonov, was reportedly fined some $1,145 in local currency for “leadership of an unregistered or banned social or religious organization” following a raid in February.
He appealed against the penalty, but his appeal was rejected on April 1, Barnabas Fund said, citing local sources.
This wasn't the first time the pastor was targeted, Christians said. Leonov was reportedly sentenced to one day’s detention in April 2009 after he refused to pay a fine issued for leading unregistered worship.
Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev has come under international pressure to allow more political and religious freedom in his country, known for its mineral resources and enormous economic potential.
He has been in power virtually unchallenged since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. While focusing on economic reform, critics claim he has resisted moves to democratize the post-Soviet political system.