By BosNewsLife News Center
ASTANA/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– An elderly frail pastor remained behind bars in Kazakhstan Saturday, January 25, after a controversial court ruling, trial observers said.
The court in capital Astana told Presbyterian Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev, 67, that he would be prosecuted for “harming a parishioner” but added that charges of “propagating extremism” were dropped, according to Christians familiar with the case.
“While we are certainly pleased to hear that the completely untenable charges of propagating extremism have been dropped…we are still alarmed that the court has chosen to maintain the charge of harming a parishioner,” said Ryan Morgan, a regional manager for advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC).
How the judge could make this decision is difficult to understand, given that the very parishioner the pastor has been accused of harming has publicly claimed she was never harmed by him,” he added.
Wednesday’s court decision followed international protests against the pastor’s eight month-long detention in prison and a psychiatric hospital, amid concerns about his health and alleged harsh treatment.
ATTORNEY NOT PRESENT
The pastor’s attorney Nurlan Beiskeev was not present during the ruling because a judge had adjourned the hearing till January 31. Yet, after the lawyer left, procedures resumed, trial observers said.
Though Pastor Kashkumbayev refused to participate in the hearing without his attorney, he was reportedly “dragged by force” back into the courtroom.
The trial added to stress for Kashkumbayev, who has gone deaf in one ear and suffered heart problems related to a previous heart attack in 2011, rights investigators said.
He reportedly had no regular access to medical treatment since his imprisonment began. Instead, rights groups said, the pastor was forced by authorities to stand for long periods of time, an exercise that results in severe pain for due to the varicose veins in his legs.
Pastor Kashkumbayev was initially arrested in May last year on the charge of “harming a parishioner.” In August, he was transferred to a psychological hospital in Almaty where Christians said he was subjected to nineteen “Soviet-style psychological examinations” over the course of a single month.
PLEADING TO UN
In July, before his transfer to the hospital, Pastor Kashkumbayev wrote to the United Nations pleading for assistance, saying,”It will not take much for the authorities to make me a vegetable…I am begging you to protect me.”
In October, as Pastor Kashkumbayev approached the maximum pre-trial detention limit allowed by Kazakhstan law, he was released to be placed under house arrest. However, only minutes after leaving the detention center, authorities reportedly detained the ailing pastor again under new charges of “propagating extremism.”
Morgan said he is concerned about the pastor’s future. “The court should drop all charges and release Pastor Kashkumbayev immediately. No one should be separated from their loved ones, physically tortured, and deprived of their rights simply because they wish to freely share their religious beliefs.”
Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been under pressure to improve religious and political rights in the mineral resources-rich former Soviet nation. He has been in power virtually unchallenged since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Critics say that while he has focused on economic reforms, he has refused to democratise the political system.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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