By BosNewsLife News Center
ASTANA/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– An evangelical pastor who was detained and tortured in a Kazakhstan prison following a controversial trial has been conditionally released, rights activists told BosNewsLife Tuesday, February 18.
Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev of Grace Church in the capital Astana left jail Monday, February 17, amid international concerns over is health, trial observers said.
The pastor was arrested in May last year on what fellow Christians viewed as trumped up charges including “intentionally harming the health of congregants” by tempering with communion juice.
Astana’s Almaty District Court No. 2 reportedly found the pastor guilty and ordered him to pay a whopping fine of 2 million tenge ($10,800) for “moral damages” to his alleged victim, who has denied harm to her health.
The court said it agreed to release the pastor on “three years probation” but added that he would not be allowed to leave the country, trial observers said.
His lawyer Nurlan Beysekeyev reportedly described it as his “strangest case ever” and pledged to appeal the guilty verdict and fine.
Local Christians said they were rejoicing as the pastor would be able to seek medical care after months of alleged abuse in prison.
Initially five charges, including extremism, were brought against Kashkumbayev, but prosecutors dropped four of those charges, accusing the pastor of “intentional infliction of grievous bodily harm” by putting hallucinogens in the communion juice.
The pastor’s imprisonment prompted thousands of concerned individuals across the world to sign petitions and to call embassies demanding Kashkumbayev’s release, said advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC) in a statement.
Corey Bailey, ICC’s regional manager for Central Asia, said activists were “rejoicing at the release on probation of Pastor Kashkumbayev, who is no longer being tortured in prison.”
Though not allowed to leave the former Soviet nation, “he is now able to receive the medical help he has been denied since his arrest in May 2013,” Bailey said.
“We support his lawyers’ decision to appeal the wrongful ‘guilty’ charge and exorbitant fine,” he added.
The detention comes amid a wider crackdown on groups deemed dangerous by the perceived autocratic President Nrsultan Nazarbayev, including free evangelical churches, and other religious groups.
Nayarbayev, who has ruled this oil-rich nation virtually unchallenged since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, is also accused by the opposition of suppressing dissent.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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