By BosNewsLife News Center with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
ASTANA/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– A devoted Baptist church member in Kazakhstan can’t leave the country and may lose his garage because he refuses to pay fines for attending a worship meeting without state permission, BosNewsLife learned Friday, January 12.
“I didn’t pay because I don’t consider myself guilty,” said Nikolai Novikov, who was also jailed for five days over the controversy.
The three fines he received of roughly $550 each, the equivalent of a monthly wage, “were illegal” he added in remarks published by advocacy group Forum 18.
Novikov, a 34-year-old married father of four living in the northwestern city of Oral (Uralsk), is among the most vocal voices against a government crackdown on Christians who gather without state permission or express their faith openly.
The future of Novikov remained uncertain Friday, January 12, as authorities issued a “restraining order” on his car to prevent him from leaving the country, while threatening to seize his garage because of unpaid fines, several sources said. Novikov said he also fears other properties may be seized by authorities.
Other devoted Christians have been targeted as well for violating controversial religious legislation in the former Soviet nation, including Council of Churches Baptists, who refuse to register on principle grounds.
“Baptist, Maksim Volikov, was also fined the equivalent of one month’s average salary for talking to people about his faith and offering them religious literature without state permission,” Forum 18 said.
Though noting that Volikov has six young children, Judge Nurlan Nuralin fined him saying it “will be sufficient for the restitution of social justice and the education of the offender.”
Nuralin reportedly also ordered that some 165 Christian books, booklets, magazines and CDs – including Bible texts – seized from Volikov should be handed to the Regional Religious Affairs Department.
The publications were taken in August last year when he was offering them outside a shop in the village of Novoukrainka, rights activists said.
A court decision notes that nobody is “authorised” to distribute of “religious literature” in the village. Jehovah’s Witnesses are also prosecuted for committing this “offence”, while some Muslims also face similar charges, Forum 18 added.
Volikov reportedly refuses to pay the fines, with local Baptists saying he plans to appeal against the rulings and is seeking the return of his seized books.
Yet, evangelical churches with state registration have also been singled out for prosecution. “Recent examples include the Full Gospel Church in Atyrau where the Anti-Terrorism Police with the Justice Department are bullying people into identifying themselves as founders on registration applications. [They] try to stop the Church meeting…”, explained Forum 18.
Government officials have also expressed concerns about evangelism. Aset Doskeyev of Almaty’s Religious Affairs Department wrote to local registered religious communities that holding meetings for worship away from state registered places of worship is “an offence”.
Speaking about faith with others can only be done if a person is given state permission to be a “missionary” using state-approved materials within state-approved geographic limits, according to experts familiar with the legislation. Books have been confiscated during several police raids, including in bookshops.
It comes amid opposition allegations that autocratic President Nursultan Nazarbayev is suppressing dissent and groups deemed dangerous to his power base.
Virtually unchallenged since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Nazarbayev focused on economic reform while resisting moves to democratise the political system, analysts say.
Although he reportedly advocates democracy as “a long-term goal”, the leader has warned that stability could be at risk if change is too swift.
Yet Christians such as Novikov argue that change can’t come soon enough.