Kazakhstan pastor update

Photo by The Voice of the Martyrs USA

Photo by The Voice of the Martyrs USA

Kazakhstan (VOM/MNN) — After nine months of questionable imprisonment and delayed trials, a 67-year-old pastor has been released from jail in Kazakhstan. The Voice of the Martyrs shares updates on the situation.

Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbaev, 67, the retired Presbyterian pastor of Grace Church in Atsana, Kazakhstan, was released on Feb. 17 after spending nine months in jail awaiting trial on a charge of “intentionally inflicting serious harm to health.” He was convicted of the charge and received a four-year suspended sentence.

Although four other charges were dropped, Kashkumbaev is ordered to pay a large fine and could face new charges. His lawyers plan to appeal the conviction, as well as the fine equivalent to $10,800 on the grounds that the proceedings were illegal and unfounded.

The pastor and church were first accused in July 2011 by the family of a woman who attended Grace Church. The woman’s family forced her to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, which determined that she was mentally ill. The woman has repeatedly rejected this claim and defended Pastor Kashkumbaev.

Authorities used the family’s claim to justify a raid on the church in October 2012. Authorities gathered evidence, including a red-colored communion drink that they claimed was laced with hallucinogens. At the request of officials, church members voluntarily underwent blood tests to demonstrate that they were not under the influence of any hallucinogens or other drugs. Officials also seized valuables such as gold items, computers, DVDs, and books, leading to accusations that the church had committed espionage, fraud, and money laundering, and that it possessed “extremist literature.”

Kashkumbaev was subjected to “torturous conditions” while in prison. He was sent to a psychiatric hospital for several weeks–a tactic that was used in the former Soviet Union to intimidate those seen as government dissenters. Officials also reportedly denied the pastor medical care for his many health issues, including heart problems, poor circulation in his legs, and hearing loss. In October 2013, moments after being released on house arrest so that he could seek medical treatment, secret police re-arrested the pastor.

Kashkumbaev is glad to be back with his family. He has been ordered by the judge to follow “appropriate conduct” and remain in Atsana.

Please pray that Kashkumaev’s faith would remain strong during this time, and that it would be an example not only to his church, but to the government officials as well.