Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev
Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev (World Watch Monitor)

A Kazakh pastor has been told he is to be detained for another month, four months after his arrest for allegedly “harming the health” of a member of his congregation.

Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev, pastor of Grace Protestant Church in Astana, the capital, was arrested on May 17, charged with the psychological manipulation of Lyazzat Almenova through the use of a “red-coloured hallucinogenic drink”. At a court hearing on Sept. 10, the judge ruled that he will be held until at least Oct. 17, two days before his 67th birthday, while the case against him continues.

Almenova told Forum 18 News her pastor was “totally innocent”, but the state arrested Kashkumbayev after Almenova’s mother claimed her daughter’s attendance at the church had damaged her mental health.

Other members of the congregation say the drink is a harmless, non-alcoholic beverage used as part of the church’s Holy Communion – to represent the traditionally used, and symbolic, red wine.

The investigation against the pastor dates back two years. Almenova’s mother first submitted her complaint in July 2011. A raid was carried out at the church in October 2012.

Before and after the raid, a number of articles had been written about the pastor, attacking the church for using hallucinogens.

The pastor was moved to a psychiatric ward in Almaty, the former capital, on July 19, and ordered to remain there until Sept. 17, while he underwent psychiatric examination. He was released early from the ward on Sept. 8, only to be moved back to prison.

The day before he was moved into the ward, Kashkumbayev wrote a letter to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, saying that he planned a hunger strike as a protest against treatments he claimed would render him a ‘vegetable’.

“Though I am 67, and I cannot boast of ideal health since I had a serious heart attack in 2011, with chronic otitis of both ears, varicose veins in my legs, chronic bronchitis, chronic gastritis, I am psychologically healthy,” wrote Kashkumbayev. “[But] it will not take much for the authorities to make me a vegetable… I am begging you to protect me.”

His lawyer warned him that he may suffer further ill health as a result of his hunger strike, but the pastor replied that he was even willing to go without water in an attempt to win his freedom through awakening the support of the international community.

After three days of fasting, however, he was transferred to the psychiatric ward, where he ended his fast.

Neither Kashkumbayev’s family, nor his lawyer, were able to make contact with him during his time in the psychiatric ward, nor did they have any way of knowing about his health.

However, his son Askar told World Watch Monitor that in the last 10 days he has been able to visit his father a couple of times, while the family awaits permission for the pastor’s wife to be allowed to see her husband.

Kashkumbayev’s sons have been allowed to give parcels of food and clothes to their father, but each time they have to pay $60-70 for the privilege.

Askar said he did not know why his father had been arrested, but he said he thought it could be as a warning to other Kazakhs not to change religions.

Last month, Askar told Forum 18 that the authorities were trying to humiliate his father and damage the image of the church.

“My father did not plan on making people sick and did not harm anyone. Our only hope is the support we can get from the wider public and international community. The local news media publish materials against my father. It looks like the authorities are intent on punishing my father,” he said.

The Ukrainian Union of Evangelical Churches wrote a letter to the Ambassador of Kazakhstan in Ukraine, saying: “Our Union is deeply concerned with the situation. We provide doctrinal practice similar to the faith of pastor Kashkumbayev, and our faith practices are guaranteed by the Constitution of Ukraine.”