Kazakhstan's Parliament building (CC/Wikipedia)
Kazakhstan’s Parliament building (CC/Wikipedia)

Baptists in Ekibastuz, north-eastern Kazakhstan, have been fined for holding meetings not registered with the authorities, reports regional news agency Forum 18.

Officials raided the Baptists’ church during a Sunday service on 29 October and detained most of those present. Twenty church members were later fined under Administrative Offences’ Article 489 for “participation in an unregistered, halted or banned religious community or social organisation”.

The leader of the church, Pastor Asetov, told Forum 18 that the Baptists did not agree with the statements the police gave them to sign, which accused everyone at the meeting on 29 October of the unlawful unregistered exercise of freedom of religion and belief.

“We wrote complaints to the Prosecutors Office that the authorities must not force us to register, because Kazakhstan’s Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and allows people to gather together for peaceful meetings,” he said.

Asetov was fined 226,900 tenge (US$684), other members 113,450 tenge (US$342).

It is expected that higher fines will be imposed on religious organisations in the New Year following amendments to Kazakhstan’s religious laws, which could be ratified in parliament within the next month.