A church in Kazakhstan has been banned from meeting because its members sang religious songs at a summer camp, reports regional news service Forum 18.
The three-month ban – yet to come into force because of an appeal – was imposed on the New Life Protestant Church in Oskemen, eastern Kazakhstan, because, according to the authorities, the church failed to obtain written permission to conduct a service at the camp.
At the court hearing the judge ruled that “singing religious songs constituted a religious service and that the church was therefore responsible for holding a service in a location not approved by the authorities”.
An official from the Religious Affairs Department said they will “fine them again” if the church continues to meet.
The court invoked Article 490 of Kazakhstan’s Administrative Code, which punishes violations of the country’s Religion Law. Article 490, which also allowed the court to impose a fine on the church, states that first-time offences automatically attract a three-month ban. Fixed higher fines and a permanent ban can be imposed for a second offence, although amendments to the religious laws, likely to reach parliament before November, will allow courts to impose the higher fines and permanent ban for first offences, according to Forum 18.
The Almaty branch of New Life Protestant Church was subject to a series of raids in 2016, during which police seized financial documents, computers and local currency. A religious freedom expert, based in Kazakhstan, said then that such raids are a “backward step” following the positive strides made by the Kazakhstan President in recent years.