The fire-damaged Kajisay Baptist church, Kyrgyzstan (World Watch Monitor)
The fire-damaged Kajisay Baptist church, Kyrgyzstan (World Watch Monitor)

Christians in Kajisay, eastern Kyrgyzstan, have said opposition to the burial of a Protestant man in a nearby village could have led to the arson attack on their church earlier this month, despite official denials of “religious discord”, reports regional news agency Forum 18.

The opposition to the burial in Barskoon, 40km east of Kajisay, was headed by the local imam, who led a protest against it. Following this, the man was instead buried in the Kajisay cemetery used by Baptists. The authorities took no action against the opponents, according to Forum 18.

Hours before the church was set on fire on 2 January, local Baptists reported that three young men had approached some elderly women who were entering the church, shouting “nasty curses” and “threaten[ing] that they will have problems because of attending church”. Galina Kolodzinskaya, an independent religious expert, told Forum 18 that, “in patriarchal Kyrgyz society” it is unusual for women to be attacked, so “it is obvious that these women were insulted because they are Baptists”.

However, local council leader Pamir Kutuyev warned against “jumping to a conclusion that the fire was a hate-motivated act”. He added that there had been no “serious arguments between various religions here in Kajisay” since he became head of the council in 2014.

Members of the church have been critical of the police investigation. They said the police spent as much time asking questions about church members and how the church was financed as they did looking for the criminals. Investigating police officer Mirbek Tabaldiyev told Forum 18 that he had asked these questions because “maybe someone who attended the church set it on fire”.

The Baptists also said that Captain Tabaldiyev had suggested to them that the church was set alight by people who did not like a church built “in the midst of a Muslim [community]”.

Kajisay Baptists continue to meet in the church building. They told Forum 18 on 18 January that “we are still restoring and renovating the church, and we will continue our services despite adversity”.

Kajisay Baptists told Forum 18 that they have had their religious rights violated since 2010 by “violent threats and attacks, intimidation of people at home and work, and refusals to allow [their] dead to be buried according to their own ceremonies and rites”. Kajisay Baptist Church has been attacked twice before. In 2015 the roof was damaged and had to be replaced, and in 2013 the windows were smashed.