Wed, 11 Dec 2019

An Almaty court has jailed three pastors in absentia for between four and five years in a case described by one human rights defender as "complete drivel". New Life Church has been told its problems will end if it pays money to officials or collaborates with the secret police.

Three self-exiled Protestant pastors given long jail terms in absentia for leading New Life Pentecostal Church in Kazakhstan's commercial capital Almaty lost their appeal at Almaty City Court on 1 November. The decision came into force when the appeal verdict was issued in writing on 11 November. The three have said they will appeal to Kazakhstan's Supreme Court in the capital Nur-Sultan.

Sergei Zaikin and Maxim Maximov, 5 November 2019 CNLtv [CC BY-NC-ND 4.0] This latest criminal case was launched in July 2015, and was the third case against the Church or Church leaders brought over the years on a changing range of accusations.

The first two cases - which had heavy involvement of the National Security Committee (KNB) secret police - had been abandoned. The third finally reached one Almaty court in February 2019, only to be transferred the following month to another court (see below).

The pastors were variously accused of founding the Church in 1991 with "criminal intent", and "by means of the technology of psychological and psychotherapeutic influence with the aim of causing psychological harm to the health and stealing others' property by means of deception and abuse of trust .. with the use of information technologies and methods of turning the victims into a state of changed consciousness (trance)". At one point police accused the church of storing weapons. This charge was dropped as the only such item confiscated was an aerosol spray gun freely available on the internet (see below).

In the case of one of the nine "victims", the three pastors were accused of harming her health from six months before she was born and when one of the three pastors was only just 17 years old (see below).

In November 2018 police suggested to current Pastor Ivan Kryukov that the problems could be resolved if New Life Church pays money. "We refused," the Pastor stated. In February 2019 the Church was told that if it collaborated with the KNB secret police it would no longer face problems. "I told them I can't agree to this," Pastor Kryukov told Forum 18. Later in 2019 an official came to the Almaty Church office from the capital Nur-Sultan. He said he could guarantee that officials would not touch the Church's main building "if we're quiet" and "don't go out on the streets" to protest against the verdict in the case of the three pastors. "I told them that we won't go out on the streets, but will defend our rights in court," Pastor Kryukov told Forum 18 (see below).

The case against the three pastors is "complete drivel", Yevgeny Zhovtis of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law commented. "I have read the verdict. It is nonsense" (see below).

On 29 July, Pastor Maxim Maximov was sentenced to five years' imprisonment, and his wife Pastor Larisa Maximova and Pastor Sergei Zaikin each to four years' imprisonment. Pastor Maximov was also banned from leading a religious organisation for one year. Five properties and the money in one bank account were ordered confiscated, even though two of the properties belong to the Church, not to Maximov. The three were also ordered to pay damages to eight alleged victims, as well as court fees. Computers confiscated in raids were ordered confiscated (see below).

The three convicted pastors now live in the United States. Pastor Zaikin told Forum 18 on 14 November that "we still want to return to Kazakhstan".

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