Astana: praying for the sick without authorisation can lead to fines and prison

The secret police accuses a Protestant clergyman of harming a man’s health by praying for him. Another pastor is told to apply for the appropriate “authorisation” from the Health Ministry. For months, police have been going after Protestant meetings and identifying participants.Astana (AsiaNews/F18) – Rev Yerzhan Ushanov, a pastor with the New Life Protestant Church in the city of Taraz, could face up to two years' imprisonment if criminal charges of harming an person’s health are brought against him for praying for the patient, this according to the Forum 18 news agency, which also reports other examples of heavy handed actions against religious freedom by Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB), the country’s secret service.

According to the charges, Aleksandr Kereyev got sick after Ushanov used hypnosis against him in a church. Local sources say the patient was not a member of the community, and that he visited their church three or four times over a six-month period that ended in March.

"This is not the first time the authorities in the southern regions of Kazakhstan bring such absurd accusations against pastors for allegedly using hypnosis, while in reality all they do is pray for the sick," New Life Church members, who asked for anonymity, told Forum 18.

Rev Ushanov is facing prosecution under Criminal Code Article 111 ("causing severe damage to health due to negligence"), which includes heavy fines and jail time.

In another case in Jambyl Region, the KNB charged another local Protestant clergyman, Rev Vissa Kim, pastor of Grace Light of Love Protestant Church, Forum18 reported. The latter was given a fine of 141,300 tenge (almost US$ 1,000) for praying for a sick woman. The money is the equivalent of more than eight years of salary. The conviction was upheld in appeal and Kim was forced to pay the fine.

Eventually, the Kazakhstan Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s decision on a technicality but the clergyman has not yet been refunded.

Many members of the New Life Protestant Church want to know why the KNB and the Department for the Fight against Extremism, Separatism and Terrorism went after the Church.

The KNB has not stopped harassing the Church. On 19 June, it searched one of its places of worship in Taraz because a woman, Olesya Kotlyarova, had “complained that she was poisoned when she ate at the Church cafeteria recently”.

On 25 June, police searched Usharov’s home looking for evidence. They claimed to have found a book in Russian about modern hypnosis, which the reverend denies ever owning.

During the raid, the KNB seized his computer and hundreds of DVDs, Christian books, and documents and data concerning the Church’s membership. They told the clergyman to “change profession” and leave Taraz for his own good. They also warned him not to create “troubles” for the members of his Church.

Forum 18 contacted the authorities, which refused to discuss the case. However, the faithful continue to complain that the KNB has been interfering with their Church’s activities for months.

On 29 April, police barged into a church, interrupting a meeting. During their action, they videotaped those present and warned that their Church was a “dangerous sect”.

The church’s pastor, his wife and their three children were taken to a local station for questioning that lasted several hours.

In response to the Church's subsequent complaint, Aktobe City Police responded in an official letter that the actions of the officers were "not appropriate” and that they would be “reprimanded”.

On various occasions in the past few months, police has put pressure on the New Life Church to cancel its meetings, as well as on those willing to rent them space.