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By BosNewsLife News Center
BUDAPEST/ASTANA (BosNewsLife)– Christians remained worried Friday, September 20, about an evangelical pastor in Kazakhstan amid reports that he underwent forced psychological treatment and harsh interrogation following his detention in May on “trumped-up charges” of harming the health of a church member.
Local Christians with close knowledge about the situation said Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev of the Grace Protestant Church in capital Astana suffered from “Soviet-style psychological examinations” while in a psychiatric ward.
Though Kashkumbayev was discharged from the institute early September, but his whereabouts remained unknown for weeks. On Friday, September 20, advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC) said it has discovered that Pastor Bakhytzhat Kashkumbayev was transferred to a pre-trial prison in Astana.
Authorities said he s set to be held until at least October 17, two days before his 67th birthday, while the case against him continues, according to Christians familiar with the case.
He has not been allowed to see family and friends, Christians said. “It is only because there is international attention that Pastor Kashkumbayev has not been beaten and killed,” ICC quoted an unidentified pastor in the capital Almaty as saying. The pastor added that Christians are “worried at the treatment he received in the psychiatric ward.”
Kazakh officials have reportedly denied he was detained, calling it “a local matter” in the former Soviet nation.
ICC’s President, Jeff King, told BosNewsLife in a statement that he isn’t surprised about government attitudes towards the pastor. “Unfortunately this behavior is typical of those governments who use Soviet-era security methods. Even the State Department has confirmed that Pastor Kashkumbayevhas been arrested and is in custody.”
Kashkumbayev was detained May 17 after allegations that he had laced communion juice with hallucinogens which “harmed the health” of Lyazzat Almenova, a worshiper.
However Almenova has said she was used as a witness to open a case against the pastor. “He is totally innocent and has not harmed my health at all,” she said in published remarks.
Pastor Kashkumbayev was transferred from prison in the capital Astana to Almaty’s Republican Scientific/Practical Center of Psychiatry on August 5, where he remained until he was discharged on September 2, according to Christians.
“In addition to the unfounded accusations, the wrongful imprisonment, the denial of a fair trial and the likely mental torture in a psychiatric ward, it seems that the government is now hiding Kashkumbayev. He has simply disappeared,” ICC said.
ICC’s Regional Manager for Central Asia, Corey Bailey, urged the world to remain “aware of Kazakhstan’s unlawful treatment of Pastor Kashkumbayev and of their religion law which violates the religious freedom of its citizens.”
He said he is “saddened to see the government revert back to the Soviet-style of physical and psychological torture as they continue to hold this elderly pastor” in custody. “We call on concerned citizens to respond to the cry of the Christian community to focus their minds and hearts on Kazakhstan and demand the immediate release of Pastor Kashkumbayev.”
The reported detention comes amid international concerns about the perceived autocratic style of the country’s President Nrsultan Nazarbayev towards groups deemed dangerous to his powerbase, including free evangelical churches, and other religious groups.
Nayarbayev, who has ruled this oil-rich nation virtually unchallenged since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, is also accused by the opposition of suppressing dissent.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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