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Grace church case: Extremism charges dropped

02 february 2014, 18:31
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Photo a courtesy of  cxbe.by
Photo a courtesy of cxbe.by
The Grace church pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev, 67, has seen several charges withdrawn by the Prosecutor General's Office in Astana, Tengrinews reports.

Extremism and Creation and management of a religious organization that lead to infliction of harm to the health of citizens charges were acknowledged groundless and dropped.

At the trial, Assistant Prosecutor Olzhas Shalabayev explained: “there is no statement of an expert on religions in the case files. The video of Kashkumbayev’s sermon has not been analyzed to determine if it contains signs of extremism. There is no clear details that support the charges under the Article 337, Part 1 of the Criminal Code (leadership in an organization that practices violence against people or other illegal activities. Maximum punishment - 6 years in prison). In addition, the decision to prosecute does not state the time, the place and the criminal event,” Shalabayev added.

However, two criminal charges against the Pastor are still on: he is charged with Infliction of severe harm to human health and Inciting religious hatred.

Meanwhile, in his statement in court the religious leader declared that results of tests in his case that serve as grounds for the charges are forged. He rejected all the charges of inciting hatred, harming health, propagating extremism and leading an organization that harms people.

The pastor was charged with inflicting harm to the mental health of one of the members of his church - the lady ended up in a psychiatric hospital after one of the sermons. After the incident, the police obtained a search warrant and found a red-colored drink that the church used for its communions. Tests of the drink revealed hallucinogens content.

Later on the investigation found two more church members that had allegedly suffered some harm from Kashkumbayev’s religious practices.

Besides, during the warranted search of the church grounds, the police found religious materials that, according to experts in religious studies, incite religious hatred. The charge arose from possession of two books entitled "Healing the Broken Family of Abraham" and "New Life for Muslims", according to Forum 18. The Russian translation of "Healing the Broken Family of Abraham" by American Protestant Don McCurry is the only religious book known to have been banned as extremist in Kazakhstan.

Despite the allegations, the pastor enjoys a support of United States. Members of the American diplomatic mission in Kazakhstan are attending the hearings, but making no statements. Where as in the end of last year two U.S. congressmen, with Rep. Ed Royce reportedly being one of them, made public calls to the Kazakhstan authorities to withdraw all the charges and release the religious leader. U.S. Commission on International and Religious Freedom Chair Katrina Lantos Swett also urged to create a 'digital army' to help the cause.

Judge Ubasheva ordered the hearing to determine a detention measure for Kashkumbayev be held on 3 February. Since the gravest charges have been dropped, it is quite likely that the frail pastor will be put under home arrest instead of jail, or even released on bail.

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