World Watch Monitor

A court in northern Kazakhstan has given a Baptist man a one-year suspended prison sentence for refusing to pay fines for the state to give its “expert analysis” of Christian books he had with him at the time of his arrest.

Yuri Bekker had also failed to pay outstanding fines for distributing religious literature, reports Forum 18.

He was convicted on 31st October at a district court in the northern region of Akmola, which also encompasses the country’s capital, Astana.

Yuri Rudenko of the Council of Baptist Churches said Mr Bekker’s case was the first time a Baptist had been convicted under Criminal Code Article 430.

Mr Bekker has been ordered to pay the outstanding fines and “expert” fee. He has also been banned from moving house or visiting public places such as restaurants, while he has to notify the authorities about his place of work. If he fails to pay by the end of 2017, he will spend the remaining part of his sentence in prison. The court also froze his rights to his house, which will be confiscated if he does not pay.

Mr Bekker told Forum 18 he had refused to pay as “I did not violate the law and I did not ask the state to carry out an ‘expert analysis’ of my Christian books”.

Mr Rudenko told Forum18 Bekker had explained to the courts “he would not pay the fines or the state fee as he only peacefully exercised his faith, guaranteed by the constitution”.

Mr Bekker and another Baptist were first arrested in September, 2015, for offering religious literature to people at a market in Arkalyk, in the region of Kostanai, west of Akmola. According to Forum 18 both men were fined 74,235 Tenge (approximately US$221), “with each also having to pay half the cost of a September 2015 ‘expert analysis’ of confiscated Christian literature”. Bekker was later given another fine (approximately US$63) for failing “to fulfil a court decision”.