Two pastors in Kazakhstan have appealed directly to the country’s president asking him to stop local authorities seizing the land on which their churches stand.
City authorities in the capital Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana) have ordered the confiscation of the Grace Presbyterian Church building and the Agape Pentecostal Church building, which was under construction on the same site as Grace Church. City authorities claim the land is needed for a new kindergarten.
Agape pastor Igor Tsay said, “From 2002 we have dreamed of having our own building, and we just started constructing it. And then this. It was unexpected – a shock.”
In his open letter, the pastor calls on President Kassym-Jomart Kemelevich Tokayev to uphold the country’s secular constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion. He explains the church had saved for 18 years to fund the building work and received permission to start construction from the Department of State Architectural and Construction Control in January 2020. “We cannot understand why we were given permission, to take it all away?” Pastor Igor tells the president.
Dmitry Kan, pastor of Grace Church, said, “We simply want to continue to use our property for worship.”
The nearly 500-member Grace Church, which bought the former college building that is now its home in 2001, is appealing the confiscation decree through the courts. It successfully challenged an attempt by city authorities to confiscate the building in 2014 and resolved the issue without going to court.
The Grace Church congregation has been subjected to other harassment from the authorities. In 2012, masked police searched the church, seizing computers, valuables and religious books they claimed were “extremist”. In 2013, the church’s retired pastor was ordered to be detained in a psychiatric hospital for allegedly harming the health of a church member, who repeatedly insisted they had not been harmed and the pastor was “totally innocent”.
Authorities in Muslim-majority Kazakhstan have used property issues as a way of restricting freedom of religion since before 2011 when a draconian Religion Law was introduced. This prohibited evangelising, tightened restrictions on church registrations and banned religious organisations from receiving foreign donations.
From Barnabas Fund contacts and other sources