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Why Are Police in Kazakhstan So Afraid of This Man?

The pastor of a Presbyterian church hounded by the authorities is re-arrested minutes after being released from months in pretrial detention. From Forum 18.

by Felix Corley 14 October 2013

Just minutes after he was freed from Investigation Prison in Kazakhstan on 8 October to be transferred to house arrest, three police (or possibly secret police) agents rearrested 66-year-old Presbyterian pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbaev. He is facing a new criminal investigation of being an "extremist" or "terrorist," his family and lawyer told Forum 18 News Service from Kazakhstan's capital, Astana. The police investigator, Vyacheslav Glazkov, has also stripped Kashkumbaev of his lawyer. Glazkov, the Police Anti-Extremism Department (which is overseeing the case), the National Security Committee (KNB) secret police, and the city Prosecutor's Office all refused to comment on the case.

 

Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbaev


Family members told Forum 18 they have not been given any documents about the new "extremism" accusations, nor details of what lies behind them. "All we know is that they looked at a video, but we don't know who's on it, what it's about or who took it," Askar Kashkumbaev – the pastor's younger son - told Forum 18 on 9 October. "These new accusations are complete rubbish. They're trying to turn my father into a terrorist."

Askar Kashkumbaev added that his mother, Alfiya, "is suffering a lot."

Pastor Kashkumbaev led Astana's Grace Church until his retirement on reaching the age of 66 in October 2012. That month a criminal case was instigated against him on charges of harming the health of a church member, Lyazzat Almenova. Almenova told Forum 18 her health had not been harmed. He was arrested on 17 May 2013. Nine human rights defenders have included Kashkumbaev on a list of Kazakhstan's political prisoners and called for his release. An Astana court ordered Kashkumbaev's transfer from prison to house arrest on 7 October.


However, in the long-running campaign of state hostility toward Grace Church, officials have alleged that it is also involved in espionage, fraud, money laundering, distributing extremist texts, and using hallucinogenic communion drink. The church and its leaders have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

DELAYED RELEASE

Investigation Prison officials were unable to process Kashkumbaev's release on 7 October, as the court decision transferring him to incommunicado house arrest was issued only at 5.30 p.m. His lawyer, Nurlan Beisekeyev, his wife, and other family members arrived at the prison on the morning of 8 October. Only at about 1 p.m. were formalities completed to release him. Kaskhkumbayev was reunited with his wife, whom he had not seen for nearly five months since the day of his arrest, family members told Forum 18.

Video footage supplied by the family, seen by Forum 18, shows Kashkumbaev showing his wife and family his painful varicose veins on his legs, whereupon his wife bursts into tears.

NEW ARREST


However, three plain-clothes officials – sent by Glazkov – were waiting at the prison gate. The officials claimed to be from the police, but church members present recognized one of them as a KNB secret police officer who had taken part in earlier searches of Astana's Grace Church.

The three ordered Kashkumbaev to accompany them to the police station for questioning by Glazkov "without a clear explanation of the reason," Beisekeyev complained to Forum 18. The lawyer – accompanied by the officials – drove Kashkumbaev and his wife to the police station and the three were signed in to the building.

Once in Glazkov's office, he revealed that a new criminal accusation has been lodged in parallel with the existing criminal investigation of the pastor. Kashkumbaev is being investigated for alleged violation of Article 233-1, Part 1 of the Criminal Code. This punishes "propaganda of terrorism or extremism, or public calls to commit an act of terrorism or extremism, as well as the distribution of material of the content indicated" with imprisonment of three to seven years.

According to the decision opening the new criminal case, seen by the lawyer Beisekeyev, Glazkov claimed that in the investigation into the alleged "serious harm" Kashkumbaev caused to Almenova's health, an "expert analysis" had found that "elements of an extremist nature" were found in the church's activity.

Khadzhi-Gali Imazhanov, deputy head of Astana Police's Department for the Fight Against Extremism – describing himself as "the boss of the police station" – then threatened the Beisekeyev and Alfiya Kashkumbaeva with violence if they did not leave the police station, Beisekeyev told Forum 18. Glazkov informed the lawyer that he represented Kashkumbaev only in the case related to alleged harming of health, not in the "extremism" case.

Glazkov refused to listen to Kashkumbaev's protestations that he had chosen Beisekeyev to be his lawyer and that, as a Kazakhstani citizen, he had the right to choose his own lawyer. Beisekeyev insisted to Forum 18 that as the two cases have the same number, they should be treated as a single case and no reason existed to obstruct him from representing his client.

Imazhanov then burst into Glazkov's room, shouting and insisting that Beisekeyev had no right to remain and that the police had the right to name a lawyer of its choice. Amid physical threats from him and from Glazkov, the lawyer then left (Alfiya Kashkumbaeva had already left the room during the first set of threats).

Glazkov then tried to get another lawyer present in the building in relation to another case, Askar Usenbaev, to act as Kashkumbaev's lawyer. However, Usenbaev refused when Kashkumbaev declined his services. Usenbaev helped Kashkumbaev write a statement that he was insisting on being represented by his own lawyer. Usenbaev also recommended to the pastor that he decline to answer any questions in the new criminal case in the absence of his own lawyer.

‘EXTREMISM’ ACCUSATIONS


Beisekeyev told Forum 18 he was not allowed a copy of the document instituting the new criminal case. Nor have family members had access to the new case.

Glazkov repeatedly refused to discuss with Forum 18 the new criminal case. "What do you want?" he kept repeating and put the phone down.

Imangali Makishev, deputy head of Astana Police's Investigation Department, told Forum 18 on 9 October that the new criminal investigation of Kashkumbaev is in the hands of the Police Anti-Extremism Department.

However, Yerbulan Kusainov, Anti-Extremism Department head, told Forum 18 the same day he could give no comment by telephone. "That's the regulation." Asked why a new criminal case was opened against the pastor nearly five months after his original arrest, he responded, "The court will decide." Told of the family's concerns over Kashkumbaev's age and health, and their insistence that he is innocent, Kusainov responded, "My conscience is clear."

The man who answered the phone on 9 October of Kusainov's deputy, Imazhanov, refused to say if he was Imazhanov. When Forum 18 explained who was calling and asked about Kashkumbaev's case, the man put the phone down. Subsequent calls went unanswered.

Forum 18 was unable to reach Astana city Prosecutor Muktar Zhorgenbaev or his deputy, Azamat Zhylkybaev, on 9 October. Their officials told Forum 18 they were at lunch or in meetings each time it called.

Church members told Forum 18 that the criminal investigation of Kashkumbaev under the "extremism" charge is being supervised by the General Prosecutor's Office.

HEALTH CONCERNS

Under Kazakhstan’s law, those arrested can be held for up to three days, after which either a court must extend their detention or they must be freed. Astana's Almaty District Court No. 2 – which had authorized Kashkumbaev's detention over five months – told Forum 18 on 9 October that no request for him to be held in detention has been received.

Askar Kashkumbaev said he and his family are highly concerned over the pastor's state of health. "We had hoped that he would be able to have treatment for varicose veins while he was under house arrest," he told Forum 18. "He's in pain over this, and they made him stand in a corridor for two hours at the prison yesterday."

Following his new arrest, Kashkumbaev is being held at Astana Police's Temporary Isolation Prison, its director, Adilbek (he would not give his last name), confirmed to Forum 18 on 9 October. Told of the family's concern about his state of health and the fact that the 7 October court decision ordering his transfer to house arrest was partly based on the pastor's state of health, the director was unconcerned, saying, "His health is normal. He is being checked by a paramedic. People don't die here in my prison."

Felix Corley is the editor of Forum 18 News Service, where a longer version of this article appeared.

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