Kazakhstan (MNN) — Since the introduction of a harsh religion law in 2011, persecution has been steadily rising in Kazakhstan.
Now, another disturbing development is emerging.
According to both ASSIST News and Forum 18 News, a Presbyterian pastor has been detained in a psychiatric center after praying for the sick. Although the man isn’t mentally ill, he’s been charged with “harming health,” and authorities want him declared insane.
Joel Griffith with
Slavic Gospel Association says this type of accusation was common under Soviet rule.
“That was one of their methods of trying to stamp out religious faith,” explains Griffith. “It really is a perplexing situation, why they would be targeting religious groups like this with these types of measures.”
Though officials seem to be employing Soviet-style methods, Griffith says it doesn’t appear Kazakhstan is moving toward Communist rule. Along with its fellow Central Asian nations, Kazakhstan is a secular state trying to implement a market economy.
But this arrest, combined with pending additions to Kazakhstan’s Criminal Code that increase punishment for missionary activity, is raising red flags.
Forum 18 News says a law proposed in March will allow religious leaders and those who share their faith to be imprisoned for up to four months. Originally scheduled to appear before Parliament in July, the proposed text will now reach Parliament in Autumn 2013.
If passed, this will be the first time faith-based actions are considered a criminal offense since Kazakhstan gained its independence in 1991.
“On a surface level, [Kazakhstan’s leaders] would probably tell you that they’re worried about religious extremism. But again, evangelical churches are just simply not known for that,” says Griffith.
“Typically, they’re just focused on sharing the Gospel and worshipping, so it does sort of beg understanding about why [officials] would view the churches as such a threat.”
As Kazakh officials employ more Soviet-era control over religious freedom, Griffith says, the response of Christians will follow suit.
“They didn’t stop proclaiming the Gospel then, and no matter what gets thrown at them, they’re not going to stop proclaiming the Gospel now,” states Griffith.
“In the past, we would help support summer camps, Bible training, Bibles, and Christians literature. But obviously, with this new day–this new period of stepped-up persecution, we’re having to be a whole lot more discreet,” Griffith explains.
“I think the most important thing we can do right now for them is pray.”
Pray for missionary pastors, church leaders, and individual believers “that the Lord would give them abundant wisdom on what to do in their particular situation.
“We need to pray for a hedge of protection to be placed around these churches and their pastors in leadership,” says Griffith.
Pray also for SGA. Ask the Lord to give them wisdom on how to best serve believers in Kazakhstan, while at the same time protecting their security.