Wednesday, May 1, 2013

President praises country's religious freedom; law introduced to punish faith-sharing

Kazakhstan (MNN) ― There's an interesting back-and-forth battle in Kazakhstan.

Forum 18 News says early last week, the country's president claimed Kazakhstan respects religious freedom. But within 48 hours, there were heavy fines against Protestant Christians who celebrated Easter Sunday.

According to Forum 18, the raid brought one elderly member under enough stress to trigger a heart attack. This person told Forum 18 that police "have decided to use fear to separate us from God, something they can never achieve. They cannot ban me from my Christian faith."

By the end of the week, says Joel Griffith of Slavic Gospel Association, a new law was in the works.

"Reportedly, it introduces a new maximum penalty for those who share their faith, or witness," Griffith explains.

"If that actually comes into law, that really is of great concern."

Under the proposed law--alluded to in a separate Forum 18 article--those who share the Gospel openly could be imprisoned for up to four months.

"It does certainly seem that some storm clouds are on the horizon," says Griffith. "Even if there isn't an official code that's been voted on by Parliament right now…, the [Agency of Religious Affairs] seems to be taking quite a bit of authority on itself and trying to put pressure on religious groups."

In the scope of Central Asian history, Kazakhstan's current state of affairs is nothing out of the ordinary. Griffith says it reminds him of their days under Soviet rule.

"Officially, they had freedom of worship and freedom of religion in their constitution," he says. "But in practice, they didn't have it. People were arrested; people were sent to the gulag."

At this time of great persecution, SGA began a prayer movement for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

"We prayed and prayed and prayed about that, and miraculously in the late 1980s the Berlin Wall came down," Griffith recalls. "And then in 1991, the entire Soviet Union broke apart, and each of those 15 nations became independent."

Griffith says the Gospel enjoyed great freedom as Kazakhstan took its first steps of independence.

"But we've seen backtracking on that in recent years," says Griffith. "This is just certainly more evidence of that."

As was the case in Kazakhstan's Soviet days, Griffith says the most important thing to do is pray.

"The Lord answered prayers during that time, and the door was opened for the Gospel there like never before," he states. "Well, now we're beginning to see the doors close again. The most important ministry we can do for them is intercessory prayer."

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