From ANN, January 2, 2016:    An Adventist believer has been sentenced to two years in a labor camp for “inciting religious hatred” in an appeals court ruling that has raised concerns about religious freedom in the former Soviet republic of Kasakhstan. The defendant, Yklas Kabduakasov, denies the charge and is considering another appeal to a higher court.

Kabduakasov was found guilty on November 9 by a lower court and sentenced to seven years of house arrest. The prosecutor appealed this sentence as too lenient and Kabduakasov appealed on the basis that he was not guilty. The district court in Astana, the nation’s capital, heard the appeals in the last week of December and ordered the new sentence, according to Forum 18 News Service. Forum 18 is a civil rights organization that operates throughout Europe.

The National Security Committee police had been investigating Kabduakasov for the last year. They rented the apartment where four university students invited him for conversations about religion, Forum 18 News Service reported. And the police investigators “organized the secret filming of the meetings with at least two hidden cameras.”

Kabduakasov was arrested on August 14 in Astana and accused of violating Criminal Code Article 174, Part 2, against “incitement of social, national, clan, racial, or religious discord.” In addition to its communist background, Kazakhstan has significant populations of Muslims and Orthodox Christians, as well as smaller numbers of Protestants and Catholics.

Court costs of about $2,000 were also levied on Kabduakasov and a number of books that were confiscated by police when he was arrested were ordered by the judge to be destroyed. Yevgeni Zhovtis of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law condemned the court order to destroy the books. “It is barbarism to destroy books,” he told Forum 18. “And it makes the authorities … who position themselves as modernizing the country, look … like the Taliban or ISIS.”

“We are united in praying for our brother and his family,” said Pastor Michael Kaminsky, president of the Adventist denomination in the Euro-Asia region, which includes Kazakhstan. “Please help our church family to join us in prayer for his freedom.”

Dr. Ganoune Diop, director of public affairs and religious liberty at the denomination’s world headquarters in the Silver Spring (Maryland) suburb of Washington DC, expressed concerns about both the accusation and conviction. “Adventists experience restrictions to religious freedom understood as the right to profess, practice and propagate one’s faith without being hindered to do so,” he said. He encouraged Kazakh authorities “to live in accordance with their commitments to international treaties, covenants, and conventions, and accordingly secure for all their citizens the freedom of religion or belief.”

Forum 18 stated that the court order violates the nation’s constitution as well as international human rights commitments. Restrictions are growing against religious minorities in many countries around the world, said Dwayne Leslie, an associate director of public affairs and religious liberty for the Adventist denomination. “We … are troubled when people of faith are unable to follow their conscience as they see fit.”

Kabduakasov’s lawyer, Shaldykova Gulmira, said she does not agree with the court’s decision against her client and considers the verdict “too harsh.” She said she would discuss the issue with Kabduakasov and recommend filing an appeal.

The Adventist News Network (ANN) is the official news service of the Adventist denomination. Adventist Today supplemented the ANN bulletin on this story with information from the Forum 18 News Service and other sources.