Charges of “propagating extremism” against 67-year-old Presbyterian Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev were dropped by a court in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, late Wednesday. The pastor’s eight month-long detention and harsh treatment has drawn heavy criticism of Kazakhstan’s government from international human rights organizations.
Pastor Kashkumbayev’s attorney, Mr. Nurlan Beiskeev, was not present for the ruling as the judge had adjourned the court until January 31, only to resume the hearing later in the day after Mr. Beiskeev had left. According to Radio Free Europe, Pastor Kashkumbayev reportedly refused to participate in the later hearing without the presence of his attorney, but was “dragged by force” back into the courtroom.
Pastor Kashkumbayev was initially arrested in May of last year on the charge of “harming a parishioner.” In August, he was transferred to a psychological hospital in Almaty where ICC sources report he was subjected to nineteen “Soviet-style psychological examinations” over the course of a single month. In July, before his transfer to the hospital, Pastor Kashkumbayev wrote to the United Nations pleading for assistance, saying,“It will not take much for the authorities to make me a vegetable…I am begging you to protect me.”
In October, as Pastor Kashkumbayev approached the maximum pre-trial detention limit allowed by Kazakhstan law, he was released to be placed under house arrest. However, only minutes after leaving the detention center, authorities re-arrested the ailing minister under new charges of “propogating extremism.”
Pastor Kashkumbayev is suffering from several serious medical conditions, including heart issues from a major heart attack in 2011, varicose veins, and chronic bronchitis. He has reportedly had no regular access to medical treatment since his imprisonment and has been forced by authorities to stand for long periods of time, an exercise that results in severe pain for the pastor due to the varicose veins in his legs.
The ruling on Wednesday follows several months of activism on behalf of the pastor by ICC and other organizations.