By Worthy News Europe Bureau in Budapest
ASTANA/BUDAPEST (Worthy News)– Kazakh Christians gathering without government approval were expected to face more punishments after officials said Kazakhstan's long-time President Nursultan Nazarbayev won Sunday's presidential poll.
Under Nazarbayev, authorities started to punish Christian worship in private homes and other church services held without state permission, BosNewsLife monitored Tuesday, April 5.
For instance, "Baptist Pastor Andrei Panafidin was fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage for leading unregistered religious worship in [the southern city of ] Taraz on March 4," said religious rights group Forum 18, which has close contacts with the Christians.
It was "the seventh time he has been fined for this 'offense'," the group added, citing local Baptish Christians in the Central Asian country.
Panafidin is the first Council of Churches Baptist in Kazakhstan known to have been fined since June 2010, according to rights activists.
The Jambyl Regional Directorate for the Struggle with Organized Crime – which took part in raids on the congregation in Jambyl province – defended the actions published remarks.
"It's a violation if they don't register – all religious communities must be registered," the authority reportedly said.
Elsewhere, in the city of Shymkent, a court has banned the local New Life Pentecostal Church from holding worship in a house where the congregation is registered, Forum 18 added.
While several evangelical Christians say they refuse to register on principal grounds, it remains remains difficult even for church groups seeking permission or openly organizing gatherings.
In Kazakhstan's commercial center Almaty a university is forced to ban Christians and other religious groups from renting its facilities after pressure from Kazakhstan's feared KNB secret police and Interior Ministry officials, Forum 18 explained.
President Nazarbayev has denied having an autocratic style towards groups deemed dangerous to his leadership, including several Christian groups, and political opponents.
He said the "Kazakh people approve of the work I have been doing these 20 years," after the Central Election Commission claimed he won 95.5 percent of the heavy voter turnout in Sunday's election.
Yet, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, which had about 300 observers monitoring the election, said the vote count and tabulation lacked transparency.
The group also cited what it called "serious irregularities," including ballot box stuffing and identical signatures on voter lists.
Kazakhstan has never held an election deemed free and fair by international observers.
The 70-year-old leader's current term was to end in 2012. However the former steal worker called for snap elections in a move to head-off revolutions against his rule, similar to those currently shaking the Arab world, analysts say. (With reports from the region and Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos).