ASTANA/BAKU/BUDAPEST (Worthy News)– Kazakhstan’s Supreme Court has acquitted an evangelical pastor on charges of “severe damage to health due to negligence” after praying for an ill man, but devoted Christians in another former Soviet republic, Azerbaijan, were awaiting whether a high court would ban their church.
“Praise the Lord that Pastor Yerzhan Ushanov, leader of New Life Protestant Church in [the city of] Taraz has been acquitted by the Supreme Court…after he prayed for the healing of a sick man who visited his church,” said Barnabas Fund, an advocacy group following the case.
The case against the pastor had been initiated by Kazakhstan’s secret police after they received complaint from the man’s wife, Christians said. The pastor was found guilty in September last year and ordered to pay a fine and court costs totaling $1,365, something now overturned by the Supreme Court, trial observers said.
Rights activists say the case mirrored that of Vissa Kim, pastor of Grace Light of Love Protestant Church, who was fined in April 2010 for harming a woman’s health by praying for her. The Supreme Court subsequently overturned his conviction and canceled the fine.
“Despite this good news, other Christians are still being targeted,” Barnabas Fund said, amid reports that elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, in Azerbaijan, a Christian congregation awaits whether a judge will uphold a court order that banned its right to meet and “liquidated” the church.
“They are upset, but at the same time they continue coming out hoping for the best,” said Mechti Suleymanov, an elder at Greater Grace Church in the capital Baku, in published remarks.
Judge Tahira Asadova of Baku’s Administrative Economic Court on April 25 ordered the Greater Grace Church to be “liquidated” after the State Committee on Work with Religious Organizations (SCWRO) said it failed to register with the committee.
The church said it appealed the ruling on May 24 and is waiting for a decision scheduled for July 17, from a judge at the Baku Court of Appeals.
“If the court upholds the decision, we will have no right to assemble,” Suleymanov said. “If we continue to meet, then they will come and start harassing us.”
It comes at a time when there remains international concern over the autocratic style of presidents in both Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, where authorities are suspicious towards non-traditional groups and churches.