Pastor in Central Asia faces year in prison

Pastor Pavel Leonov has seen the inside of jail cells before as part of a Baptist group that refuses to register churches in accordance with law in Kazakhstan as a matter of conscience.

By Bob Allen

A Baptist pastor in Kazakhstan faces up to a year in prison after refusing to pay a fine equivalent to about two months’ average salary for conducting worship without government permission, the international news service Forum 18 reported Oct. 30.

kazakhstan mapPolice opened a criminal case Oct. 28 against Pastor Pavel Leonov, who was fined in March following a Feb. 28 raid on his congregation in Ayagoz in the region of East Kazakhstan.

Leonov’s church is part of the Council of Churches Baptists, which has a policy of civil disobedience by refusing to pay fines imposed for meeting for worship without the compulsory state registration.

In August he told the court he could not pay the fine because he thinks he did nothing wrong and is the sole breadwinner for his wife and five children and was sentenced to 24 hours in jail.

Forum 18 says Leonov is one of more than 100 people from various faiths in Kazakhstan fined so far this year for offenses such as leading or participating in religious meetings without state permission, sharing their faith with others without being personally registered as missionaries or distributing religious literature away from licensed venues.

In 2001, Leonov was convicted of failing to uphold a court order requiring his church to register. He also did not pay that fine, but authorities made no effort to collect it. He reportedly was sentenced to a day’s detention in jail in April 2009 after refusing to pay a fine issued for leading unregistered worship.