Kazakhstan authorities appear to have launched an intensified attack against churches with police raids becoming more frequent since the start of the year.
As of last month, authorities have imposed about 20 fines on church members, particularly those belonging to Baptist churches, World Watch Monitor reported.
The Council of Baptist Churches said this is part of a "new wave" of raids being carried out against them, according to Forum 18.
On Easter Sunday alone, church meetings in two Baptist churches, one in Temirtau and another in Taraz, were interrupted by the police and fined for holding worship services. Four summary fines were issued, with the amount being equivalent to about nine months worth of average wages.
"A full armed detachment came as the Easter service was still underway," a member of the church in Temirtau told Forum 18. "They filled the yard of the house."
When they asked the police why they came, they said someone from the church called in a complaint and asked them to come. When the church members denied it, the police said the neighbors complained about them, but they knew this was not true either.
Protestant churches are also facing increased threat. In Almaty, 33 administrative cases have been filed against Protestant churches and members since the start of the year for meeting "illegally" in places that were not state registered, for distributing religious materials and for sharing their faith with others without permission from the state.
One church has been prohibited from meeting for three months and was also fined. One of its members, an Indian national, is now facing a deportation order, which the person is appealing in court.
In Kazakhstan's capital city of Astana, a bus driver named Teymur Akhmedov was arrested for sharing his faith with others. Akhmedov, a Jehovah's Witness, talked about his faith with seven men whom he thought were students but turned out to be police informers.
On May 2, the 61-year-old bus driver, who has cancer, was sentenced to five years in prison and was prohibited from preaching about religious matters for three years after his sentence is served.
Authorities in Kazakhstan continue to defy the country's international human rights obligations by demanding that churches register with the state so they would be given permission to meet. Churches who refuse to register are often raided by the police.
Article 489 of the Kazakhstan Administrative Code gives police officers the right to impose fines on individuals for their "leadership of an unregistered, halted, or banned religious community or social organization." The fines can be given without a court hearing.