Kazakhstan, Central Asia
A Kazakh pastor who is being detained for “inflicting serious harm to health” has launched a hunger strike and appealed to the UN to protect him from psychiatric abuse by the authorities.
Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev (67) has been held in custody since May following a complaint by a church member’s mother. She claimed that her daughter, Lyazzat Almenova, had suffered psychological harm after attending Pastor Kashkumbayev’s church in Astana.
Despite repeated appeals from Lyazzat herself that he is innocent and she is psychiatrically healthy, the authorities have continued to detain the church leader, extending his custody until 17 August.
Following preliminary tests, a police investigator ordered that Pastor Kashkumbayev be transferred to a psychiatric assessment centre in Almaty for further examination, prompting the latter to launch a hunger strike.
On 18 July, he wrote to national and international bodies, including the United Nations Human Rights Committee, to complain about his unlawful detention and treatment by the authorities.
Announcing his hunger strike, the church leader expressed his fears that he will be injected with “special substances” to make him insane, adding, “It will not take much for the authorities to make me a ‘vegetable’ … I am begging you to protect me.”
Pastor Kashkumbayev said that the authorities must have realised that the criminal case against him was “going nowhere” and thus came up with the idea of sending him for psychiatric evaluation. It is not known whether has yet been transferred to the assessment centre.
His son Askar said:
He (the investigator) is trying to win time to find evidence which does not exist, because my father did not plan on making people sick and did not harm anyone. He may also hope that my father will be diagnosed as mentally ill so he can close the case now that there is so much international attention to it.
Our only hope is the support we can get from wider public and international community.
Their fears are not unfounded. The supposed victim, Lyazzat, said that she was put in a psychiatric clinic in 2011, when the allegations against the pastor were first made by her mother, and given injections that made her apathetic and passive; she was not told what substance the needles contained.
She said that the authorities forcibly put her in a psychiatric ward again between 23 February and 13 March in order to declare her mentally ill so as to be able to disregard her appeals and petitions in favour of Pastor Kashkumbayev.
He is accused of exerting “psychological influence” over her through the use of mind-altering drinks, sermons and prayers in order to compel her to give money to the church. The “mind-altering drinks” turned out to be a local red tea used as a non-alcoholic alternative to wine for Communion.