- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Unification Church missionary jailed in January in Almaty, Kazakhstan, will be freed Wednesday, an appeals court ruled Tuesday.

Elizaveta “Liza” Drenicheva, 30, who was sentenced to two years in prison on Jan. 9 after her teachings on original sin were classified by the government as a criminal offense, will still be fined about $200 and must pay court costs of about $800. Her sentence will be commuted to the two months she has served.

Although the prosecution asked she be given three years probation, the judge released her with no restrictions. She is free to return to Russia, where she is a citizen.

Unification Church members are considering appealing the guilty verdict, which still stands, to allow its missionaries the right to evangelize in the majority-Muslim Kazakhstan.

Her case had drawn the attention of several human rights groups in the West. The courtroom in which the judge’s decision was delivered included several reporters, a representative from the U.S. State Department and an official representing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which safeguards human rights.

Kazakhstan is scheduled to chair the OSCE in 2010. Recent complaints from the OSCE about Kazakhstan’s repression of minority religious groups may have moved the government to nix a restrictive religion law on Feb. 11 and free Miss Drenicheva.

Other religious groups have reported no letup in problems with the Kazakh government. Just after Miss Drenicheva was jailed, the head of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in Kazakhstan, B.B. Govinda Swami, was denied entry despite having a valid visa.

He is still in exile, according to Anuttama Dasa, the U.S. spokesman for the group.

“Minority religious groups get harassed by a government that says they are promoting religious liberty but they are not,” he said.

And according to Forum 18, a Norwegian watchdog news service Kazakhstan has resumed jailing Baptists. Yuri Rudenko from the Almaty region was the third unregistered Baptist pastor to be jailed for three days for refusing to pay fines for unregistered worship.

Miss Drenicheva was found guilty of a “crime against peace and security of humankind.” Kazakh authorities said she had taught at a private prayer meeting that certain groups of people are inferior on the basis of “tribal and class identity.” The Unification Church said in a release that the missionary was simply teaching its doctrine on original sin.

The church is officially registered in Kazakhstan and had no previous indication from the government that its teachings were legally problematic.

Joseph K. Grieboski, president of the Washington-based Institute on Religion & Public Policy, called Miss Drenicheva’s release a sign that “at least the courts in Kazakhstan stand for democracy and human rights.”

“This decision brings back a glimmer of hope for religious freedom in Kazakhstan,” said Kathryn Cameron Porter, president of the Leadership Council for Human Rights.

The Washington Times was founded in 1982 by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church. The Times is operated by a media conglomerate called News World Corp. that is led by one of his sons.

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