ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- A court in Almaty has upheld the sentences of three leaders of a Protestant church who were found guilty of fraud and other charges and are currently living in self-imposed exile in the United States.
The Almaty City Court ruled on November 1 that the prison terms of Maksim Maksimov, his wife Lyudmila Maksimova, and Sergei Zaikin, all Kazakh citizens, must remain unchanged.
The three leaders of the New Life Church were tried in absentia in July.
Maksimov was sentenced to five years in prison while his wife and Zaikin were given four years each after a court in Almaty found them guilty of fraud, inflicting damage to health, and the creation of and participation in illegal public groups.
The court also ruled that their property be confiscated and banned Maksimov from leading religious groups.
The probe was launched after some church members accused the three of deceiving them, resulting in "material, moral, and health damages."
Lawyer Aiman Omarova, who represented the Maksimovs and Zaikin, said at the hearing that her clients' activities were not criminal and their convictions were unfounded.
About 70 percent of Kazakhstan's 18-million population are Muslim, and about 26 percent are Russian Orthodox, by far the largest Christian denomination.
Although freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Kazakh Constitution, there have been several cases in which followers of religions considered "nontraditional" have been sentenced to prison terms on charges of inciting discord or conducting illegal missionary activities.