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Kazakhstan Sentences Jehovah's Witness To Five Years In Prison

Teimur Akhmedov (left) in the defendant's cage in an Astana courtroom on March 27

ASTANA -- A court in Kazakhstan has sentenced a Jehovah's Witness to five years in prison after convicting him of inciting religious and ethnic hatred.

The May 2 verdict against Teimur Akhmedov is likely to be criticized by members of the Christian denomination and rights activists who are concerned about the treatment of religious minorities in the Central Asian country.

Akhmedov, 60, is being treated for cancer. He was arrested in January and went on trial on April 6.

The court convicted him of propagating ideas that "disrupt interreligious and interethnic concord." His lawyers said he would appeal the verdict.

Mostly Muslim Kazakhstan has a secular government and has been ruled by President Nursultan Nazarbaev since before it gained independence in the 1991 Soviet collapse.

In neighboring Russia, the Supreme Court declared the Jehovah's Witnesses an extremist organization in an April 20 ruling and ordered its property in Russia seized, effectively banning it.

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