It was difficult to know what to expect as we met with the family of Yklas Kabduakasov, a Christian convert from Islam who is serving two years in a prison labour camp in Kazakhstan for sharing his Christian faith with Muslims. I hoped to both find out how his wife, Karlygash, and their children have been coping in his absence and to convey God’s love and our support.
Karlygash welcomed us into her pristine home, and I was impressed by her hospitality and warm spirit. This is the home where she and Yklas are raising their four youngest children. A teenage son and daughter greeted us, led us up the elevator to the family’s apartment, and then say their goodbyes as they left for school. The couple’s youngest daughter played in a playpen nearby, and their infant son sat in his high chair.
Yklas’ adult son, Alibek, a lawyer who is representing his father, also joined us. Yklas was arrested 14 August 2015 after secret police began secretly recording his conversations with several people who claimed to be seekers. Karlygash told us, “They had spies in the people who were talking with him.”
After his arrest, secret police came to seize all literature in the family’s home, even if it had nothing to do with Christian teachings. Karlygash was eight months pregnant with their youngest son, and the search lasted for several hours.
As the secret police continued their investigation, they held Yklas in a detention cell for twelve weeks. During this time, numerous reports about Yklas were broadcast on television. Alibek said, “There were a lot of inaccurate scenes basically portraying him as an evil doer. The way they handled this information on TV, they really tried to generate this negative attitude.” This was the hardest moment for the family, especially Yklas’ teenage daughter and son.
As his father’s public defender, Alibek was allowed to watch hours of the videos used to charge his father with “inciting religious hatred.” Though convinced of his dad’s innocence, it wasn’t until he watched the videos that he stopped trying to push his dad to take a plea deal. He was certain that the videos would prove that his father never spoke negatively about Islam or Muslims.
Yklas was eventually found guilty and sentenced to seven years’ house arrest. Upon appeal in December 2015, where the prosecution pushed for a seven-year prison sentence, the judge imposed a harsher sentence than the original. Yklas would spend the next two years in a labour camp.
The judge had given the lowest possible sentence in consideration of Yklas’ young children, but the family was discouraged to have him taken away. Situated 450 kilometres away, the prison labour camp allows one visit every two months, and a special 48-hour visit can be arranged once every six months. For the shorter visits, only two adults and one child can visit, making it impossible for the entire family to see him at the same time.
Yklas’ family has chosen not to pursue another appeal. They fear that his two-year sentence could become longer if they go to the Supreme Court. Once he reaches the mid-point of his sentence in October 2016, he could be eligible for early release based on behaviour.
Karlygash tells us that while it has been hard on her, Yklas’ absence has been especially difficult for their teenage son and daughter. Her son has become quiet, and she believes that he is trying to protect her from being hurt. Her daughter developed a skin rash soon after her father’s imprisonment, which seems related to stress. The positive thing, however, is that both of them seem to have maintained their friendships and have not been ostracised.
It was an encouragement to hear that the family has found support. The church pastor along with a local Christian friend frequently visit and continue to offer guidance and emotional support.
They ask that we pray that Yklas would return soon and stay in good health.
You can write Yklas an encouraging letter here.
Ann Kay is a writer for VOM USA