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Published on 08 June, 2009

Changed religion law makes dangerous debut in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan (MNN) — Azerbaijan's
repressive new Religion Law slid in under the radar. 

Joel
Griffith with Slavic Gospel Association says it's been modified since the last time they saw it. "It appears that this is a little bit
worse than what we thought it was going to be. Just looking at parts of this
legislation, now in force as of May 31, it seems like there have been some new
offenses that have been added to it as well as some new penalties." 

Some
of the changes include severe censorship and harsher punishments. These were
introduced for religious activities and agencies the government does not
like.

Griffith
went on to say that all registered religious organizations must re-register by
1 January 2010, the third time re-registration has been demanded in less than
twenty years. Earlier re-registration rounds saw many churches and
ministries fail to regain their legal status.

He agrees with the assessment of Forum 18, that the wording implies unregistered organizations
are illegal.

As
it is, under the existing rules, Griffith says they've already felt the heat.  "We've had several evangelical pastors jailed because of their ministry. So it seems, at least within Azerbaijan, that there is an intent to try to crack down on evangelical
churches." 

However, there are some unexpected allies. According to Forum 18, Parliamentary Deputy Fazil Gazanfarolgu Mustafaev said, "the new Religion Law will limitpeople's rights to freedom of conscience – that is clear."

Gazanfarolgu added that public pressure may force parliamentary deputies to take another look at the Religion Law, given public unhappiness over the way religion is controlled.

Griffith adds that while it looks bad, it's too early to know how much evangelistic work could be at risk.  "How this new law is going to be enforced, only time will tell. As I say, we have seen at least some in Parliament who are wanting to believe that there will be some public pressure brought to bear to have this re-examined, so I think this needs to be our chief hope and prayer."  

Keep praying for church leaders. Pray for enough outcry and public pressure to force lawmakers to revisit the law. 

 

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  • Primary Language: Azerbaijani, North
  • Primary Religion: Islam
  • Evangelical: 0.2%
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