A twist in the case against an Azerbaijani pastor

By February 16, 2009

Azerbaijan (MNN) — Slavic Gospel Association has been
following the trial of a persecuted Azerbaijani pastor who was arrested and held on false charges. SGA's Joel Griffith says they
just got the verdict. "Pastor Hamid
Shabanov was actually convicted on the false charge of possessing an illegal
weapon."

Unless Shabanov's conviction is quashed, he will have a criminal record. Griffith says, "He's insisting that he's
innocent. He's going to continue fighting to clear his name." 

The court gave Shabanov a two-year corrective labour sentence. However, because imprisonment counts as three
times' corrective labour, Shabanov's sentence is the equivalent of eight
months' imprisonment. As he was in pre-trial detention or house arrest for just
over seven months, he has 27 days more to serve from February 11.    

Griffith says there's a question as to whether Shabanov will
have to go back to jail at all. He was
also fined 20 percent of his salary for the remaining 27 days of his sentence. But Shabanov does not have a job, therefore he
does not have a salary.

It's interesting to note that the conviction might have been
an acknowledgment of Shabanov's innocence. "If he had actually been found innocent, then that reflects poorly
on the police and the authorities, and it could get them into some sort of legal
'hot water.' So it's assumed that convicting him but not sending him to jail
was sort of a way for the local authorities to 'save face.'" 

Pastor Shabanov told Forum 18 that at the trial, he
repeatedly said that he was being prosecuted to punish him for his Christian
faith. His ministry has gotten particularly close scrutiny.
Although SGA supports work in the region, there is much opposition.

Griffith urges people to pray for believers there. "We certainly just want them to be held up in prayer for their protection
and for their encouragement. Pray also that the Gospel would be able to go forth
unhindered."

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