A two-year prison term for Baptist pastor in Azerbaijan

By August 22, 2007

Azerbaijan
(MNN) — A pastor from northern Azerbaijan
is the latest to feel the pressure from an increasingly unfriendly Muslim
authority. 

Aliabad village lies close to the border with Georgia in the
northwestern region of Zakatala. Its 10,000-strong population is largely of
the Ingilo minority–ethnic Georgians converted to Islam several centuries ago.

The country now ranks 22nd on the Open Doors
World Watch List, a list that ranks countries according to the intensity of
persecution Christians face for actively pursuing their faith.


Slavic Gospel Association's
Joel Griffith says Azerbaijan's
authorities have changed their accusations several times against Pastor Zaur
Balaev, with the final charges a far cry from the initial charge that he set
a dog on police during a raid on a Sunday worship service.  

Griffith
explains: "From what we're able to understand, Pastor Balaev was
sentenced to two years in jail, and what they convicted him of was 'using
violence against a state representative.'
He was also accused of 'holding illegal meetings under the guise of
religious activity' without concrete authority and without state
registration." Unregistered
religious activity is not formally illegal in Azerbaijan, though it is often
treated differently.

An appeal is likely. There are concerns for Balaev's deteriorating health behind bars. Griffith says
this case points to more evidence that the window is closing for ministry in Azerbaijan. However, "Our main concern right now obviously is marshaling prayer on
behalf of the believers there as this pressure continues to increase. We want to continue on, obviously, helping
to train pastors there. Pastors in so many
ways are the future of the church. They
need trained pastors to be able not to only evangelize but alsoto plant
new congregations."

Please continue to pray for Pastor Balaev, for his appeal,
or for an overturned conviction. Pray,
too, that the believers in this area won't be intimidated into silence. 

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