Appeal fails in Azerbaijani pastor conviction case

By April 14, 2008

Azerbaijan (MNN) — While a holiday in Azerbaijan got him amnesty, a Baptist pastor received a set-back. Pastor Zaur Balaev went before the country's Supreme Court to try to get his resisting arrest conviction overturned, but the results weren't what he was expecting.

Slavic Gospel Association's Joel Griffith says while he received amnesty, he still has the conviction on his record. "He wanted the Supreme Court to vacate that basically and clear his name. The court heard the case. After they heard the case, they basically rendered the judgment on the spot. They didn't find any errors in law or procedure, and so they basically left the conviction in tact."

Unlike the United States appeals system, which often takes months to reach a decision, the Azeri Supreme Court ruled immediately.

According to Griffith, this isn't the end for Balaev. "What they're going to do is try to formulate an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights and see if they will not render some sort of judgment in Balaev's favor."

Griffith says appeals to the European Court of Human Rights are increasing in former Soviet nations. "The people within the countries seem to have a hard time getting justice from their own legal system."

While most churches don't want to get caught up in the politics surrounding this and other cases, they are in this case. "We're seeing more and more of this happen on religious questions to where religious freedom is being challenged, and therefore I think a lot of church and religious groups over there are having to take this route more often because they don't want to see the freedom they've had for such a short time lost," says Griffith.

He says Christians need to pray "that the Lord would somehow restrain these efforts to hinder the Gospel and hinder the churches from their freedom to evangelize and worship."

Because this case received so much international attention, Christians are hoping authorities will leave Balaev alone.

Church leaders are concerned that Zaur will be held in suspicion by the community as long as he is seen as a convicted criminal. Ask for the Lord's ongoing protection and provision for Zaur and his family. Pray for a change of heart in governmental officials toward evangelical churches. And most of all, pray that these difficult circumstances will lead to open doors for the Gospel and glory to our Lord Jesus Christ.

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