Azerbaijan scrutiny through EuroVision fails to raise red flags

By April 19, 2012

Azerbaijan (MNN) — The Eurovision Song Contest is an annual competition held among active
member countries of the European Broadcasting Union.

It is one of the longest-running, most-watched television
programs in the world.  

This year, Azerbaijan hosts the competition, and Forum
18 News Service notes that freedom of religion or belief and related human
rights such as the freedom of expression and of assembly remain highly

Joel Griffith with the Slavic Gospel Association explains, "This
Eurovision Song Contest doesn't necessarily have religious freedom tied to it,
but it is a major European event. And Azerbaijan is also a signatory to many
conventions when it comes to human rights." 

The question is WHY these violated rights are being allowed to pass
unchallenged with Eurovision's global scrutiny. "There just seems to be a real concern–not only with religious
freedom groups but with human rights groups and Western
governments, in general–that you would have signatories to these conventions
that are supposed to guarantee human rights. And then you have a country
that's known, in recent years, for cracking down on some of these

Azerbaijan is part of the Caucuses with a Muslim-dominated population.
It also ranks 25th on this year's Open Doors World Watch List, a compilation of
countries known for the persecution of Christians.   

The country's record on this issue is not widely known. However,
Griffith says, "Since 2003, we've had local and international human rights
organizations document cases of fraud, corruption, human rights abuses, and
rule of law. We've just seen a steady increase in reports of religious freedom
being violated."

One case in point: as of January 2010, all religious groups were required to renew
their registration. Since then, no new
churches have been able to register. Congregations without registration are
often raided, with church leaders arrested or fined.

Griffith says they saw what was coming and came alongside the church with
a Bible institute to help with the training of church leaders prior to the
changes. Although they're still working,
"What we have to do–not just in
Azerbaijan but in any of the former Soviet countries where you have a larger
Muslim domination, especially in Central Asia–is
try to help churches as discreetly as possible."

The atmosphere seems to more hostile than ever. Azeri believers are considered traitors as
Christianity is associated with the country's rival, Armenia. Many Christians
are unable to find or keep jobs and are monitored by the secret police. "The main thing we're able to do right
now is try to help as discreetly as we can, and try to raise awareness of the
situation. Obviously, intercessory prayer holds a major role in this. Pray
for our brothers and sisters there that
they would not only be able to obtain freedom to worship but also to proclaim
the Gospel."

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