Azerbaijan (MNN) — There's good news coming out of Azerbaijan. Yesterday during court proceedings, 52-year-old Pastor Hamid Shabanov was released while his trial continues.
Shabanov was arrested June 20 when his home was searched by authorities. They were looking for drugs and weapons. According to police, they found a gun. Shabanov's congregation and his family insist that the pistol a Prosecutor's Office official claims to have found was planted during a search of his home.
Shabanov and his unregistered church have been the focus of the government because they continue to pray and worship God without registration. However, the government won't give his church the registration it needs, despite many attempts to do so.
Slavic Gospel Association supports work in the region. SGA's Joel Griffith says Pastor Shabanov's trail has been delayed numerous times. "Pastor Shabanov's attorney has been complaining about the numerous delays. He's cited procedural irregularities that they've tried to bring to the court. It just remains to be seen exactly how this case is going to be adjudicated."
Griffith says this is a big concern. "If Pastor Shabanov is actually convicted on this charge, he could spend up to three years in prison. This is really troubling how evangelical churches in Azerbaijan are undergoing this kind of pressure."
Griffith explains why the evangelical churches are seeing this kind of pressure. "It's very similar to what they call the 'Stan' countries of Central Asia. It's a largely-Muslim country."
While evangelicals have always faced difficulties, the trouble has grown. "Within the past year or two, it just seems like they've really stepped up oppression on evangelicals, and I really believe that's by and large due to the Muslim influence in the country."
This case hasn't drawn the attention of the international media. Griffith would like that to change.
But in the meantime, Griffith is asking Christians to pray. "Pray that this investigation would be conducted in a forthright and honest manner and that these charges would be dropped. Pray that he would actually be exonerated by this. We need to pray that the hearts of the Azerbaijani leaders would be softened toward evangelical churches and allow freedom for the Gospel to be proclaimed."
Griffith says, "The enemy tries to persecute the church, but the Lord has the last word and often ends up bringing greater growth to the church."