Azerbaijani pastor to face trial today

By February 4, 2009

Azerbaijan (MNN) — Azerbaijani Christians are
still struggling with an apparent crackdown on evangelistic work.

The United Nations Human Rights
Council has a review of human rights due this month, but a similar report published
last fall by Forum 18 News Service found tight official controls over religious
communities and unwritten restrictions on peaceful religious activity.

Azerbaijan's government claims to be secular, officially recognizing no state
religion. However, Islam, Russian
Orthodox Christianity, and Judaism are "traditional" and get
preferential treatment.

Again, while not an "official"
stance, many government authorities believe ethnic Azeris should not be
non-Muslims.

In practice, many violations of
the human rights of both Muslims and non-Muslims — such as the detention of
Baptist "prisoner of conscience" Hamid Shabanov and a ban on Muslims praying
outside mosques — are violations of the written law.

In some cases, religious
minorities have been accused of being "Armenian spies." It is widely believed that these tactics are
used for disruption and confusion, the idea being to "remove the head of the
church, and the body will fall apart."

Pastor Hamid Shabanov's case
falls under this school of thought. He's
a pastor the government has been trying hard to silence over the last
year. Arrested in June on unconvincing
charges, the trial has been moved, delayed and re-investigated when the case
comes up on the docket.

It may finally be moving forward
today, after long delays, says Slavic Gospel Association's Joel Griffith. "It appears that he is scheduled to
appear in court again to continue this case. If you remember, he had been
arrested last year on trumped-up charges. It's in an effort to get that church
closed down."

Shabanov's ministry has gotten
particularly close scrutiny because of the church's unregistered activity. Although SGA supports work there, there is much opposition. 

Pray for the
believers in these regions because they "don't know what the next step is going to be," says Griffith. "But
their attitude is that if the Lord has called them to proclaim the Gospel,
they're going to keep on proclaiming the Gospel, no matter what the
difficulties are. I think our role here of course, is to continue to hold them
up in prayer and be of whatever service we can possibly be to them."

SGA serves the church through
pastoral training, church planter sponsorship, and Christian literature. SGA
also represents the Russian UECB and is a sponsor of the Eurasian Federation of
Evangelical Christians-Baptists. Click
here if you can help.

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