Baptist pastor arrested in Aliabad

By June 26, 2008

Azerbaijan (MNN) — Police arrested Hamid Shabanov, a Baptist pastor from the village of Aliabad
in northwestern Azerbaijan,
on June 20. He is now in detention at
the Zakatala Region police station. 

Slavic Gospel Association reports that the police claim to
have found an illegal pistol in Shabanov's home, but his family adamantly deny
this claim, saying the police planted the weapon. His brother Badri insists that the arrest is
an attack on the Baptist community in Aliabad. 

"Their aim is also to bring this as a criminal case and put
him in prison. Their target is the church," he said. 

"We're in shock. This was a provocation by the police, a
deliberately-targeted action," said Pastor Ilya Zenchenko, president of the
Azeri Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists.

Baptist pastor Zaur Balaev lives in the same village as
Shabanov. After several months in
prison, Balaev was finally released three months ago. 

Police have inflicted repeated raids, threats and
confiscation of Christian literature on the Baptist churches in Aliabad, of
which there are several. Officials have
denied birth certificates to children given Christian first names. 

"Fellow believers have found a wide
door for effective service in Azerbaijan,
but the adversaries have arisen to hinder the work of the Gospel. Our brothers
and sisters in this largely Muslim country urgently need our prayers," said Bob
Provost, President of SGA. 

Police took only twenty minutes to search Shabanov's home
and arrest him, his family told Forum 18. 
They are convinced that he was only arrested because of his religious

"They threatened him because we meet for worship and
pray together. They said we shouldn't do it. They came in claiming to be looking for drugs and guns. They searched the house and claim to have
found a gun, but they planted it themselves. He has got no weapons."

"He's a criminal," police chief Faik Shabanov (no
relation) insisted. When Forum 18 asked
Shabanov by phone why police had threatened the pastor about holding church services at
his home before charging him with having an illegal weapon, Shabanov said,
"Who are you to talk to the chief of police like that?" and hung up. 

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