Church leader due back in court in Azerbaijan

By October 31, 2008

Azerbaijan (MNN) — International
Christian Concern
confirms that Pastor Hamid Shabanov is due back in court
today in Azerbaijan. 

Shabanov's family and lawyer
complain that his detention is illegal as the court-ordered deadline for
holding him ran out on October 21st and that none of his representatives know
what the indictment is.

The 52-year-old was falsely
accused of having an illegal weapon, according to church members in Aliabad. Shabanov was arrested in June after a police
raid. Authorities also confiscated
Bibles and Christian books.

His is not the first arrest on
suspicious charges. Fellow-pastor Zaur
Balaev was freed from prison in March but is still being hounded by the
government.   

Their congregation has also
repeatedly had registration applications blocked since the mid-1990s. While church registration is not required
under Azerbaijani law, several incidents of churches being closed or destroyed
for not registering have been reported.

Interestingly, since the June
arrest, police have not interfered in the church's services. Fellow
believers have not let down their guard. They feel the efforts at prosecution are overt attempts to get the
community to fall apart and stymie its growth.

Outside resourcing help would be
difficult. Expatriate Christians are
forbidden to engage in religious propagand, and there are severe restrictions
on distribution of literature for "nontraditional" religious groups. The
government must approve all religious literature, but approval is rarely
granted, and thousands of religious books have been destroyed.

The greatest source of help is
prayer. Pray for churches facing
government pressure that they will stand firm in their ministry. Pray, too, that
there will be opportunities for the churches to reach out to the ethnic Azeri
people with the Gospel.

 

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