Disturbing report for imprisoned pastor in Azerbaijan

By December 3, 2007

Azerbaijan (MNN) — Imprisoned Baptist pastor Zaur Balaev
has been transferred to a prison colony in Azerbaijan. 

After having lost his appeal on false
charges, he's serving a two-year prison sentence and looking into another
appeal, according to witnesses. 

Slavic Gospel Association's Joel Griffith says the latest
report they've heard is that the conditions endured at the prison are terrible
and are especially hard on the frail pastor. 
"Officials at this prison where he's being held are demanding a
high level of payment in what seems to be basically 'bribes.' They're demanding these bribes before Pastor
Balaev is getting food or being able to meet with his family." 

Since his transfer to Darnagyul, church members have been
able to supply him with warm clothes, a blanket, new glasses and food. However, he is in poor health, and that remains
a concern of his family and the church.

Balaev had been convicted of resisting arrest and attacking
five police officers–charges that are completely false, according to the
leadership of the Azerbaijan Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (UECB).

A lower court rejected his first appeal on October 3. UECB president Ilya Zenchenko says that if the
second appeal fails, Pastor Balaev's only option is to serve two-thirds of his
two-year sentence and then apply for early release. Appeals to the European
Court of Human Rights are also possible.

Pray that God will sustain him during this severe trial.
Pray that God will also protect the persecuted congregation. "We're asking people to lift this
situation up in prayer, that the Lord would intervene and not only cause the
situation in the prison to stop, but also that his appeal to the Azerbaijan
Supreme Court would ultimately be successful and his two-year prison sentence
would be overturned."

There are other concerns related to this situation in
Azerbaijan. Griffith says they're
hearing that police in the town of Neftechala have threatened another Baptist
pastor with the same fate as Zaur Balaev. Forum 18 reports that Azerbaijani
officials deny that any bribery is taking place. 

They also insist that there are no prisoners
of conscience in Azerbaijan and that no Baptists or other religious confessions
are persecuted for their faith.

In the meantime, financial help is needed for Balaev's family. His wife and two small children are struggling financially. If you'd like to help the Balaev family, click here.


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