Pastor in Azerbaijan faces more charges

By June 19, 2008

Azerbaijan (MNN/Forum 18) — A pastor who was recently released from prison is in trouble again in Azerbaijan. According to Forum 18, Baptist Pastor Zaur Balaev has been summoned and threatened with a new prison term.

"Haven't you learned from your imprisonment?" Balaev quoted police officers who questioned him. "Wasn't one prison term enough for you?" One officer added: "You may not be afraid, but you've forgotten you've got a wife, daughter and a son."

Balaev was released in March on amnesty, but the charges were not dismissed and have remained on his record. Balaev was arrested in May 2007 and sentenced in August on charges of using violence against state representatives–an accusation church members denied. Police banned Balaev's church from meeting–a ban the congregation has defied.

Kamandar Hasanov, the deputy police chief in Azerbaijan's north-western Zakatala region, denied to Forum 18 that he had threatened Balaev. Hasanov also refused to discuss with Forum 18 the harassment of Balaev's Baptist congregation, why Muslim men with beards were forcibly shaved and banned from Zakatala's mosque in recent years, and why religious books were confiscated in a raid on a Jehovah's Witness home. A local resident told Forum 18 that the pressure to shave off beards has at present halted.

Pray that Balaev will remain free and that his church will be allowed to assemble without threats.

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