BosNewsLife – Azerbaijan ‘s ruling party was believed to have won tense parliamentary elections Sunday, November 6, despite international concern over its alleged persecution of dissidents and Christians.
Opposition parties pledged to protest against what they said would be widespread election fraud, but Reuters news agency quoted analysts as saying it was unlikely to be a repeat of the popular revolts that toppled governments in fellow ex-Soviet states Ukraine and Georgia .
“The campaign was successful. Equal conditions were created for all candidates and that gives me hope the election will be democratic and transparent,” President Ilham Aliyev told reporters at a polling station in the capital Baku . “The will of the people will be expressed in these elections,” he added.
However it was doubtful that many evangelical Christians voted for him, amid reports that Azerbaijan ‘s system of state registration is used by authorities to discriminate against them and other religious communities.
Forum 18, a human rights watchdog, said “disfavored communities” in the mainly Muslim nation of eight million people, include Baptists, Pentecostals as well as other groups, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Baha’is.
“The State Committee is not the only source of problems, local authorities who have taken a dislike to a religious community deploy numerous tactics to prevent registration applications, ” Forum 18 said.
Foreign missionaries are also under pressure. In June the Swedish pastor of the Cathedral of Praise charismatic church in the capital Baku, Mats-Jan Söderberg, had his visa denied and was given two weeks to leave Azerbaijan, where he had lived for more than a decade.
He told Forum 18 News Service from Sweden on October 24 that he has learnt he was “blacklisted and cannot return to minister to the congregation” he still supervises.
While Sunday’s vote was not expected to improve the situation, Western nations hungry for the country’s oil have pressured Aliyev, who succeeded his father as head of state, to avoid more political tensions in the country.
Corruption is rampant and the country, wedged between Russia and Iran , has yet to hold an election judged free and fair by the West. For the first time, election officials in the 5,000 polling stations were spraying indelible ink on voters’ thumbs to stop them voting twice, news reports said.
The situation in Azerbaijan is also closely monitored in other former Soviet republics such as Uzbekistan , where Christians have also complained of renewed persecution by authorities. In one of the latest incidents there, police forces on October 25 broke up a meeting of members of the Full Gospel Pentecostal Church in the town of Jizak 200 kilometers (125 miles) south-west of the capital Tashkent , Forum 18 said.
Other churches have complained of similar actions, and Forum 18 quoted church representatives as saying that an official anti-Christian campaign is underway, with less violence than in the past but using other methods to pressure churches and individual believers.
Uzbekistan officials have denied human rights abuses and say Christians should just follow the law of the land.