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Pastor Illegally Held in Prison to Receive First Hearing Tomorrow in Azerbaijan

7/12/07 Azerbaijan (ICC) – A Baptist pastor is scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing tomorrow for crimes he did not commit. Zaur Balaev, a thin man from Aliabad , Azerbaijan , has been accused of attacking five police officers, an accusation denied by over 25 eyewitnesses. To make matters worse, he was held for over a month before being charged, a blatant denial of his legal rights under Azerbaijani law.

On May 20, Pastor Zaur Balaev was leading a worship service when government officials raided the service and arrested him. They initially accused him of resisting arrest by setting his dog on them, but have since changed their story to accuse him of physically attacking them and damaging a police car door as he was entering the vehicle.

Balaev has been charged with “application of violence, resistance with application of violence concerning the representative of authority in connection with performance of official duties by him or application of violence not dangerous to life or health concerning his close relatives, as well as, threat of application of such violence,” according to Article 315 Part 1 of the criminal code. Prosecutor Khakim Khan Safarov is handling the case.

What the government refuses to admit is that this case is about religion. The Head of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations, Idayat Orujev, has denied that religion has anything to do with Pastor Balaev’s arrest. On the contrary, the Prosecutor’s accusation states that because of Balaev’s Christianity, he is a threat to society and the country’s security. In addition, government officials have denied registration to Balaev’s church for 13 years. This is no doubt due to the fact that local officials are Muslim and insist that Balaev’s congregation is traitor to their ancestors’ Muslim faith.

Balaev has been in prison for two months and his health is deteriorating quickly. No members of his family have been able to see him, and they can only communicate by telephone. Balaev should have been released after his first month of imprisonment because he had not been criminally charged yet. Instead he was transferred to a prison hours away from his home. His family has gone into debt from unsuccessfully trying to visit him in this new location and giving officials money so that Balaev can eat. He has two children, and his wife’s name is Selminaz.

Balaev, his family and believers in Azerbaijan need your prayers and support. Call or write an embassy in your country asking that Balaev will get a fair trial and that the church will receive legal status.

Azerbaijan Embassy in United States

2741 34th Street,

Washington D.C. 20008

Tel.: (202) 337-3500

Fax: (202) 337-5911

Azerbaijan Embassy in Canada

275 Slater Street, Suite 904

Ottawa , Ontario K1P 5H9

Tel: (613) 288-0497

Fax: (613) 230-8089

[email protected]

Azerbaijan Embassy in United Kingdom

4 Kensington Court,

London , W8 5DL.

Tel: 020 7938 5482/ 3412

Fax: 020 7937 1783