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Unregistered worship “illegal” – but under what law?

By Felix Corley
01/28/09 Azerbaijan (Forum 18 News Service)…Baptist Pastor Hamid Shabanov’s trial is once again due to resume, after repeated delays, on 4 February.

…Meanwhile Baptist Pastor Hamid Shabanov’s trial is due to resume in Zakatala on 4 February, his lawyer Mirman Aliev told Forum 18 from Baku on 28 January. The Baptist pastor is being tried under Article 228 Part 1 of the Criminal Code of illegal possession of a weapon, which is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment for those found guilty.

Shabanov, his family and his congregation vigorously refute the charge. They argue that the case was lodged to punish him for leading his Baptist congregation in his home village of Aliabad near Zakatala which the authorities do not like (see F18News 13 November 2008

Another of the congregation’s pastors, Zaur Balaev, was freed from prison in March 2008 after being sentenced on what his congregation insists were equally trumped-up charges (see F18News 19 March 2008

Pastor Shabanov was arrested in June 2008 and spent twenty weeks in prison, but was transferred to house arrest in November 2008. His trial began in July 2008 and hearings have dragged on since then. The most recent hearing took place on 26 January. “The law specifies no limit on the length of any trial,” his lawyer Aliev told Forum 18. “But we will take as long as we need to have him acquitted, though this is difficult.”

Alizade of the State Committee dismissed suggestions that Shabanov is being punished for his faith. “It’s nothing to do with religion – it’s in the hands of the Ministry of Justice,” he told Forum 18.

Asked why Shabanov’s congregation has been denied state registration for some 16 years (see eg. F18News 6 November 2008, Alizade responded: “No-one has complained to us.” However, when Forum 18 pointed out that Baptists have made numerous complaints over many years to the State Committee, Alizade admitted that complaints had been received. He then also admitted that officials have been discussing the denial of registration with Baptists, including a visiting delegation from the European Baptist Federation in mid-January… [Go To Full Story]