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AZERBAIJAN: Former prisoners of consciences’ homes raided, literature confiscated
ICC Note:
Bibles and other religious materials were confiscated from two Baptists homes in what appears to be a strategic raid by police, many of whom were in civilian clothes. Officers presented Christians in both homes with search warrants while telling them they had been meeting to worship illegally in their homes. The heads of both homes were men that had previously been “prisoners of conscience”, imprisoned for practicing their faith. It is unclear as to what prompted the raid or if any of the materials, including Bibles in various languages, will be returned.
By Felix Corley
11/9/2012 Azerbaijan (Forum 18)- Police raided a meeting for Baptist worship in the home of former prisoner of conscience Zaur Balaev on 7 November, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The raid, which took place in Aliabad in north-western Azerbaijan, came as Balaev and his wife Nunuka were in Moscow, where she is undergoing cancer treatment. Police detained and questioned one Baptist, as well as seizing religious literature. In a simultaneous raid on another Baptist-owned home in the village, police seized more religious literature and questioned another former prisoner of conscience, Hamid Shabanov. Local police refused to discuss with Forum 18 why they had raided the two homes and seized religious literature.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan’s Jehovah’s Witness community has failed in its attempt to seek damages from the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations for its repeated restrictions on the numbers of each religious book and magazine issue the community is allowed to import.
Raids
At 11 am on 7 November, police from the regional centre of Zakatala [Zaqatala] raided two Baptist-owned homes in Aliabad, which is about 15 kms (10 miles) away.
About ten officers arrived at Balaev’s home in his absence, where about eight local church members were gathered, fellow-Baptist Ramiz Osmanov told Forum 18 from Aliabad on 7 November. Officers showed the Baptists a search warrant, then took pictures of the premises and seized about 17 items of Christian literature, including New Testaments and hand-written notebooks.
“They told us it is illegal to meet without registration,” Osmanov told Forum 18. “They said they would check the books by sending them for religious expert analysis by the State Committee in the capital Baku, and would return them if there is nothing harmful.” He said the officers were respectful.
Both Osmanov and a woman present were forced to write a statement about what church members had been doing, but only Osmanov was taken to Zakatala Police Station for questioning. He was freed after an hour and a half, he told Forum 18. Officers did not indicate whether or not any administrative or criminal charges would be brought against those present at the meeting.
At about the same time as Balaev’s home was raided, other police officers – many in civilian clothes – raided the nearby home of the Shabanov family. Only Hamid Shabanov and his wife were at home. “They told us we meet for worship illegally as we have no registration,” he told Forum 18 from Aliabad on 8 November.
Officers confiscated New Testaments in Azeri and Georgian (many inhabitants of the region, like Shabanov, are native Georgian speakers), as well as Russian-language Bibles and other Christian literature and cassettes. “They drew up a list of the books they had seized, saying they would send the literature to the State Committee in Baku. But when I asked at the police station for a copy of the list they said the copier was broken and that they would give me a copy in the next few days,” Shabanov told Forum 18.
“They told me that if the books were legal, they would be returned. If they were not, I would be fined,” he added.
Shabanov said that – like Osmanov – he had been taken to Zakatala Police Station, where he was held until 5 pm that day. He said his wife had chosen to accompany him. Both husband and wife were required to write statements.
Prisoners of conscience
Balaev was imprisoned from May 2007 to March 2008 on charges he and his community insisted were fabricated to punish him for exercising his freedom of religion or belief. Shabanov was held in pre-trial detention from June to November 2008 while being investigated. In February 2009 he was given a two-year suspended sentence on charges he and his fellow-Baptists insisted were fabricated to punish him for exercising his freedom of religion or belief. Both trials were marked by multiple violations of the rule of law and legal procedure.

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