Sunday, November 2, 2008

Church leader due back in court in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan-International Christian Concern confirms that Pastor Hamid Shabanov is due back in court today in Azerbaijan. Shabanov's family and lawyer complain that his detention is illegal as the court-ordered deadline for holding him ran out on October 21st and that none of his representatives know what the indictment is.The 52-year-old was falsely accused of having an illegal weapon, according to church members in Aliabad. Shabanov was arrested in June after a police raid. Authorities also confiscated Bibles and Christian books.His is not the first arrest on suspicious charges. Fellow-pastor Zaur Balaev was freed from prison in March but is still being hounded by the government.Their congregation has also repeatedly had registration applications blocked since the mid-1990s. While church registration is not required under Azerbaijani law, several incidents of churches being closed or destroyed for not registering have been reported.Interestingly, since the June arrest, police have not interfered in the church's services. Fellow believers have not let down their guard. They feel the efforts at prosecution are overt attempts to get the community to fall apart and stymie its growth.Outside resourcing help would be difficult. Expatriate Christians are forbidden to engage in religious propagand, and there are severe restrictions on distribution of literature for "nontraditional" religious groups. The government must approve all religious literature, but approval is rarely granted, and thousands of religious books have been destroyed.
The greatest source of help is prayer.
--Pray that there will be opportunities for the churches to reach out to the ethnic Azeri people with the Gospel.
--Pray for churches facing government pressure, that they will stand firm in their ministry.
--Pray that opposition from the government and media will cease and that Christians will be free to worship without fear.

As in the days of Noah...

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