February 4, 2009

Baptist delegation meets Azerbaijan leader

Eron Henry, Associate Director of Communications
Neville Callam, General Secretary
Baptist World Alliance

January 30, 2009

A delegation of Baptists met with the head of a government committee on religion in Azerbaijan in January.

The delegation, which included Tony Peck, Baptist World Alliance Regional Secretary for Europe, and Paul Montacute, Director of Baptist World Aid, was primarily concerned about recent human rights abuses and restrictions on religious liberty in the South Caucasus country, which gained its independence after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Also part of the Baptist delegation were Christer Daelander, religious freedom representative with the European Baptist Federation, one of six regional fellowships of the BWA, Parush Parushev, Academic Dean at the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague, Czech Republic, and Ebbe Holm, an attorney at law.

The group highlighted the situation in the town of Aliabad in the Zagatala region, where two Baptist pastors, Zaur Balaev and Hamid Shabanov, were arrested and imprisoned on what were regarded as trumped up charges. Balaev was released early from prison in March 2008, after being sentenced to two years in prison in August 2007. Shabanov’s case is still before the courts after his arrest on June 20 of last year. He is under house arrest.

In their meeting with Hidayat Orujov, chairman of the State Committee of Work with Religious Associations, the Baptists urged that there be an end in discrimination against Christians by the state, such as the practice of refusing or delaying the granting of birth certificates to the children of Christian parents, and the loss of jobs of Christians upon their conversion to the faith.

The delegation also brought concerns about the difficulties the Baptist union and its churches in Azerbaijan face in obtaining government registration. Even though the union and its churches have submitted all documents and met all requirements for registration, government officials have refused to complete the registration process.

The group, which visited Azerbaijan from January 12 and 16, also met with diplomatic representatives and leaders of other religious groups in the country, including the Norwegian ambassador, Jon Ramberg, and Declan Byrne, Political Secretary for the United Kingdom Embassy. Meetings were also held with leaders of the Jewish, Muslim, and Russian Orthodox Church communities.

Also participating in the meetings were Ilya Zenchenko, President of the Baptist Union of Azerbaijan, and Elnur Jabiyev, General Secretary. The delegation also met with Balaev and other pastors in the country.

There are 22 Baptist churches and 3,000 baptized believers in the country of 8.7 million people.

See: http://www.bwanet.org/default.aspx?pid=1003

No comments: