Azerbaijan: Baptist Liquidation Hearing Postponed

Monday, March 10, 2003

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The hearing in the case to liquidate the Love Baptist Church in the Azerbaijani capital Baku was postponed yesterday (23 January), the church's pastor Sary Mirzoyev told Keston News Service from Baku. The Narimanov district court had been due to hear the suit, brought by Rafik Aliev, chairman of the State Committee for Relations with Religious Organisations, in the afternoon of 23 January (see KNS 18 January 2002) but the court agreed to the defendant's request to postpone the hearing because of ill health. Yahya Mamedov, the church's deacon and administrator, suffers from diabetes. No date has yet been set for a new hearing, but it is likely to be in about ten days' time.

Mamedov told Keston on 23 January that earlier this week Aliev verbally repeated his threats to close down the church. "Aliev summoned me to his office on Monday and warned me that if I did not close down the church myself he would do all in his power to close it down. He told me that neither the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly nor any other human rights organisation would be able to do anything to help me. He added that he would do everything to blacken our image in the international community." Mamedov told Aliev he would never close the church himself and that if it is closed down by the court it would simply restart and apply again for registration.

Mamedov reported that he had met officials of the Baku office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) earlier on 23 January and that OSCE officials were due to meet Aliev at the State Committee on 24 January to discuss the case. Lutz Leichtfuss, democratisation officer at the OSCE, confirmed to Keston on 23 January that he had met Mamedov and that the OSCE office was following the case.

Among his wide-ranging criticisms, Aliev alleges that Pastor Mirzoyev preached against Islam in a sermon last December and that therefore the church has violated the country's religion law and should be closed down. "The Love Christian Baptist church has broken the law in many ways in its activity," Aliev alleged in the suit, lodged on 25 December. "Breaking the 22nd article of the law of freedom of conscience, without gaining permission from the State Committee on the work with Religious Groups the church was recording and distributing the pastor's sermons. In the audiocassettes the pastor speaks against other religions, especially shows intolerance and disrespect to the Islamic religion, uses insulting phrases, mocks righteous Muslims that fast in the month of Ramadan, disparages the personality of State representatives (state police workers), and criticises Islam as an empty religion. Thus, the religious sermon that is supposed to have worship content has the content of creating religious opposition." Mirzoyev denies having insulted Islam, incited anti-Islamic sentiment or used his sermons to criticise state officials. He rejects suggestions that the church needs state permission to tape-record its own sermons.

The Love Baptist Church gained registration at the Justice Ministry on 18 March 2000 and has applied for re-registration under the new regulations.

Copyright (c) 2002 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.