Azerbaijan: "Overzealous" Police Try To Ban Baptist Service

Tuesday, August 6, 2002

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Just two days after a court in the capital Baku liquidated a Baptist congregation, a local policeman in the small town of Chukhuryurd near Shemakha in central Azerbaijan tried to ban a small Baptist church from meeting, Baptist sources told Keston News Service. "He had heard the news of the Baku church's liquidation on ANS television and came to the local elder last Friday [5 April] and told him the church could not meet on Sunday for worship," Ilya Zenchenko, head of the Baptist Union in Azerbaijan, told Keston from Baku on 10 April. "We told the church elder on Saturday the policeman had been overzealous and exceeded his powers and that his demands for the church not to meet had no legal basis."

Zenchenko said that after Baptist leaders had explained to the elder that the policeman had no right to ban their Sunday worship, their service went ahead on 7 April with no interference from the police. The Chukhuryurd Baptist church has only about eight members, all of them ethnic Russians. "It is surprising that someone tried to ban such a small group from meeting," he declared.

The widespread coverage in the Azerbaijani media of the Love Baptist church's liquidation, ordered by a Baku court on 3 April (see KNS 8 April 2002), combined with the long-running media campaign against religious minorities, have led police and local authorities in many regions to try to ban minority faiths from meeting, whether or not they have registration (see KNS 25 March 2002).

Zenchenko told Keston that the church in the Caspian coastal town of Neftchala, closed by the local authorities last February, has once again resumed meeting. The Sumgait Baptist church is also functioning. Both have had their re-registration applications returned, as documents certifying their legal address were not included, Zemfira Rzayeva, head of the registration department at the State Committee for Relations with Religious Organisations, told Keston from Baku on 8 April. Zenchenko said these documents are supplied by the local authorities, and the church in Sumgait has now managed to obtain this document and the application would soon be re-presented. He said the Neftchala church is expecting to receive its document from the local administration very soon.