Azerbaijan: Police Order Protestant's Deportation

Tuesday, August 6, 2002

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

On the day Baku's Protestant Greater Grace church was celebrating Easter, police in the city's central Sabail district tried to forcibly deport a church member, alleging that she had been conducting religious "propaganda". One of the church's pastors, Musfig Bayram, told Keston News Service from Baku that police took Nina Koptseva, a Russian citizen who has a residence permit to live in Baku, to the city's railway station on Sunday morning (31 March), bought her a ticket to the Russian border and tried to place her on the train without any court decision. It was only when she screamed loudly and insisted that if she had to leave she could buy an airline ticket to Russia herself that police halted the attempt and returned her to the cells in the Sabail district police station. Koptseva is now slated for deportation today (1 April) by air.

Koptseva's deportation certificate, signed by Sabail's police chief Hasan Abdullaev, declared that she was being punished under Article 300 of the Administrative Code, which prescribes deportation for foreign citizens caught conducting religious "propaganda" as well as the possibility of a fine. Koptseva has not been fined.

Greater Grace members vigorously deny that Koptseva had engaged in such propaganda. "We had held our regular Saturday evangelism meeting near McDonalds in Fountain Square," Pastor Bayram told Keston. "But that had already finished and Nina and three other ladies were simply talking among themselves when they were detained by the police."

The four were taken to the 9th police station of Sabail district. The three other women were released at 7 pm, after eight hours' detention, but Koptseva was only freed at 11 pm after she had surrendered her Russian passport. It was after she returned to the police station on Sunday morning that the attempt was made to deport her by train.

During her detention on Saturday, Koptseva signed a statement drawn up by police in Azeri (a language she does not understand), in which she confessed to having distributed Christian literature. It remains unclear why she signed a statement in a language she did not understand and whose content she was unable to read.

Once back at the police station, church pastor Marat Akhmerov arrived to try to resolve the issue. But he too was detained, being threatened by police investigators Emil (last name unknown) and Behbud (last name unknown) with a thirty day prison term for "refusing to submit to authority" under Article 310 of the Administrative Code.

Koptseva spoke on 31 March by telephone to the Russian consul in Baku, who said she should write a complaint if she felt the authorities had treated her wrongly. The consul also spoke to the investigator, who afterwards alleged to Koptseva that the consul had said he could do as he liked with her.

Keston spoke by telephone on 31 March to Abdullaev, but he declined to discuss the case and referred Keston to another number in the police station, but that went unanswered.

Koptseva and Akhmerov were held overnight on Sunday night, and on Monday morning Pastor Akhmerov was taken to court and fined 100,000 manats (20 US dollars or 15 British pounds) before being freed. He must pay the fine within ten days or he can appeal. "Marat is thinking about appealing against this fine, but he did not sleep all last night so he is going home to get some rest," Pastor Bayram reported.

Pastor Bayram believes that National Security officers and officials from the procuracy may also have been involved in interrogating the five church members. "None of the officers identified themselves or showed their identity documents, but they behaved as if they had authority. They came into rooms without knocking and did not ask permission of the police officers."

Police have demanded money from two of the women detained with Koptseva, allegedly for having broken the religion law: one has been asked for 55,000 manats, while the other - whose identity document is still with the police - has been asked for 110,000 manats. It is unclear if these are fines or demands for bribes, as no certificates of fines have been issued. One of the women was crying, as she did not want her sick mother to find out she had been detained by the police.

Koptseva, who is originally from Moscow, runs a small home in Baku for young women who had formerly been in institutions. It remains unclear what will happen to these women.

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