AZERBAIJAN: Protestant Deported.

Lorna Howard, Keston News Service, 5 April 2002

Nina Koptseva, a Russian living in Baku by invitation of the Greater Grace Protestant Church was forcibly deported from Azerbaijan on Monday 1 April, one of the church's pastors, Musfig Bayram, told Keston News Service from Baku on 3 April. She was taken to the airport and put on a plane to her home city of Moscow. Police had attempted to deport her on Saturday, taking her to the railway station and trying to make her take a train out of the country, until she protested loudly that if she had to go she would buy a plane ticket (see KNS 1 April 2002). Another of the church's leaders, Pastor Fuad Alaverdi, told Keston that friends helped Koptseva find the money for the ticket.

Pastor Bayram told Keston that Koptseva had been tricked by police into signing a confession that she had been distributing "religious propaganda". It was in Azeri, a language she does not understand, and she was told that it was a routine document testifying simply that she had been present in the police station. The police have also promised to send all the papers to the Russian government, Pastor Alaverdi said. Asked what will happen to the teenage girls who formerly lived in institutions Koptseva had been caring for, Pastor Alaverdi said he did not yet know. Koptseva was "a good teacher" and he hoped someone would be able to continue her work, or even that she would be able to return to Baku. There was no basis for the accusations against Koptseva, he said, and she intends to fight them.

Two of the women taken in for questioning along with Koptseva on 30 March, Elnara Guseinova and Sevinge Nazirova, were fined. Keston has received a copy (in English) of Guseinova's written account of events:

"On March 30th, 2002, at 11:30 a.m. I was walking with my friend Sevinge in Fountain Square, where I ran into some acquaintances from the church which I attend, Nina Koptseva and Maria Abdullaeva. They told us that another acquaintance whom we have in common, Marina, who is in her fourth month of pregnancy, was not feeling well. They were making plans to visit her. Nina Koptseva, knowing that I'm a doctor, asked me to go and visit that girl with them. In the area where MacDonalds is, policemen surrounded us, without identifying themselves, and without any explanation, started to insist that we go to the police station with them. I asked them to explain the reason for this. In response, I was only threatened by them. I was told that if I did not follow them, they would grab my hair and drag me to the police station. We had to submit because we were afraid of their threats, and followed them to Police Station #39 of the Sabail area.

At the police station, they accused us of promulgating the Christian religion. They examined all of our possessions very carefully. They found my personal Bible and books. Then, they took us to another police station, Police Station #9. There the police staff gave us an Islamic brochure and told us that we should study it. Then they interrogated us one by one. At the office two people who did not identify themselves started to interrogate me. They demanded my documents and took my passport. They spoke loudly and were continually humiliating me as they talked. They asked me personal questions, such as, "Why aren't you married? Is it because you betrayed your faith and became a Christian, and because of that you can't get married to an Azeri? Do your supervisors at work like it that you've become a Christian? Are you psychologically sane?"

After the interrogation, and after "I" wrote the "explanation" they called me into another office where there was yet another person in street clothes (ie., not in uniform). That man hinted that they would continue to harass me, that anything could happen, even the most extremely tragic end, and that I would be fired from my job. They also told me that because of the accusation which had been lodged according to Article 299 I was obliged to pay a fine. They kept me in the police station from 11:30 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. They did not give me back my passport and kept it as security until I would pay the fine."

They have not yet paid. Also fined was Marat Akhmerov, another of the church's leaders, who had gone to the police station to give Koptseva moral support. Both Pastor Bayram and Pastor Alaverdi reported that Akhmerov has decided to appeal against the fine. A written statement by Akhmerov, received by Keston, states that "With all of their actions, the workers of the police shook my belief that I live in a democratic country&ldots;I had brochures with me which explained all my rights; these rights were grossly violated." (END)