KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 24 January 2002
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

AZERBAIJAN: BAPTIST LIQUIDATION HEARING POSTPONED.
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
case was brought by the chairman of the State Committee for Relations
with Religious Organisations, who alleges that the church has violated
Azerbaijan´┐Żs law on religion and should be closed down. The Narimanov
district court agreed to the defendant's request to postpone the hearing
because of ill health. No date has yet been set for a new hearing, but it is
likely to be in about ten days' time.

AZERBAIJAN: BAPTIST LIQUIDATION HEARING POSTPONED

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.
(END)