AZERBAIJAN: Adventist pastor flees serious death threats
Adventist pastor Khalid Babaev and his family have fled Nakhichevan (Naxçivan) in fear, being forced to flee by the refusal by police to protect them from serious death threats, Form 18 News Service has learnt. The state official in charge of religious affairs locally has claimed to Forum 18 that he didn't "know that there are people here who hate others for religious reasons" and that he is "too busy to look into the case," even though he has been told by Pastor Babaev of the death threats. It is believed that the threats are related to the commemoration by Shia Muslims of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, grandson of Islam's prophet Muhammad, which is often a tense time.
In mid-February the Babaev family first received threats from a telephone caller who did not give his name. The same caller rang again on 24 February, repeating the threats "with obscene words". "I will come and take your soul!" Babaev quoted him as shouting. "I will gather a crowd and drag you from here!" Later that evening there was another threatening call. The following day, five men – one of whom introduced himself as a driver named Jamil (last name unknown) - appeared at the gate of Babaev's house and threatened to gather a mob of people to kill him or drive him out. Police refused to help Babaev or even accept a statement from him about the threats. They also refused to discuss the threats with Forum 18 (see F18News 25 February 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=262 ).
Babaev, his wife and their young son had then stayed the night elsewhere, fearing to remain in the house, which doubles up as the church. Zavrichko told Forum 18 that neighbours told Babaev that on 27 February five men had again come to the house. It was that night that they decided to flee Nakhichevan.
Zavrichko reported that Babaev and his family have taken refuge in the country's second city Gyanja (Gänca). "I don't know if they'll be able to return to Nakhichevan. We don't know if it is safe." He said the small community there of some 17 Adventists is now unable to meet for worship and could hold no service last Saturday, the Adventists' holy day. "They're frightened," he told Forum 18.
Babaev wrote to Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev on 25 February, informing him of the way police refused to protect him and calling on the president to protect his constitutional rights as a citizen of Azerbaijan. Zavrichko told Forum 18 there has been no response from President Aliyev so far. "We are hoping for a presidential response – and for a better decision locally. We are praying for this."
Abbasov once again affirmed to Forum 18 that everyone in Azerbaijan enjoys the right to freedom of conscience and freedom to practice their religion. He described it as "impossible" for anyone to drive out other residents of Nakhichevan and said there is religious tolerance in the exclave. However, he withheld all comment on Babaev's case until after his office has been able to look into it. "I asked my assistant to investigate this and will let you know," he pledged. He gave unclear answers as to whether he had contacted the police to discuss the threats.
A previous pastor of Nakhichevan's Adventist church, Vahid Nagiev, was deported with his family from the exclave in June 2002, although Azerbaijani law has no provisions for internal deportation. The Nakhichevan church (like many Protestant congregations across Azerbaijan) has been denied state registration (eg. see F18News 12 February 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=252 ).
Yet Abbasov rejected any suggestions that the authorities or residents did not want Adventists in Nakhichevan. "I don't know that there are people here who hate others for religious reasons," he told Forum 18.
Zavrichko said that the threats against Babaev and the forthcoming trial of the imam of Baku's Juma mosque, Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, are due to be discussed on 2 March at a meeting in Moscow of the regional branch of the International Religious Liberty Association. A separate case to confiscate the Juma mosque from its Muslim community began in court in Baku on 1 March after a preliminary hearing on 25 February (see F18News 20 February 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=258 ).
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25 February 2004
Police have refused to protect an Adventist pastor in Nakhichevan (Naxçivan), who has been threatened by local men with death or being driven out of the community. "People phone and come to my house to threaten us but the authorities have refused to help," Pastor Khalid Babaev told Forum 18 News Service. Pastor Babaev fears for the safety of his wife and son, and does not know if it will be safe to hold a service as usual next Saturday. Local Muslims have threatened to sacrifice Babaev as a holy duty and to halt Adventist religious activity in Nakhichevan. If Pastor Babaev holds another service, he has been told that a mob will be collected to attack his house. The police have refused to discuss the threats with Forum 18, or say what they would do to protect church members from the threatened violence.
20 February 2004
Court proceedings to seize the 1,000 year-old Juma mosque in Baku, which the government wants to turn into a carpet museum, are due on Wednesday 25 February, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. "You know that judges in Azerbaijan are not independent, so they'll rule to close down the mosque and kick us out," Seymur Rashidov, a mosque spokesman, told Forum 18. "But we'll challenge any such decision through the courts, even to the European Court of Human Rights." The mosque's jailed Imam, Ilgar Ibrahimoglu Allahverdiev, has pleaded for international publicity and help: "All the hope is for the help of dear friends for whom religious freedom and human rights are not just words but their life mission.", he wrote to Forum 18. The mosque and its young imam have been prominent defenders of religious freedom for all, including Baptists and Adventists. Amongst foreign embassies expected to attend the court hearings is the Royal Norwegian Embassy. "We will be following the case very closely – we will be there," Ambassador Steinar Gil told Forum 18.
12 February 2004
A deputy head of police has threatened a Baptist Pastor, trying "to drive him out of the town, ban him from visiting and insulted him as a 'traitor' for having adopted Christianity," the leader of the Baptist church in Azerbaijan has told Forum 18 News Service. This is one of many problems Baptists have, including other threats from local police officers and congregations being unable to get state registration. An Azeri-language Baptist church has been closed down and its pastor banned from preaching and subjected to a harsh media campaign. Also, 50,000 Azeri-language New Testaments have been denied entry to Azerbaijan. Baptists have told Forum 18 of their opposition to attempts to crush the Muslim community of Baku's Juma mosque led by imprisoned imam Ilgar Ibrahimoglu Allahverdiev. The Baptists have been prominent in his defence, pointing out that his arrest "testifies to the intentions of the authorities to restrict even further the religious freedom not only of Baptists but of all believers in Azerbaijan".